Matatu surfing: Kenyans have found a dangerous way of riding buses | Photo: SurferToday

Kenya features around 350 miles (563 kilometers) of coastline and idyllic white sand beaches facing the Indian Ocean.

The East African nation has several good spots and even a few perfect and uncrowded waves at Manda Island.

However, one of the fastest-growing outdoor pastimes is taking place in the busy streets of Kenya's capital city, Nairobi.

These modern-day urban surfers are riding the so-called Matatu, or matatus, which are privately owned minibusses used as shared taxis.

What is a Matatu?

The Matatu, colorful minibusses pulsing with life, serves as the stage for this modern urban adventure.

These aren't your typical buses. Each Matatu is an artwork in motion, decorated with portraits of celebrities, slogans, and a music playlist crafted to quickly woo potential passengers.

In cities like Nairobi, a staggering 70 percent of commuter journeys are aboard these vehicles.

The history of Matatus dates back to the 1960s. However, the true cultural boom in Kenya was during the 1980s and 1990s.

By the early 2000s, most Matatus had evolved into vividly decorated Japanese microvans.

Fast forward to around 2015, and larger, bus-sized vehicles began rolling out under the Matatu moniker.

This term isn't exclusive to Kenya either; parts of Nigeria also recognize it.

While these minibusses are regulated by Kenyan law, requiring features like seat belts and speed governors, the enforcement is often lax.

The Matatu's colorful decor? Some of that might even be against the rules. Over time, Matatus have faced criticism for links to reckless driving and, in some cases, criminality.

Reacting to these concerns, by 2010, the Kenyan government began pushing a policy to replace the minibus Matatus in Nairobi with larger buses that could accommodate 25 or more passengers.

The goal? A safer and more organized transport system.

New Matatus are no longer welcomed in Nairobi, and the existing fleet can only continue till they're beyond repair.

Matatu: a very particular public transportation culture takes place in Kenya | Photo: Tmaokisa/Creative Commons

Riding Buses Parallel to the Ground

In this evolving transportation landscape emerges Matatu surfing.

Imagine loaded Matatus speeding down Nairobi streets while daring individuals perform acrobatics, hanging from these buses.

It's similar to train surfing but with buses.

These death-defying Matatu riders get their bodies parallel to the ground and even walk on the sides of other moving vehicles.

For his daring acts, one of them, Kasaya Muyoti, earns one dollar per trip, but the rush also keeps him going.

"What I do is not risky at all because I have done it for a long time, and I am used to it. It's just like martial arts, where practice makes perfect," explains Muyoti.

"When I surf Matatus, I attract two or three passengers every now and then. I have six years of experience doing this."

While Matatu surfing makes for gripping online content and showcases the audacity of Nairobi's youth, some Kenyans are understandably concerned.

"They try to impress people, but it's risky. They take too much risk. Some of them can die from it," warns a local.

Matatu: 11,000 vehicles operate in Nairobi | Photo: Macharia/Creative Commons

Adrenaline Seekers

Navigating Kenya's roads, marked by frequent collisions and an evolving infrastructure, presents its own set of challenges.

The emerging trend of Matatu surfing only compounds these alarming figures.

"Matatu surfers hanging on the rails of the car while moving might lead to catastrophic dangers not only to themselves but also other road users," explains Odhiambo Otieno, a transport and roads expert.

"It's also an extra expense for other road users. Serious penalties need to be put in place for such kind of people."

But for Muyoti and others like him, it's the thrill combined with the monetary incentive that keeps them going.

"There are different forms of income," concludes the Matatu surfing expert.

"A customer may like what you do, so when I go to charge him his fare, he tells you what you do is attractive and adds you some cash on the side."

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