Words and photographs by Gero Lilleike (unless otherwise stated).
It’s a well-known fact that South Africa is home to some of the most pristine fly fishing waters in Africa and the world. The sheer number and variety of locations and fish species afford the keen fly fisherman a lifetime worth of bucket list fishing opportunities, but only if you take yourself seriously…
I don’t really.
Well, not as a fly fisherman anyway.
I’m certainly keen and I’ve dabbled in the art long enough to appreciate and love the act when it occurs, however rare an occasion as that may be.
In Golfing terms, I would be referred to as a “weekend hacker” but seeing that my fly rod mostly gathers dust in my garage for much of any given year, I am not entirely sure if there’s a term for my kind in fishing speak? A chancer, perhaps?
Just over a year ago, I found myself adrift on the Orange River somewhere between Vioolsdrift and Aussenkehr on a 5-day paddling trip. It was a marvelous adventure and miraculously, I remembered to pack my fly rod – dust and all.
At the time, this incredible place was overwhelmingly beautiful and I couldn’t fathom the significance of the fish that lived in this spectacular river system.
For those with a particular penchant for targeting largemouth yellowfish (Labeobarbus kimberleyensis) and smallmouth yellowfish (Labeobarbus aeneus), yes, I had to Google that, few places in South Africa are more lucrative than the Orange River.
But not for yours truly. Not on that particular trip…
My trout-biased fly box was woefully under-equipped, much like me and ultimately had little to no relevance to the fish curiously eyeing me out from below.
Day 3 passed and I still hadn’t caught a single fish.
Out of sheer desperation and withgreat shame felt towards the fine art that is fly fishing, I gave in to the friendly instruction of, Erastus, my local Namibian guide.
I baited my fly.
A wooly bugger, with a piece of dough to put an end to my undying misery.
I caught my first-ever smallmouth yellowfish on the Orange River!
It was a shamefully embarrassing result. I know. But I had learnt my lesson the hard way.
That non-event, much like 2020, in fact, brings me to the purpose of these words.
A tale of revenge of sorts…
I’m fortunate enough to be acquainted with well-known South African fish artist and fly fishing enthusiast, Gavin Erwin.
Plying his trade from his studio in Johannesburg, Gavin is a humble man. He’s a notably talented artist and an equally talented fly fisherman with a long and successful history of fishing that spans just about all of his 35 years on earth. Gavin and his long-time fishing compadres, Sean Bisset and Jason McIntosh were planning their first summer strike mission on the Orange River and somehow, I managed to crack an invite along with Gavin’s brother, Steve Erwin, who ironically is also an established car artist from Cape Town.
The opportunity to return to the Orange River was impossible to resist.
The river was calling and I had a score to settle…
Weeks before the trip, Gavin offered to tie the flies necessary for success and this was something I was hugely grateful for, especially considering my glaring ignorance a year earlier. Needless to say, a bread fly was simply out of the question for this trip!
Gavin’s fly-tying efforts were concentrated on three main fly patterns including a fine selection of nymphs, colorful weighted streamers and for the entrée, a delectable crab pattern.
Gavin assured me that the yellows would “smash” these patterns and I couldn’t have been more excited to see that happen.
Gavin and his crew made the long journey from Johannesburg to Vioolsdrift while Steve and I drove north from Cape Town. We met Gavin and Co at Oewerbos River Camp on the South African side of the Orange River. We shared a few cold beers as the sun set over the barren but exquisitely beautiful landscape that defines much of Namibia.
For this mission, we would focus our combined energy on the waters to the east of Vioolsdrift with the guidance of an experienced Orange River fishing guide, the ominously-named, De Villiers Uys.
With gear at the ready, we set off on a dirt road that led us to a well-known and over-fished weir where we would open the tallies, proper. We spread ourselves out across the numerous pools and it wasn’t long before our nymphing efforts paid off with a few decent-sized smallies in the net from Gavin, Sean and Jason. Steve soon followed suit, as did I, with perhaps the smallest smallmouth of the day.
A largemouth yellowfish alludes most and it’s for this very reason that it’s known as the “fish of a thousand casts”, but here, on the Orange River, that’s far from true. Sean netted the first largemouth of the trip with seemingly little effort and Gavin followed up with a sizable Mozambique tilapia (Blue Kurper) in his net. We returned to our cabin fulfilled and the celebratory beers went down ever-so sweetly.
The next day we returned to the weir, but this time we also had our sights set on the biggest catfish we could find. De Villiers assured us that monster catfish lurked in the pools at the base of the weir. Sean hooked into the biggest barbel of the trip…by far, it was huge! Gavin hooked another in one of the upper pools and handed me the rod to bring it in. I was amazed at how powerful these fish are!
