The Plight of the Boys of Tarkwa Bay

Posted by Robin Hill on

Oli Hillyer-Riley's Tarkwa Bay boys

Lagos, Nigeria is one of the fastest growing cities in the world. And its port is one of the city's key assets. One of the busiest on the African continent. 

An intriguing by-product of the port, created by rearranging various lagoons, channels and islands, is the artificial beach of Tarkwa Bay. Stuck on the edge of a very long thin strip land is an almost perfect U shaped bay framed on one side by the sea wall, a jetty protecting it from the port's main canal on the other. The creation of this geometrically perfect and oddly placed public beach has inadvertently lead to the creation of an almost perfect and highly accessible surf spot. Day in day out Tarkwa Bay is home to a clean wedge, varying of course in size and weight, tucked neatly into its western corner.

Tarkwa Bay on Google Maps[Tarkwa Bay circled in white, at the mouth of Lagos Lagoon on Google Maps]

The most interesting thing about the wave at Tarkwa Bay, however, is not the setup but the locals. Unlike the hierarchical and politicised line ups one finds throughout Europe and North America, the surf at Tarkwa Bay is populated by a mass of boisterous boys, hooting encouragement at pretty much any ride or manoeuvre their fellow surfers get stuck into. 

Policed by a few of the older regulars, the crew who surf here are the epitome of community. This even extends to their gear. Between them they share twelve boards, in various shapes of disrepair. The ethics of sharing mean that even the tiniest groms get to hone their skills on the same equipment as the more experienced older surfers, boards invariably abandoned by travelling surfers who have passed through. Wax is a luxury they've never heard of.

Oli Hillyer-Riley's Tarkwa Bay boys[shredding on boards inherited from travelling surfers shot by Oli Hillyer-Riley]

With little to no surf infrastructure in Lagos, the kids at Tarkwa Bay have to make do with the little they have. And their passion for surfing and raw talent only goes to show how little all the gear, industry and branding associated with surfing actually influences the unadulterated joy of the act itself.

Dylan Graves and Dane Gudauskas travelled to Tarkwa Bay to shoot an episode of the former's Weird Waves video series. And whilst the wave itself may not be the weirdest that they've encountered, the local crew in this little corner of Lagos clearly blew their minds... watching this gaggle of kids so in love with riding waves, and talented to boot, they instantly knew they were witnessing something truly unique in the world of contemporary surfing.

Dylan Graves, Dane Gudauskas and Manu by Oli Hillyer-Riley[Dylan Graves, Dane Gudauskas and Manu, a really talented and ambitious local and leader of the Tarkwa Bay pack, shot by Oli Hillyer-Riley]

In January of this year however, shortly after the release of the Tarkwa Bay Weird Waves webisode, news came through that the community at Tarkwa was under threat. Claims that the locals were stealing oil from the many pipelines that pass under Tarkwa and the surrounding beach communities has lead to the forced evacuation of the area by the Nigerian Navy. Homes destroyed and residents displaced.

Tarkwa Bay evac by Omoregie Osakpolor[The evacuation of Tarkwa Bay photographed by Omoregie Osakpolor/Justice and Empowerment Initiatives]

Officially, the line is that locals have been digging pits to tap the oil from pipelines which they then sell on the black market. And in order to prevent the theft but more importantly protect the residents from the severe hazards of unregulated gasoline extraction, the Navy have seen fit to evacuate the area entirely. That's the official line. However the area around Tarkwa Bay has for a long time been landmarked for a tourist resort for the growing wealthy elite of Lagos and visiting foreigners. Several human rights groups and local initiatives believe that this is the true reason for the sudden and harsh actions of the military.

In either case, the forced eviction and demolition of private homes for security reasons or collective punishment is illegal in Nigeria. And the displaced residents are being put through untold hardships. The blossoming surf scene at Tarkwa Bay trampled underfoot. A full report can be found on CNN's website here.

Joining Dylan and Dane on their trip to Nigeria was Oli Hillyer-Riley, a photographer from London. Oli amassed loads of epic images of the boys of Tarkwa Bay and when gathered together the photographs formed a really interesting snapsot of the scene. Knowing the hardships that the people of Tarkwa Bay were now being put through, Oli decided to self-publish a book of the photos and donate all the profits to the community of Tarkwa Bay and the non-profit organisation Positive Vibe Warriors (check more about them here).

Oli Hillyer-Riley's Tarkwa Bay Boys[another of Oli Hillyer-Riley's many epic photos from No Wahala]

We are super excited to be stocking Oli's very limited (only 300 copies!) and heart warming book No Wahala. We even got him to sign a few of them and print up one of his favourite images from the book for us.... get it here!

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