Ismaïla Samb before the World Surfing Games: 'To start with a broken board and reach the Olympic Games would be a great achievement'

Ismaïla Samb will participate in the World Surfing Games in Huntington Beach from 16 to 24 September. Driven by his passion, the Senegalese surfer will face off against the best surfers in the world. It’s an important milestone for the 18-year-old who has had to overcome many obstacles to arrive at this moment. 

By Nicolas Kohlhuber, with Evelyn Watta
Picture by Lisa Coulaud

Ismaïla Samb has been surfing for half of his life. No matter the difficulties, the 18-year-old continues to enjoy surfing. This passion has helped him to progress and travel to places he has never been before.

After his first appearance on the international stage at Cape Verde for the Surf Open Ponta Preta in early 2022, Samb travelled to South Africa at the end of June and will be in the USA for the World Surfing Games in September. Although he is still very young, he has already achieved a great deal, and the story is even more inspiring when he explains how he got his start in surfing. 

"I discovered surfing thanks to my older brother. I always followed him when he was going to the beach to surf. Surfing wasn’t that big in Senegal at that time. His surfboards were not incredible, sometimes they were even broken," Samb told Olympics.com.

Despite these difficulties, the Ouakam-native loved the unique feeling he had when taking to the waves. He used to play football with his friends but surfing quickly became his favourite sport.

"The first time I managed to stand up on my surfboard, I was so happy. I couldn’t stop talking about it that night. I realised that surfing could be an amazing adventure. It was a stronger feeling than the one I felt when playing football."

He had found pleasure in the sport and began dreaming of becoming a professional and surfing on the World Tour. But surfing in Senegal is not always easy and the obstacles are not only material.

A "wonderful atmosphere" among Senegalese surfers

In Senegal, discovering new surfing spots is not as easy as in many other countries.

"Sometimes, you don’t have the money to take the transport you need to go to the beach. So you have to stay where it's easiest to get to and not necessarily the best for your progress."

Samb may not be able to travel, he can rely on other surfers to help him continue to learn. The surfing community is growing in Senegal and the surfer who lives in Ngor knows that he can become a better athlete by surfing and talking with the other athletes.

"The atmosphere is incredible in the Senegalese surfing community. Everybody is here to have fun and laughs. Nobody has a bad attitude. We’re not the kind of surfers who fight in the water. We cheer and support each other,” Samb said about the new generation of Senegalese surfers.

The surfing scene in Dakar continues to grow. The surfers dream of following the path of Cherif Fall, the 2017 African champion who reached the Qualifying Series of the WSL, the third category of the World Tour after the Championship Tour and the Challenger Series.

He is a role model for them, and a true inspiration for Samb.

"He is our champion! We’ve seen him when he didn’t have enough surfboards or broken ones. Now, he is in the QS, and he surfs all around the world. It’s really inspiring. We speak a lot, and he gives me advice, even in the water. If I fall, he tells me why and explains to me how to do things better."

Samb on meeting the Olympic champion Italo Ferreira

If there is a great atmosphere between Senegalese surfers, the same can be said when the world’s best athletes visit Dakar. On one occasion, Samb met Olympic champion Italo Ferreira. To this day, it is still his fondest memory.

"I saw on internet that he was in Senegal and I couldn’t believe it. He was here to shoot a movie with a sponsor. We looked for him but he had already finished surfing. 

“When we passed him on the road, we stopped and got out of the car. He came to greet us. We talked a bit together. The day after, we surfed with him for an hour in Ngor, it made a big impression on me. He didn’t stop laughing and talking with us, it was so cool."

Senegalese surfer Ismaila Samb .(Photo by Lisa Coulaud)

The meeting was even more important for Samb as he dreams of a future in the WSL or qualifying for the Olympic Games. The 18-year-old took his first steps in the Junior Tour in South Africa at the end of July, where he finished 13th. 

The result brought him closer to achieving his goals, even though he knows there is a long way to go. He is convinced that the best is yet to come. 

‘I started surfing with a broken surfboard. If I make it to the Olympic Games it would be a great achievement.”

Every day after school, Samb continues to work towards his dreams. His passion and devotion have allowed him to find his first sponsors. It has been an important step on the pathway to making his dreams come true.

WHO WILL MASTER THE WAVES?

Surfing’s road to Paris 2024 starts now. Watch the world’s best surfers compete in the ISA World Surfing Games from 16-22 September!
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