With a full moon keeping watch over proceedings, we spent the evening session throwing out crabs in the shallower runs and the some decent yellow specimens found their way into our nets. Another glorious day on the Orange! How could it possibly get better than this, I wondered?
De Villiers Uys had another ‘Uys’ up his sleeve and he was keen to take us further up the river to waters only accessible by boat. The next morning, De Villiers rigged up two inflatables and we all piled in for a slow 10 km splutter upstream.
Surrounded by only dry, rocky mountains, a nourishing river, blazing heat and not another human in sight, these were remote waters. The yellows were ‘smashing’ our nymphs viciously the moment lines hit the water!
Each fight was cherished but we soon lost count of how many fish we had caught. Hours passed but we had to get back to base. We chased the sun back straight into a headwind, arriving at the weir cold, wet and satisfied at yet another successful day on the river.
We knew this fishing trip would be amazing, but none of us expected it to be so magical. For me, this truly was a fishing experience of a lifetime and I couldn’t ask for much more. I had caught more fish than I have ever caught. Ever!
Winter is officially here and so are the waves! The last few days has seen Cape Town residents hunkering down as a massive winter storm system raged overhead which brought large amounts of rain, snow, cold weather and another major swell of the winter surfing season in Cape Town.
South Africa is currently in Level 3 lockdown in response to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and while beaches are closed and surfing remains ‘banned’ under regulations, surfers across the country, including myself, are back in the water and enjoying the much-needed peace and upliftment that surfing brings in this new strange world.
Swell was stacked all the way to the horizon. Photo: Gero Lilleike
On the back of this major storm, I thought I would go and watch (and photograph) the winter swell rolling in at Muizenberg with the intention of surfing myself. I took the scenic route via Boyes Drive and was stunned at what lay before me. False Bay was stacked to the horizon as a 4 metre, 12-second south swell filled the bay.
The paddle out to backline was very far away. Photo: Gero Lilleike
This was the first time in a very long time that I have seen so much swell. That, or I’ve been locked away in isolation for far too long. It was firing!
There were about 15 surfers out, sitting very deep. They were far out, way out. It was a mammoth paddle.
Muizenberg, Surfer’s Corner. This is where it all began… Photo: Gero Lilleike.
Muizenberg is where surfing in South Africa began and many businesses at Surfer’s Corner depend on the regular influx of tourists, surfers and their families but now with COVID-19 gripping the world, most businesses here are struggling to survive. With surfers back in the water, the businesses that are open can at least turn a penny again.
Kalk Bay has a well-known reef break of its own. Photo: Gero Lilleike
I then drove on towards the seaside village of Kalk Bay which is home to a throaty reef break and found a throng of local surfers and bodyboarders gorging themselves on thick, ledgy waves. They were getting so pitted! I was jealous.
Kalk Bay reef was laying down the gauntlet. Photo: Gero Lilleike
I decided to try my luck and paddle out at Muizenberg but I got licked instead. This swell wanted nothing to do with me and within 30 minutes the ocean spat me out and it was all over. I was stoked. That’s all I needed…
Photographs by Gero Lilleike / Roarke Bouffe / Dara Ahmed
I hail from a dedicated crew of Johannesburg-based surfers known as the GSA (Gauteng Surfing Association). Never heard of us? Well, now you have. Don’t forget it.
Refusing to be defined and restricted by the shackles of living in a land-locked city in the middle of the South Africa, we have developed a fine appreciation for surfing and the ocean over many years. Incredibly, we’ve racked up surf time all across the world. We’ve surfed all over South Africa, ridden waves in Mozambique, Namibia, Tanzania and even ventured abroad to surf swells in the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Europe, Canary Islands, Mauritius, Bali, Sri Lanka and even Hong Kong. The list is growing.
In a recent escapade, a select GSA crew, including Ross McIlroy, Jerome Tozer and yours truly, unleashed themselves in the Maldives. Riding waves in an exotic location such as the Maldives is a surfing dream come true and this surf trip was hugely significant for us and more importantly, for the GSA.
We were writing our history.
Gero Lilleike, Ross McIlroy and Jerome Tozer, making history for the GSA in the Maldives.Photo: Roarke Bouffe
Our foray to the Maldives, however, wasn’t nearly as provocative or groundbreaking as that of the late Tony Hussein Hinde and his friend Mark Scanlon, two Aussie adventurers who were en route to South Africa from Sri Lanka in 1973. Tony was a natural-footer with an African dream of surfing the groomed walls of Jeffreys Bay but his dream was dashed when their sailboat ran aground on Helengeli reef in the Maldives.
