Changing Planet

Surfing Remote Waves in Madagascar

Gregg Treinish and his team at Adventure Scientists bring us stories from around the world about adventuring with purpose. Here, Erwan Simon of surfExplore describes his experience surfing and collecting microplastic samples for Adventure Scientists’ Worldwide Microplastics Initiative on a trip to Madagascar. 

By Erwan Simon | Photos by John Seaton Callahan

composite photo of Madagascar's Vezo fisherman
The Barren Islands were completely uninhabited as recently as 2000—the Vezo people have since moved here from mainland Madagascar in small groups to pursue seasonal fishing opportunities. Photos by John Callahan/surfExplore

Madagascar has 3,000 miles of coastline and many offshore reefs. Most surfers go to the island’s south, between Toliara and Tôlanaro. The rugged central west coast between Mahajanga and Morondava remains largely unexplored. So, in 2015, our surfEXPLORE team flew to the world’s fourth largest island to find new waves and real adventure!

surfEXPLORE is a multi-national group who travel to some of the world’s more remote and exotic locations seeking undiscovered surfing waves. Our core team is Hawaiian photographer John Seaton Callahan, British longboard champion Sam Bleakley, Italian surfer Emiliano Cataldi, and me, French surfer Erwan Simon.

Erwan Simon, taking notes on the time and location for the Adventure Scientists water sample and riding new waves in the Barren Islands. Photo by John Callahan/surfExplore

Upon arriving in Antananarivo, Madagascar, we drove off-road for two days to Maintirano in the dangerous Melaky region. The Malagasy are great people, but we were told to beware of the Dahalos: some Dahalos are bandits who attack cars on the dangerous roads of the arid plateau from Tsiroanomandidy to Maintirano, a small remote coastal town of the Mozambique channel.

Fortunately we reached Maintirano without incident, and took a small boat with all our baggage and surfboards to the Barren Islands. Nomadic Vezos fishermen live in this pristine archipelago of coral islands. There’s no running water and no electricity, just living on the beach: a real paradise!

Walking to the boat after breakfast, to look for new waves in the Barren Islands. Photo by John Callahan/surfExplore
Walking to the boat after breakfast, to look for new waves in the Barren Islands. Photo by John Callahan/surfExplore

An old Vezo fisherman—the chief of Nosy Andrano Island—gave us authorization to camp on the beach near their village. We shared daily life with them: fishing, cooking food, playing music, and even learning to sail on their traditional boats. When we left the island the old chief told us, “the Vezos are nomadic fishermen, and you are the Vezos of the waves!”

When we surf we try to capture the context of the waves, their identity. The human and cultural elements give us part of the story, and collecting water samples for the Global Microplastics Initiative helps us fill in the physical side. I can’t save the world, but I can help, and I do that by collecting samples for Adventure Scientists.

Erwan Simon, riding a new right reef wave in the Barren Islands of Madagascar. Photo by John Callahan/surfExplore
Erwan Simon, riding a new right reef wave in the Barren Islands of Madagascar. Photo by John Callahan/surfExplore

Erwan Simon is a French surfer, explorer, and journalist constantly on the hunt for new waves and undocumented surf spots. He has collected six samples from around the world including Madagscar, New Guinea, Gabon, and Sierra Leone for the Global Microplastics Initiative while on expeditions with surfExplore.

Learn more about Erwan and the surfExplore team and their trip to the Papua Province on the island of New Guinea.

Find out more about the Worldwide Microplastics Initiative  and other Adventure Scientists projects by visiting their website, and by following them on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

Gregg Treinish founded Adventure Scientists in 2011 with a strong passion for both scientific discovery and exploration.

National Geographic named Gregg Adventurer of the Year in 2008 when he and a friend completed a 7,800-mile trek along the spine of the Andes Mountain Range. He was included on the Christian Science Monitor’s 30 under 30 list in 2012, and the following year became a National Geographic Emerging Explorer for his work with Adventure Scientists. In 2013, he was named a Backpacker Magazine “hero”, in 2015, a Draper Richards Kaplan Entrepreneur and one of Men’s Journal’s “50 Most Adventurous Men.” In 2017, he was named an Ashoka Fellow.

Gregg holds a biology degree from Montana State University and a sociology degree from CU-Boulder. He thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2004.

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