From Tramore to Tofo: Cresting the waves of Mozambique’s embryonic surfing scene

Waterford surf coach assists voluntary initiative aiming to turn Mozambican town into a surfing hub that can uplift local community economically

Grace Doyle, a veteran of Ireland’s national surfing team, is no stranger to adventures, having gone to remote destinations in the tropics on numerous occasions to satisfy her compulsion for travel and riding waves.

But in May, the 33-year-old from Co Waterford set out for a small coastal town, Tofo, in Mozambique’s Inhambane Province, to participate in an initiative that represented a step into the unknown for her.

In early 2022, Doyle was contacted by a Galwayman, Eoin Sinnott, who lives in Tofo, to see whether she was interested in assisting a voluntary group called the Tofo BoardRiders Association of Mozambique (TOBAM) to launch an ambitious development project that has surfing at its core.

“I’d never heard of Tofo before connecting with Eoin, so I was a little nervous about the prospects of going there,” Doyle recalls. “But I was able to treat the trip like an adventure because he took care of all the travel and accommodation arrangements.”


Well-known for its scuba diving and diverse ocean wildlife, Tofo’s potential as a surfing destination remains largely untapped even though it has a variety of surf spots along the Inhambane peninsula, where it is located.

In November 2022, TOBAM secured €10,000 in seed funding from the Irish Embassy in the capital, Maputo, to launch its project, which ultimately aims to turn Tofo into a surfing hub that can uplift the local community economically.

A key early step towards this goal involved recruiting a person to help boost the project’s coaching programme for Mozambican surfers with the potential to become members of the country’s first national surfing team.

Sinnott, executive director of TOBAM, believes there is plenty of surfing talent in Mozambique, but the athletes need specialised training and lack the resources required to make an impact on the world stage.

“We really wanted to bring over a female surfing coach, so when I was researching online I came across Grace, and she seemed to be exactly the type of candidate we had in mind because of the combination of skills she has,” he says.

Aside from being a prominent female surfer in Ireland, Doyle is also an International Surfing Association (ISA)-accredited coach and a former physical education and mathematics teacher.

After nearly two days of travelling from Ireland, which involved a final-leg seven-hour minibus journey alone from Maputo up the coast, Doyle found herself in Tofo.

“We were stopped by police eight times on the way here in the minibus, which dropped me by the side of the road next to the beach in the dark, so I was very glad Eoin was there to meet me,” she says half-jokingly.

As a tourist destination Tofo is a wonderful place. I’d love to go back there if the opportunity arose

—  Grace Doyle

Over the next two weeks the Tramore native, who has since returned to Ireland, immersed herself into Tofo’s embryonic surfing scene, taking coaching sessions and sharing her perspective on competitive surfing with those she was charged with helping.

In addition, she joined young women in roundtable discussions on the challenges they face in a male-dominated sport, helped to explore job opportunities in the surf industry, and participated in a community-led surf-spot mapping and local language naming exercise.

“There is such great potential here to develop a thriving surf scene,” Doyle insists. “There is hardly anyone in the water surfing now, and as a tourist destination Tofo is a wonderful place. I’d love to go back there if the opportunity arose.”

Mozambique is one of the world’s poorest nations, and successive governments have struggled to adequately develop the country’s economic pillars, including its tourism sector, since a devastating civil war ended in 1992.

Hindered by this and Tofo’s relative inaccessibility – there are no direct commercial flights from abroad to its nearest airport, a 30-minute drive away – the only people to surf in the area until recent years were primarily from South Africa.

Sinnott and his colleagues in TOBAM want to rectify this by developing the town’s surf tourism potential so it can provide jobs for a coastal community that traditionally has few employment prospects.

“Building a responsible, inclusive national surfing team with Olympic potential that is complemented by a local surf industry and eco-tourism services offers solutions” to the area’s social, economic, and environmental challenges, TOBAM states in its strategy document.

TOBAM believes that drawing foreign surfers to the area in greater numbers will benefit local tourism generally, as they all spend money in restaurants, bars, nightclubs and on accommodation.

Their presence also creates the potential for locals to expand or develop businesses that focus on equipment rental, surf lessons, surf clothing and coastal tours.

In addition, TOBAM is exploring the feasibility of developing a local surfboard shaping craft industry that will make wooden surfboards out of native species of trees or imported paulownia wood, which is widely used by producers.

One of Tofo’s first local surfers, Narciso Nhampossa (31), says young Mozambicans are increasingly drawn to the sport because it is closely intertwined with their local environment, which they want to leverage for economic gains in a sustainable way.

“More and more locals are surfing in Tofo, but they need help to develop the sport sustainably so that the ocean and coastal ecosystems that give it life are protected,” he maintains.

Efforts to properly establish surfing as a competitive sport started over a year ago when a group of Tofo residents co-led by TOBAM president Bruno Lopez, Ines Lopez, and Grant Gilmour came together to host the Tofo Surf Series, Mozambique’s first nationally driven surfing contest.

The event, which was held at Tofo Beach in June 2022, attracted 54 competitors from around the country.

Holding the competition was an important step for the sport’s development, believes Sinnott, as it raised Mozambique’s profile and opened the door for the country to gain membership of the ISA, which is recognised by the International Olympic Committee.

With Doyle now back in Ireland, TOBAM is looking ahead to the next phase of its development project, which will initially see it apply for a €50,000 grant from the Irish Embassy to cover the cost of taking it forward over the next six months.

Sinnott says close to half of this amount would go towards hiring a full-time professional team of programme directors to begin developing TOBAM’s three main initiatives and to mobilise multi-annual funding.

The first of these focuses on coastal governance, which involves engaging local youths in ocean conservation work and enabling their informed participation in local authority policy-making forums.

The second oversees the development of surfing as a competitive sport along the country’s coastline, which means expanding local people’s access to the activity. And lastly, it has an initiative to develop surf tourism and industry-related jobs in coastal areas.

“One of the first things we would do is train young Mozambicans already working as surfing teachers, aiming to bring them up to Level 2 of the ISA’s coaching standards. Then we could start marketing this higher-quality service through local lodges and guest houses bringing in tourists.

“Another thing we want to do is bring in surfboard shapers who want to spend a month or longer here teaching kids the craft. We want to do this to see if there is local interest in such a job, as you are not going to set up industries overnight,” he concludes.