Maryam el Gardoum, a Moroccan woman surfer, is helping to nurture a new generation.

Tamraght is a small fishing village on the bay of Taghazout Morocco.

“If I’d had all the surf equipment, I wouldn’t be the surfer I am now,” says el Gardoum. “I had to fight for it because I loved it.” Catching waves became slightly simpler when a surf association was forged in Tamraght. El Gardoum would get up at dawn to run the mile from her home to reach the first place. After sweating and almost going to sleep, she would be able to pick her favorite board from the cobalt-blue building. “Sometimes I would surf for eight hours,” she says. ”I didn’t want to take my wetsuit off and leave the board in case someone else took it.”

Being the only girl in a group of boys required grit. She recalls surfing at her home spot when an older man grabbed her surfboard’s leash, hauling her off a wave. “He told me, ‘Look, this isn’t in your place. It’s in the house, helping your mom.’” 

Tamraght, a small fishing community in the bay of Taghazout (Morocco), is home to about 2,000 people.

Dave Weatherall/Unsplash

This stretch of Atlantic coastline is truly a paradise for surfers. 

Sander Traa/Unsplash

This antagonism reached far beyond the shore. “I grew up in a Muslim family, and if they had listened to what people were saying they would’ve stopped me surfing,” she says. “People said it was a bad habit, not a sport. That surfing was for hippies and would lead to smoking and drinking.”

But when she won her first national title aged 14—a women’s open for all ages, not just juniors—perceptions started to shift. Since then, el Gardoum has taken home five women’s championship titles and has competed abroad, in France and Portugal. 

It’s bittersweet that this month, as a world surf competition takes place in Taghazout, el Gardoum, who is currently in recovery from an injury, won’t be competing. For the first time the World Surf League has added a women’s division in Morocco—and in a show of parity announced an equal prize purse for male and female competitors. El Gardoum identifies a new generation in Morocco, led by Lilias Tebbai (19), who is leading the charge. “I really respect them and I’m proud to see more women surfing at this level.”

However, sexism in the sport hasn’t washed away overnight. “We surf in the same conditions as men and compete in the same contests. Women are ripping too, but we don’t always get treated equally,” she says. There are still double standards in sponsorship. “Companies focus a lot on what your body looks like, how sexy you are, and how many followers you have on Instagram,” she says. “Come on, we’re athletes, not models.” 

At Dihya Surf School, el Gardoum can carve her own way. As many women find female surf instructors more motivating, her client list is expanding. “It was a conscious decision,” says one of today’s students, Sarah Hartmann, from Germany. “I wanted to support a female business, but I also really like her teaching style, she has a really good eye.”

El Gordoum’s coaching may be thoughtful, but it’s by no means an easy ride. After teaching the basics of surfing etiquette, she takes her students to the beach and tests their speed, pop-ups, and stretching. She welcomes her students to the waves and the water reflects their smiles and cheers. 

Tilila, whose parents are from the region, believes that surfing is a way to leave a legacy. “I love Maryam’s story of fighting to become a surfer in the man’s world. Lots of the local women in this part of Morocco are inside cooking or baking bread, you rarely see women breaking through in sport,” she says. “Maryam’s a big part of us getting the surfing bug. We’re hooked now.”

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