The World's Best 10 Cities for Surfers: Casablanca
From Stab issue 58: Stab reveals the metropolises where a man can lock down a satisfying occupation, be entertained in the most degenerate manner, where he won’t be vilified for his free expression and where a hunk of fiberglass can be put to exceptionally good use…
Number nine is: Casablanca, Morocco.
Words by Jed Smith
Beats London with a trolley pole, this does. The streets move fast but not overwhelmingly so like Asia or the subcontinent. There’s food vendors everywhere and you’re hungry, so you stop across the road for a slow-cooked lamb Bocaddillo, looking up to see wrought iron balconies and rows of Art Décor architecture. You are in Casablanca, the Paris of North Africa, with its zany sophistication, eclectic mix of French colonial and shanty style housing, and over yonder the shimmering Atlantic. If you want the class of Europe with a sprinkling of third world inferiority but minus their winters, economic cataclysm or threat of a fascist uprising then consider Casablanca. An hour or so on the plane will get you to any capital in Western Europe but who needs ‘em. The waves, the climate, and the food is better here.
Why you’ll wanna live there: Morocco is traditionally where many Europeans hide for their winter. Once upon a time it also served as a refuge for many of the west’s literary greats. William Burroughs, Kerouac, Tennessee Williams, Paul Bowles, Truman Capote and Alan Ginsberg all sought its anonymity and dimly lit parlours. Everything Casablanca was, it still is. Modelled on Marseille, the mostly Arabic port city in southern France, Casablanca is North Africa’s most cosmopolitan and western friendly complete with passable public transport infrastructure, a thriving social and café culture, a vast coastline of unending wave riches and for the bargain hunters among us, for sure the best thrift store shopping in the world.
Where to stay: Casablanca has it all from the Le Royal Mansour Meridien, the most prestigious hotel in the city with its traditional Moroccan architecture plus all the spoils of modernity, to the tropical vibe of the Mazagan Beach Resort. Stab’s pick is the just-as-cute Golden Tulip at 136 bucks a night.
Getting out: For the afternoon, spice up a couple of cigarettes with the world-class local hashish (you get the best deals from local fishermen. They’ll cut a chunk off their brick for around 20 Euro) and bathe in the fading light of the Corniche, the famous Casablanca waterfront precinct. With the water a temperate 22C, you might favour a dip in one of the ocean pools followed by a run around in a beach soccer game to warm up. Hit the nearby seafood restaurants for a glass of Rioja (Spanish red wine) as the sun sets and depending on who your company is, peruse the many Moroccan style cushioned bars like La Petite Roche, with its stunning views of the Hassan II Mosque, pillows thrown across low-level seating and lit by an army of candles.
Grinds: As a cultural centre-point between Europe, Africa and the middle east for so long, Moroccan cuisine has centuries of fused spice and cooking techniques going for it. The classic Moroccan dish is a Tajine (a clay, conical oven) cooked lamb, goat or chicken. Couscous, of course, is Moroccan invention and vegetarian thrills such as lentils, almonds, dates and eggplant feature heavily. Stab’s favourite, however, are the kefta balls (spiced meatballs) and for special occasions, like the birth of a child or a marriage, Chicken Rfissa (Moroccan style chicken with lentils served atop a bed of shredded msemen or meloui).
Violence: With its sprawling shanties on the outskirts, Casablanca definitely has its share of sketchy hoods. Exercise caution here but people who mess with tourists are dealt with harshly by local authorities and the areas of Casablanca you’ll be hanging in are pretty water tight for crims and knife wielders. There is, however, the little issue of terrorism, which has struck the nation, with a coordinated Al Qaeda attack in 2003 claiming 33 civilians in the city.
Cultural hits: For a forward thinking culture buff like yourself, Casablanca is surely about the shopping. The Moroccan souk is the stuff of legend among textile crate diggers and modern hipsters. They can be as big as a small suburb, a giant thriving market metropolis housed in a disused bus station with hundreds of stalls selling everything from 1940s cameras to 100-year-old brass teapots. There are leather items of every kind here (camel hide) and vast food stalls. But you have a decision to make: hit the local souks such as Casablanca’s main market, Marche Central, where’ll you become hoarse from haggling or head to Quartier Habous, a more sanitised, tourist friendly version. Other activities include checking out the famous Hassan II Mosque, the old medinas like the Ancienne Medina in the oldest part of the city. Try one of the many disciplines of massages at Kinespa, suss out the Royal Palace or just stay home and kick a ball around with the rest of the leisure bandits in the Parc de la Ligue Arabe.
Surfers: Moroccans do surf and they will hassle you like a gang of ribbed hyenas. Just ask Mitch Coleborn. He was stupid enough to be dropped in on by a Moroccan at a well-known point further south and after bravely not objecting was still threatened with death. If you know your way around a crowd and show humility, you’ll typically get no hassle, however. The worst are the Spanish and Portugese gherkins who look Moroccan but aren’t really and treat you like s*** anyway. F*** those guys. They’re kooks, too.
Work detail: Casablanca is Morocco’s main industrial zone and home to it’s biggest harbour so unless you’re high up in the exports game or willing to slug it out in a phosphate mine or on the fishing boats, you’re gonna need another income. Epic place for a freelance designer, writer, web programmer etc. though. As already mentioned, it’s traditionally served as a hub for western literature greats.
Water and all that: When the big Atlantic swells start bombing from the north, you need know only one word: Safi. This is one of the great wonders of the sand-bottom point world, producing almond grinders into the 10-foot plus range. Many trips have been through here but none scored it better than the Gudangs a few years back. Casablanca is between Safi in the south and Rabat to the north, which also offers a variety of slabs, points and beachies. The swell season is a long one, from October all the way around to April in a good year. Water is a mild 18 to 24 degrees and although Casablanca isn’t a renowned surf spot, there’s wave here too. Check out the front of the famous Hassan II Mosque and when those big Atlantic blobs appear you’ll find every nook, breakwall and bay is likely to have something surfable.
One more thing: Wave-wise, Morocco is a gold mine. From Rabat all the way to the Sahara is one big swell soaked coastline. It only gets better as you head into the Sahara, so if you’ve got the guts, get a big ol’ AK, a jeep and find the waves of a lifetime.
The Good and the Not-So-Good
+ Temperate desert climate and warmish water. A sandbottom point that makes Lennox look like Crescent Head, if y’gets my drift. Freshly pressed orange juices and delicious vegetable-based grinds. Perfect joint if you hate little lambs, too, everything has hunks of baby sheep in it.
– Kooky Euro ex-pats and pyscho local bodyboarders plus the underlying fritz of a society that ain’t really into your boozy Western ways and’d happily press a knife into your periscope, given the chance.