Journeys: Riad Radical

  • The ancient fishing village of Essaouira today attracts surfers of all stripes, from beginners to experts, longboarders to kitesurfers.
  • The ancient fishing village of Essaouira today attracts surfers of all stripes, from beginners to experts, longboarders to kitesurfers.
  • Outdoor sports in the Ourika Valley (shown here) and High Atlas mountains range from rappelling to skiing.
  • Outdoor sports in the Ourika Valley (shown here) and High Atlas mountains range from rappelling to skiing.
  • Photo by  Martin Harvey/Corbis
    High Atlas mountains Photo by Martin Harvey/Corbis
  • Photo by  Martin Harvey/Corbis
    High Atlas mountains Photo by Martin Harvey/Corbis
  • Visitors to Richard Branson’s Kasbah Tamadot enjoy easy access to the High Atlas.
  • Photo by  Martin Harvey/Corbis
  • Photo by  Martin Harvey/Corbis
<< Back to Robb Report, August 2013
  • Jack Smith

"How are we supposed to get up there?" I ask Abdel.

"Oh, we hike," he says. "Or we take one of the mules."

Twenty minutes later, leg-weary and out of breath—I rejected the idea of a mule as cheating—I am reminded why the Kasbah du Toubkal and the surrounding landscape served as the backdrop for the movie Kundun.

However rugged the climb to reach it, my suite at the Kasbah du Toubkal is—literally and figuratively—breathtaking. I will need to adapt to the altitude quickly, however, as the air, I am told, is 30 percent thinner at the summit.

As a ski destination, Mount Toubkal is reserved for only the most adventurous—ones who are willing to trek with their equipment to the top and ski down. Morocco’s best-known slopes are found at Oukaïmeden, a nearby resort with a proper chairlift, a T-bar, and mules serving five separate ski trails running nearly two miles long. New upscale condominium developments in the area suggest that gondolas and high-speed quad chairs may not be long in coming. "Now if only we can get the king off his surfboard and onto his skis," says a young concierge at the Kasbah du Toubkal.

As any Moroccan surfer will tell you, the sport was popular long before King Mohammed VI ascended the throne. Surfing came to Morocco in the late 1950s, when Americans from a U.S. military base outside Casablanca discovered the nearby empty beaches with the soft, forgiving sand banks and waves curling up to half a mile. By the late 1960s, Essaouira was an established stop on the North Africa–to-Spain hang-10 hippie trail.

King Mohammed VI entered the picture in the 1990s. The athletic young monarch was already known to be an avid surfer, Jet Skier, and tourism advocate when, as the story goes, a chance conversation with a local surfer persuaded the king that what his country needed was a surfing club. The result was the Oudayas Surf Club, a gleaming-white two-story facility in Rabat overlooking some of the country’s best waves. Today the club’s thousands of members include some of the world’s most highly ranked professionals, but the surfers from Essaouira are no less competitive than those from Rabat. "This is a serious beach," says Azzedine. "This isn’t a beach where people come to lie in the sun—it’s a place to surf."

For some, the garden-variety form of surfing is just the beginning. If I want to try my hand at another style of the sport, Explora’s beachside adventure center offers windsurfing as well. "Windsurfing is a more technical sport," Azzedine says. "It helps if you know how to sail." Or there is kite surfing, now a highly popular form of the sport in Essaouira. "Everybody wants to do it because it looks spectacular, but it is not really so hard once you know how," Azzedine says.

Perhaps, but I am just starting to get the hang of the old-fashioned form of surfing. So saying, we decide to try another stretch of beach. With hundreds of miles of Atlantic coastline on hand, somewhere out there the perfect wave is waiting for me.

Continues on next page 

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