WQS standout, Liam O’Brien, captures Morocco’s other-worldly feel, and the volatilities of WQS life.
Fellow WQS toiler, Dylan (Moffat) and I are in a taxi. We’re weary-eyed and crippled by lethargy. 30+ hours of travelling hasn’t done us any favours. On top of this, our driver is a borderline psychopath. He drives like one at least, gripping the steering wheel with manic, dictatorial rage, hurtling through impossible gaps in traffic and hurling Arabic expletives out the window to just about every car he passes. A blur of boxy Moroccan architecture set against dusty mountain gradients can be seen out of the passenger window. Drenched in the rich, crimson colouring of the sunset it’s a beautiful sight yet I scarcely notice. I’m preoccupied trying to control my stomach, writhing and subversive. ‘This is fucked,’ I think to myself, ‘I should’ve gone to Pipe.’ (The Volcom Pipe Pro waiting period overlapped with the Morocco event, so I had to make a choice)
I look at the floor and clutch my stomach. Dylan isn’t saying much in the back either so I imagine he’s in a similar state. Two sorry travellers unsure of where they are or why they are there. But when I look up again I’m quickly reminded of exactly why I’m here. The road has reached the coast and now the front windshield frames what looks more like a Monet or a Van Gogh than actual reality: a slender strip of desolate mountainside curving and undulating before descending into the watery, sun-lit horizon. Like a gigantic arm reaching effortlessly into the sea. A slope of sand and rock and a bed of blue. The desert and the ocean. And lying in the purgatory between the two biomes is the legendary wave, Anchor Point.
That was my first impression of Morocco. I was there to compete in the QS5000, scheduled to be held at Anchor Point. Although I’d heard a lot about the place and its superabundant offering of waves, I didn’t really know what to expect. The coast was arid and precipitous. Sere shrubs leaned over in defeat against the onslaught of the biting morning Seabreeze. Besides the sparse populace of these demented shrubs, sand and rocks ruled with imperium. At the water’s edge, fortress-like walls of sandstone stood sentry against the sea. In some areas, communities of dwarf-like Moroccans housed themselves in lurid coloured homes built directly into the cliff-face. It made for an unearthly sight, like something from a Star Wars scene. The town of Taghazout, which was a mere two minutes from Anchor Point and marked the southern terminus of the peninsula, was a bit more like the quintessential, as advertised, Moroccan town. Nonetheless, it was equally as queer and curious as the cliff-face communities. The streets of Tagazhout were grimy and chaotic. The town itself was lucky to occupy more than a square kilometer, yet the main road was a pulsating hive of activity. Buildings upon buildings, the Moroccan way, stacked up like lego bricks on either side of the street. This always puzzled me given the vast, completely bare land surrounding the town. There were shops selling rugs and trinkets, grocery markets whose walls seemed to bulge with the sheer volume of product packed inside and small restaurants serving mint tea, Tajine and also a surprisingly large range of western delicacies. Above all of this was a mess of units and residences, entwined together in a fashion that made differentiating buildings impossible. Busy locals and perambulating tourists filled the town, navigating markets and traversing tight alleyways. The energy core and unrivaled Hub of the town, however, was bizarrely the road. It seemed to exert a magnetic force that attracted cars, mopeds, humans, cats, dogs and camels alike. It was a lawless anarchy.
My first few surfs were at Anchor Point. The waves were ravaged by a strong devil wind and I think I was lucky to string together one cutback. At one point I was sitting wide and watched Nat Young, the eventual winner of the comp, and Ben Coffey jump off the rocks. They sat up on the deeper section, caught a plethora of waves, negotiated the chop with aplomb and linked together multiple, seamless turns. I watched on, hands clasping my arms, shivering and demoralized. The next few surfs didn’t get much better. After learning that the comp would be held at a wave further down the coast due to limited swell, Dyl and I decided to go get a few practice surfs in. The spot was called Anza and could be likened to (although I’ve never been there) lower trestles without the left. The crowd was pretty akin too. Between us, we caught only a paltry offering of scrap waves and neglected insiders. A voracious QS crew plus a few irate locals is a crowd worth avoiding, I’ll tell you that for free. Our practice had pretty well earned us both a bruised ego and Dylan a gash to the back of the head after his board hit him. One session, after a harsh round of ego demolition at Anza, a morose Dylan and I attempted to drive out of the parking lot when a pair of Moroccan youths started walking ominously toward our car. Alarmed, I ripped the steering wheel to the right and tried to circumvent their approach. However, one of them jumped deftly in front of the car whilst the other approached my window. I stopped. “Parking,” one of them yelled angrily. Confused I told him I didn’t know what he was on about. He then explained, in a series of broken phrases and gesticulations, that we must pay him for parking there. Not wanting to argue I paid him the requested 10 dirham, shoved the car in first and tried to rev off. However, in my initial attempt to evade them, I had unknowingly driven into a minefield of small boulders, presumably placed there to deter the type of antics we just attempted. Completely oblivious I roared off until the car's undercarriage screeched loudly. It sounded as if something was being ripped from under the car but I kept accelerating. I was catatonic. The two parking boys grimaced in the rear vision mirror. Under my manic obstinance, the car eventually laboured over the rock and I drove off. I didn’t stop and I didn’t care. Dylan let out a half-laugh, a half bizarre noise signaling his disbelief. Later, I reluctantly had a look under the car. By some stroke of a miracle, it was completely fine. The next day back at the event site we noticed that all the rocks (which formerly constituted the rock minefield to which we had fallen victim) had been stacked up like a tower, too obvious to miss. Dylan and I laughed.
The comp eventually got going at Anza. The first day was pretty challenging conditions-wise, but by QS standards it wasn’t too bad. The next day however was pumping. Neatly fashioned walls of water reeled at a moderate tempo across a forgiving mix of rock and sand. It was extremely rip-able and one of those rare moments of froth on the QS. The next day was somehow even better.
It looked just like perfect lower trestles, or at least what I thought perfect lowers would look like. Surfing a heat out there was dreamy, sets of three or four waves and only three other guys to share it with. The rest of the event was then run at Anchor Point as the swell continued to build. Whilst it was a bit different to Anza it was equally as fun. The wave was much faster, somewhat akin to J-bay although not quite in the same league. I’d imagine on its day it would give it a run for its money though. I ended up in the round of 16 and got towelled up by Tristan Guilbaud of France. The bitterest part about losing was knowing that I wouldn’t get to surf out there again. I couldn’t say I paid much attention to the rest of the contest. I caught a bit of the final but was more or less dedicated to sampling the delights awaiting further up the peninsula.