Surfers ride high on Morocco’s winter waves

Updated 12 January 2013
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Surfers ride high on Morocco’s winter waves

Fleeing the gloom of northern Europe in search of warm winter waves, surfers are flocking to a fishing village on Morocco’s Atlantic coast now selling itself as a top surf destination.
It may be a world away from Australia’s Gold Coast, or Hawaii’s Waimea Bay.
But with enough wind, the ocean breakers at Taghazout swell to four or five meters (13 to 16 feet) and are usually at least 300 meters long, making it the Maghreb country’s best surf spot, according to Moroccan pro Boukel Simo.
Morocco’s first “surf festival,” held at Taghazout in late December, caught the attention in particular of boardriders fed up with the ice and cold of the northern hemisphere winter.
“Surfers arrived from all over, mostly Europe,” said Mohammed, who repairs surfboards in Taghazout.
“The conditions in December are perfect: winter waves and sunshine.”
Add to that the blue skies, mild winter temperatures — the sea averaged 19 degrees Celsius during the three-day festival — and an international airport at nearby Agadir, there is plenty about Taghazout to impress sun-deprived surfers.
Tom, a seasoned German surfer in his 30s, drew a favorable comparison between California and Morocco’s southwest coast.
“Smaller waves, but a better climate than San Diego!“
Phil, a New Zealander living in London, who like his Finnish friend Antton had flown out for the festival, was sold on Morocco’s surf.
Less than five hours by plane from northern Europe, the only alternative is the Canary Islands, he explained, “and that’s more expensive.”
“In Europe it’s cold and dark at the moment,” he added.
The Cecille family, from La Rochelle on France’s Atlantic coast, arrived in Agadir, but not with the intention of spending their holiday in Morocco’s top beach resort. They headed immediately for Taghazout.
“It’s been two months since I last surfed. It’s great here,” said Baptiste, the 17-year-old son.
The village is already a victim of its own success, however, with some visitors complaining of crowded waters during peak season.
“Avoid the Christmas holidays... The whole of Europe is out there,” wrote one contributor on the website allosurf.net.
The village now hosts numerous “surf camps,” touted by travel agencies, and offering accommodation and courses in a water sport that has flourished since the 1990s.
Surfboards lie alongside fishing boats pulled up on the wide sandy beach at Taghazout, where the tourism trade has provided work for locals like Omar, an instructor who works at the surf camps.
The high season runs until April.
“After that, there aren’t many people here,” said Xavier Frederic, a Frenchman who has run a pizzeria in the village since 2005, and whose 20 tables were fully booked for the duration of the festival.
The event’s organizer, Mehdi Ouhabbi, is seizing the opportunity to clean up Taghazout’s beaches and raise concerns about the environment.
“In one day, we filled more than 200 bags of litter that we found on the beach,” he said, pointing to a pile of rubbish nearby, beneath which a trickle of waste water from the village flowed directly out onto the sandy shore.
“Running water arrived here three years ago, but there are no plans for water treatment facilities,” with the local authorities citing a lack of funds, Ouhabbi said.
The waste water “smells bad and it makes the surfers’ eyes sting,” he said.
Ouhabbi admitted there was little hope the village would retain its laid-back surfers’ paradise character, pointing to plans for a vast hotel and golf complex in the area.
A “surfers’ village” is also envisaged, with the government stressing that it wants to develop “sustainable tourism.”
“At the beginning it was just a few hippies,” said Marco, a Frenchman who has lived in the area for 25 years. “But it could become big business, a new Cote d’Azur,” he added.


