I was driving with our rental car from Tamraght to Imsoaune, in my back, two giggling, tanned girls with curly hair and five boards on top of the car. It was mid-March and the sun was laughing at us. I used to live in Morocco and recently came back to visit my Moroccan friend and soulmate Aida. Along the way, we picked up Meryem El Gardoum, junior pro surfer of Morocco, who told us about her life as a Morrocan female surfer.
Meryem is 19 years old and grew up in a traditional Muslim family with two brothers and four sisters in the town of Tamraght.
It all started when she was 11. Meryem went into the water with the bodyboard and was watching the other surfers, thinking that it looked quite fun. “I saw a guy, who was doing turns with his surfboard. I was already able to stand up on my bodyboard, so my brother gave me a shortboard – it was super slippery, no wax on it. But another time I tried with a foamie and I was so happy when I caught my first wave… both my feet were next to each other, like I was standing on the ground, and I was smiling non-stop. The surfing-fever caught me”.
Meryem’s cousin gave her a board and kept on teaching her. In her first year of surfing she already won a local contest (in 2008), which kept her going forward. In the meantime, she has won several contests already, such as the Moroccan championships and has been traveling to other countries, such as Portugal, to represent the Moroccan team during the European Championships. In May she is going to compete at the ISA championship in Biarritz. Later this year Meryem will leave her sunny hometown behind to surf in the cold waters of Norway for the next European contest. “I am a little bit afraid of the cold”, is what she told me when we were sitting on the sunny terrace of our surf camp to work on our tan.
What does it mean to be a professional surfer?
Surfing really means the world to Meryem and she couldn’t imagine a life without a board anymore. In order to stay fit, Meryem goes surfing in all condition, she goes running twice a week for two hours and also goes to the gym regularly. In her home country of Morocco Meryem likes to chase the big monsters and loves to go in when Anchors has firing 3m.
“When the waves are bigger, then I am often the only girl surfing at Anchors, together with 70 other guys. They respect me and give me a lot of confidence and support”. When the waves are huge, there is only one way to fight the fears: “I breath. And talk to myself.”
“The worst wipeout I ever had was in Balangan, Bali. I went out and then the swell picked up. Waves were up to 4m. I was the only girl in the water together with 4 Australians and one local guy. I was crying and just wanted to go out of the water. I asked the Australians, but they were all so stoked and didn’t want to stop their session to help me out! My shortboard was not made for those waves. Still, when I saw the others surfing I thought to myself that I could make it. So I paddled. And I didn’t make it. I had the worst washing machine in my life.”
Some last questions to Meryem:
Goofy or regular? Regular, which comes quite handy in Morocco
Tajine or Couscous? Couscous! My mom makes the best couscous in the whole world. I need to eat it every Friday, otherwise I get upset. I even sneak away from work sometimes, just to have my mom’s couscous.
How often do you go surfing? Every day, unless there is really no wave, then I go and workout. Or I go skating. I am also training for the marathon in April.
What is the most important rule when surfing? Put the leash if you wanna live / paddle your bones / wax before tax
What surfboard do you use? 5’6″ and 5’9″
Who are your sponsors? Tadenga Surf Village is sponsoring me but would love to get some additional support to chase my dream and compete on an international level.
If you wouldn’t be surfing what would you do? I would be studying science and physics. But for now, I want to fully concentrate on surfing
Where would you like to surf next? Charatan, Morocco, it’s a left barreling wave… I want to get a biiiiig washing machine
Your favourite surfspots? Uluwatu, Impossibles and Anchor Point