By the age of 13, Khadjou Sambe had fallen in love with surfing. But surfing is a male-dominated sport in her home country of Senegal, and it’s rare to find women riding the waves. It’s even rarer to see women of color, especially Black women, surfing—something Sambe quickly became aware of as she began progressing in the sport. Despite the odds, she kept going, fueled by a growing love of being in the water.
Fast forward 11 years later and Sambe, now 24, has her sights set on competing in the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, under the guidance of her coach, Rhonda Harper. After Harper recruited Sambe to compete in a surf competition in Sierra Leone in 2014, she invited her to California to train, and from there, the organization Black Girls Surf was born, helmed by Harper with the support of Sambe. Together, the two have since opened free surf camps all over California and Africa, in places like Ghana, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, to inspire and train other young girls of color to ride the waves.
We caught up with Sambe, who is currently at their surf camp in Dakar, to hear about her journey thus far, her Olympic goals, and what advice she has for aspiring surfers.
Where did your love for surfing begin?
I’m a girl who likes playing sports, and I started surfing at age 13. Where I live, everything is surrounded by water, so everybody goes surfing all the time. I grew up seeing a lot of my cousins and uncles surfing. But I would never see any Black girls and always wondered where they were. That made me want to surf even more, so I could prove that girls can surf, too.
Did you get a lot of support?
When I tried [surfing] for the first time, I fell in love with it. I kept trying until I became good at it, but my parents were not pleased. A lot of the people in my family would say, “why is she always with boys?” I started getting into problems with my family, so I stopped surfing for about two years and worked at a restaurant. But I’d give myself daily pep talks like, “Khadjou, no, you don’t have to stop surfing, don’t listen to what people are saying, continue following your dreams, fight for yourself.” I went back to surfing.