In emotional reunion, Spielberg revisits ‘Schindler’s List’

Updated 27 April 2018
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In emotional reunion, Spielberg revisits ‘Schindler’s List’

  • It was the first time Steven Spielberg had watched “Schindler’s List” with an audience since it was released in 1993
  • Spielberg initially shied away from “Schindler’s List,” scripted by Steven Zaillian and based on Thomas Keneally’s novel “Schindler’s Arkansas”

NEW YORK: Steven Spielberg says no film has affected him the way “Schindler’s List” did.
Spielberg, Liam Neeson, Ben Kingsley and others reunited for a 25th anniversary screening of “Schindler’s List” at the Tribeca Film Festival on Thursday, in an evening that had obvious meaning to Spielberg and the hushed, awed crowd that packed New York’s Beacon Theater. In a Q&A following the film, Spielberg said it was the first time he had watched “Schindler’s List” with an audience since it was released in 1993.
“I have never felt since ‘Schindler’s List’ the kind of pride and satisfaction and sense of real, meaningful accomplishment — I haven’t felt that in any film post-’Schindler’s List,’” Spielberg said.
The reunion was a chance for Spielberg and the cast to reflect on the singular experience of making an acknowledged masterwork that time has done little to dull the horror of, nor its necessity. “It feels like five years ago,” Spielberg said of making the film.
Spielberg shot the film in Krakow, Poland, in black-and-white and without storyboards, instead often using hand-held cameras to create a more documentary-like realism. Neeson remembered Spielberg running with a camera and, on the fly, directing him and Kingsley down Krakow streets. “It was exciting. It was dangerous and unforgettable,” Neeson said.
“Schindler’s List,” made for just $22 million (Spielberg declined a pay check), grossed $321 million worldwide and won seven Academy Awards, including best picture and best director. It also did much to educate the American public on the Holocaust. After the film, Spielberg established the Shoah Foundation, which took the testimony of 52,000 Holocaust survivors.
More needs to be done for Holocaust education, Spielberg said: “It’s not a pre-requisite to graduate high school, as it should be. It should be part of the social science, social studies curriculum in every public high school in this country.”
Making “Schindler’s List” was a profound, emotional and fraught experience for many of those involved. Kingsley recalled confronting a man for anti-Semitism during production. Spielberg said swastikas were sometimes painted overnight. Recreating scenes like those in the Krakow ghetto and at Auschwitz were, Spielberg said, very difficult for most of those involved. Two young Israeli actors, he said, had breakdowns after shooting a shower scene at the concentration camp.
“That aesthetic distance we always talk about between audience and experience? That was gone. And that was trauma,” said Spielberg. “There was trauma everywhere. And we captured the trauma. You can’t fake that. (The scene) where everyone takes off their clothes was probably the most traumatic day of my entire career — having to see what it meant to strip down to nothing and then completely imagine this could be your last day on earth.
“There were whole sections that go beyond anything I’ve ever experienced or seen people in front of the camera experience,” the 71-year-old filmmaker added.
Spielberg actually released two movies in 1993. “Jurassic Park” came out in June, and “Schindler’s List” followed in November. While he was shooting in Poland, Spielberg made several weekly satellite phone calls with the special effects house Industrial Light & Magic to go over Tyrannosaurus Rex shots — a distraction he abhorred.
“It built a tremendous amount of anger and resentment that I had to do this, that I actually had to go from what you experienced to dinosaurs chasing jeeps,” Spielberg told the audience. “I was very grateful later in June, though. But until then, it was a burden. This was all I cared about.”
“Schindler’s List” was a redefining film for Spielberg, who up until then was mostly considered an “entertainer,” associated with fantasy and escapism. Since, he has largely gravitated toward more dramatic and historical material like “Amistad,” “Saving Private Ryan,” “Munich,” “Lincoln” and last year’s “The Post.”
But Spielberg initially shied away from “Schindler’s List,” scripted by Steven Zaillian and based on Thomas Keneally’s novel “Schindler’s Arkansas”. He urged Roman Polanski, whose mother was killed at Auschwitz, to make it. Martin Scorsese was once attached to direct.
Yet the making of “Schindler’s List” prompted an awakening for Spielberg, who has said his “Jewish life came pouring back into my heart.” On Thursday, the director said he wanted to make the film about “the banality of the deepest evil” and “stay on the march to murder, itself.”
To keep his sanity while shooting in Poland, he watched “Saturday Night Live” on Betamax and relied on weekly calls from Robin Williams.
“He would call me on schedule and he would do 15 minutes of stand-up on the phone,” said Spielberg. “I would laugh hysterically because I had to release so much. But the way Robin is on the telephone, he would always hang up on you on the loudest, best laugh you’d give him.”