Brand(s)new, Ocean-inspired interviews

A huge board bag, 21 water filters, no car and a mission – Ismail Benlamlih and his crazy journey through Africa


Ismail Benlamlih never thought about traveling through Africa. Now he is doing a journey of his lifetime with a wonderful goal: To provide water filters to poor communities and at the same time find some crazy, barreling and empty waves in places that no one else has been before.

11_smail ben travels trhough africa

Ismail Ben is from Morocco, he is 23 years old and started surfing 9 years ago. He loves the thrill of hollow waves and is always on the search for some crazy adventures. By putting himself in uncomfortable situations he builds up a strong state of mind for the ocean and life in general. He used to travel to Indonesia – but he always tried to avoid the crowds, even though that meant to walk for hours through the deep jungle. After his last trip to Indo, he travelled straight to New Deli to make a yoga teacher training. He was blown away by the chaos, loudness, movement of people and the bright colors. At that point he didn’t really know where to go next, but he was prepared for any destination.

Morocco is just on top of Africa and never in my life I thought about going down, because of the lack of information about traveling in Africa”.   But somehow the idea to travel through Africa got stuck in his head when he came back from India. Ismail started researching the net, where he basically found nothing, only some very short answers in forums from 2007. Without a car and without a lot of money the trip started …

What was the intention of your trip?

The main problem in Africa is the lack of clean water, sanitary and hygiene. That’s why I decided to contact my friends all around the world, who I met along my travels and my surfing adventures to collect some money for effective water filters for local communities. I received 21 filters in the end. Rip Curl Morocco, Teamwildboar, Ocean Vagabond and my parents have also been helping me to make this unbelievable journey happen.

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Picture: Remote village in the Liberian Jungle, where Ismail gave access to clean water to eight families

Can you tell me a bit about your journey – Where did you start? What was challenging?

Together with my friend Mourad Ben Addy and my cameraman Mehdi Boutaleb the journey started from Casablanca. As we didn’t have a car, we were traveling by local transport, which was quite challenging with our big board bags, camera equipment and all the water filters we brought along –  buses were completely overpacked and finding space for our luggage was more than difficult. The road has been in pretty bad conditions and it took forever to get from one place to another. We went through Mauritania, Senegal, Mali, Ivory and Liberia and had a really good time surfing along the way. My friend Mourad left us in Senegal, as he brought some water filters as well and he wanted to focus on setting them up there. My cameraman Mehdi Boutaleb flew back from Ivory, as the budget was going down. Africa is expensive. Even more expensive than Europe. And traveling Africa as a white person proofed to be tough, as people always think you own lots of money, which is not true. Pretty challenging are also the costs of corruptions and getting Visas as a Moroccan.

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Where are you now? Where are you heading to?

I started my trip 2 months ago and travelled 7500km so far and am currently in Ghana, lying in a hospital bed, recovering from Malaria.

10_smail ben malaria

My plan was to go down to South Africa on the main road, but it is impossible to cross Nigeria, Central Africa and Angola due to tension and terrorism. South Africa refused to give me a visa on the road, so I am waiting to recover. As soon as I feel better I will ask for a Namibian Visa… Namibia is actually my biggest dream, as there are some of the best waves in the world. But I will run out of money soon, which means that I have not much time left. But one thing is for sure, I will not leave before I surfed the best wave on Earth in Namibia.

Wow. Sounds amazing. I guess you had some crazy waves so far, what was your nicest surf experience?

My best experience was my last session in Liberia. I was all by myself, in the jungle under the rain.  The wave was perfect and I could make up to 7 turns per wave – I didn’t know what to do in the face anymore, as it was so smooth and I was going so fast and could regulate the speed as I want.

07_smail ben tube barrel africa

On your journey, you also provided and installed water filters in local communities. Can you tell us a bit more about it?!

I am normally going to villages to see if they really need help. Then I come back with a big tank with filtration for the whole village or a bucket for every family. I have nano filters with me, which clean all the bacteria. The reactions about the water filters have been really different so far. Some people do not even want them, as they believe it is something bad and many don’t understand why a white man is coming to bring something and then leaves again. Others are really blown away by the effectiveness of the filters. I normally go there, take their dirtiest water and drink it in front of them. Then I show them what the water filters can do and how the water looks and tastes afterwards.

04_smail ben Kopie

06_smail ben water

What has been the happiest moment of your journey?

When I went to Liberia I was forced to take a flight from Abidjan, as the borders were still closed because of Ebola and crime rebels. I suddenly found myself on a plane with oil lords and diamond dealers and I was this blond guy looking for waves in a country devasted by ebola and years of civil wars. But instead of hiding myself in the hostel and taking a bodyguard to walk around, I went to West Point, one of the worst ghettos in the world with lots of weapons, hard drugs and diseases. I put on my smile and spend some quality time together with those people.

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You can follow Ismail’s journey via facebook.

He will continue his trip as soon as he feels better. He is currently looking for someone to help him edit the video of his trip. He has collected a lot of stunning footage and would be really happy for any support!

Contact him at ismailbenlamlih@hotmail.com if you can help or if you know someone, who could help.

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