Effectively stranded in the Maldives, Hinde committed himself to the islands and went on to discover and surf the very breaks that we were about to enjoy. That’s an epic tale, one that’s well documented in the film Serendipity, a story that has inspired surfers the world over.
Cinnamon Dhonveli, home to Pasta Point, one of the most consistent left-handers in the Maldives. Photo: Gero Lilleike
We were headed to Cinnamon Dhonveli to surf Pasta Point, a famed left-hander that Hinde himself loved and surfed for many years.
For a goofy-footer, Pasta Point is heaven and no aeroplane on earth could fly me over there fast enough. Our surf skill level is best described as intermediate with a hint of kookery and it remained to be seen how we would fare on the long walls of Pasta Point.
More than this, we would also be surfing another left-hander in the Maldives, Lohis, a wave known for producing big, gaping barrels. Hell yes, bring it on!
Waves for days at Pasta Point
The wave at Pasta Point delivers fun by the bucketload. Photo: Roarke Bouffe
After 15 hours of travel, our plane made its approach to Malé, the capital of the Maldives. Looking out the window below, I could see countless pristine islands surrounded by a vibrant blue sea pulsing with waves. We were amped!
A quick 30-minute boat ride got us to the Cinnamon Dhonveli resort and after checking in, we beelined for Pasta Point to check the surf. It was low tide and Pasta was laying down 4-foot runners in clear azure water that was impossible to resist in the humid heat. In the blink of an eye, we were lining up our first wave of the trip. The flood gates opened and we surfed our brains out!
Gero Lilleike riding the line at Pasta Point. Photo: Roarke Bouffe
With only 30 surf passes issued at any given time, there was more than enough stoke to go around and we gorged ourselves on the waves rolling down the point with only a handful of surfers in the water.
After lunch, we were at it again and surfed until last light. What a day! Every day should be like this!
The surf was firing the next day and there was nothing else to do but to go surfing. What a blessing!
We all dropped into bombs and had incredible rides that left us beaming with joy. Hinde was so right about this left, what a phenomenal wave!
We witnessed another magical sunset from the water and with only 3 of us on the point, it was the perfect end to another great day of surfing.
Magical sunset in the Maldives . Photo: Gero Lilleike
My barrel came the next morning. The swell had dropped off and within 5 minutes of paddling out, my first wave of the morning appeared and I thought I’d give it a go.
I was slightly out of position and I took off in the white water. I almost kooked it, but somehow I managed to regain control. I shot back onto the face of the wave and started making my way down the line. As the wave reached the inside reef section, the wall jacked-up ahead of me and all my senses stood to attention.
My time had come!
I tucked in and stepped on the gas as the lip of the wave curled over me, the sea gods blessed me with my first Maldivian barrel.
I was so stoked!
Most Joburgers will drown in a teaspoon of water and the fact that I got shacked at Pasta Point made me incredibly happy. I was beside myself!
Meeting the locals
The locals are friendly in the Maldives. Photo: Roarke Bouffe
After breakfast, we went snorkelling offshore in the hope of spotting blacktip reef sharks and turtles. We boarded Tony Montana, a boat operated by Atoll Adventures, and set off around the island. Just beyond Pasta Point, sharks and turtles are common and after a quick briefing, it was time to meet the locals…
We spotted a few juvenile blacktip reef sharks patrolling the reef and then a while later we were swimming alongside a beautiful turtle that seemed completely unphased by us. What a magical experience!
The wind turned onshore in the afternoon, effectively skunking us, but the day couldn’t have been better. My dream of catching a barrel in the Maldives had come true and my stoke pot was overflowing. I was quite possibly the happiest man on the planet.
You can easily acess Sultans and Honky’s by boat. Photo: Gero Lilleike
There’s a cranking right-hander near Pasta Point called Sultans, named so by the legendary Hinde himself and we were amped to surf it. Interestingly, the perfect left-hander adjacent to Sultans is called Honky’s, which was Hinde’s nickname.
It was still dark when we made our way to the harbour where we boarded a boat with surfboards underarm for the short ride to Sultans. When Sultans is firing, it gets crowded very quickly and by catching this early boat, it meant that we would have Sultans to ourselves for the magic hour before other boats arrived.
We arrived at Sultans at first light and the waves looked fun. There were a few bigger sets that looked tantalising and as they rolled in over the reef, the inside section hollowed out and barreled beautifully over the reef. We could only imagine what it would look like on a big swell with heaving barrels rolling down the line.
