Off the track trips exploring new areas in search of surf promises both hardship and reward. Throw in a bike as your means of transport and you can add timing with the swell you're chasing, mechanical failures — no need to bore you with a long list of possible complications, you can use your imagination.
And what about when your chosen region for unearthing new waves is The Last Eden, in Gabon? A stretch of coast lined by a rainforest containing everything from elephants to hippos and gorillas to leopards. And on the other side, dark brown waters renowned for their thriving bull shark population.
Well, this is what French surfers Ewen Le Goff, Aurel Jacob and cameraman Ronan Gladu had to face up to in Gabon during their latest mission for Lost in the Swell.
"This is the trip we had in mind since the beginning of using fat-bikes to travel and surf," Ronan tells us. "Last autumn we trained by cycling over 300k on the beaches of South West France. We chose Gabon because we wanted to surf alone and had spotted four to six points on Google Earth that looked something like a certain Namibian left but smaller."
You know the left Ronan speaks of, and how tempting that must be, even given the ever present dangers of this section of Africa's West Coast. However, no amount of training could quite prepare the trio for what they were about to embark on. When asked how their French trip compared, Ronan replied:
"Way, way, way harder and scarier. We had no chance of being rescued. We had to carry around 70kg of gear in each trailer and once you start cycling on the beach, most of the time you had nowhere to go but straight ahead or back if you hit a dead end. On one side of you there's the Atlantic, on the other, long brackish lagoons going up and into the forest. We had inflatable SUPs to cross the rivers but it was so stressful day and night to survive in that environment. We also crossed paths regularly with elephants, hippos, gorillas, buffalo, leopards, and potamocher (warthogs that roam in groups of about 50) and f**king huge Nile crocodiles."
But how do you deal with such regular encounters with beasts that could trample you, maul you or snap and lock a jaw on you with such ease?
"We trained ourselves first with a local guard or else we would be dead by now," recalls Ronan. "Ewen and Aurel shit themselves on every surf session in the dark brown water that has the reputation of being 'the most bull-shark infested waters on the planet.' As for me, filming on the beach, sometimes I had to make a fire behind me to be sure nothing from the lagoons was going to sneak up and eat me.
"We were charged three times by elephants and almost died of thirst in front of fresh lagoon guarded by a family of hippos. We had a confrontation with a huge buffalo on the beach and we didn't sleep that much, mostly scared of being stepped on by an elephant or eaten by a Nile crocodile."
However, despite the survival mission this trip turned out to be, what the guys were really there for was the potential of reeling, barreling pointbreaks all to themselves.
"There are two pointbreaks we are really proud of, (of the 5 spots we surfed) and that was the plan from the beginning: find a way to these potential jewels. I don't want to spoil the story but in episodes 2 and 3, and 10 and 11 you'll see. One wave we called Bambi because of all the deer on the beach in front and the other one we called Tarzoon. One is a 5km endless barrel, and way too fast for Ewen and Aurel. The other one is a slow 1km rippable wall."
All in all, Ronan and crew spent three months on fat-bikes covering 850km on sand, surviving and enjoying the waves that they had set out to surf. Episode two and three are below. Dive in.