We jumped into a warm, deep blue sea and paddled over to the peak. The sunrise was spectacular!
We had a fun surf at Sultans but after 2 hours in the water, hunger drove us back to the boat. A thick storm rolled in that afternoon and the surf went mank.
It was time to look forward to surfing Lohis!
Living the life at Lohis
At the gate to Lohis. Photo: Photo: Roarke Bouffe
The storm set in overnight and it was pouring with rain. We packed and made our way to the harbour to catch a boat to Malé where we would transfer to another boat to get to Adaaran Select Hudhuranfushi resort, home to Lohis.
When we set eyes on Lohis for the first time, we were amazed, yet again, to see a perfectly structured wave. It looked super fun and we couldn’t get into the water quickly enough!
Ross catches his first glimpse of the waves at Lohis. Photo: Gero Lilleike
It’s a fast, rippable wave and on a large swell, Lohis delivers big, long barrels that run endlessly down the point. With a surf pass limit of 45, crowds are well-managed and we got it good with only a few surfers out.
Access to the wave is made easy with a slipway that serves as the entry and exit point to the surf and perhaps the most attractive facet of Lohis is that it’s a wave that caters for all skill levels and there always seems to be a fun wave on offer.
Lohis from above. Paradise. Photo: Gero Lilleike
There’s also a large viewing deck right on the break and Lohis bar and restaurant is ready to serve you an ice-cold beer and a meal as soon as you step out of the surf.
It was our last night in the Maldives and so we went bar-hopping to celebrate the trip and I even showed the locals a thing or two on the dance floor…
I woke up at 4:30 am, half-boozed and depressed. It was dark and I couldn’t sleep anymore. The reality of going home was sinking in and this Maldivian dream I had been living so fully for the last few days was quickly closing out on me, much like the wave that barreled over me at Pasta Point 2 days before.
The surf at Lohis is easily accessed via a slipway. Just watch out for urchins! Photo: Gero Lilleike.
I got out of bed and walked to Lohis to look at the wave in the dark. I saw nothing, but I could hear the wave breaking just beyond the limits of my vision. It was music to my ears. I closed my eyes and listened intently to the sweet sound of Lohis dancing in the dark.
First light came and Lohis was alive. The ocean was calm and clean with a perfect wave peeling before my eyes. My depression instantly evaporated and stoke flowed through me once more.
Lohis is known for producing tasty barrel sections on bigger days, but it’s a super fun and fast wave when it’s smaller too. Photo: Gero Lilleike
I paddled out for the last time and managed to get stuck into a few waves. Another storm was brewing at sea. The surf was short-lived as the wind picked up and the sea turned to chop. We spent the day relaxing in hammocks before packing for the long haul home.
While I was packing, I thought about all the amazing experiences we had in the Maldives. The perfect waves, the crazy-good rides, my barrel at Pasta Point, the incredible sunsets, the stunning accommodation, excellent food, the laughs with friends and all the great people we met along the way.
All these experiences filled me with immense joy and gratitude. This place makes you feel alive and being able to witness the beauty of the Maldives and to ride her swells will surely rank as one of the best surf experiences of my life.
Just as Tony Hussein Hinde’s surf dreams came true in the Maldives all those years back, so too did ours and we have him to thank for that. The GSA would never be the same again…
I’m a sucker for a good outdoor adventure and in my experience, immersing yourself in nature’s flow is perhaps the most rewarding and therapeutic experience you can give yourself, especially if you are in need of mental and physical rejuvenation. Nature, after all, is a wonderful healer…
It’s no surprise then that my excitement escalated when my equally wonderful wife decided to book a 5-day river rafting adventure on the Orange River.
This was a bucket list travel experience and I couldn’t wait to finally do it!
Paddling on the Orange River is a relaxing experience for the whole family. Photo: Gero Lilleike
The Orange River forms a natural border between South Africa and Namibia and a 7-hour drive from Cape Town got us to the border post at Vioolsdrif which is a stone throw away from Bundi Lodge near Noordoewer where we would start our river adventure.
If you’ve ever been to Namibia, you’ll know, it’s hot, arid and desolate. The Orange River is a source of life here and plant and animal life is abundant along the river’s banks and as an enthusiastic fly fisherman, I was hoping to catch a fish. Any fish…
We were due to paddle a total distance of 85 km over 5 days, but with low seasonal water levels, we would only be doing 65 km, which is a fair distance for 2 amateur paddlers.
We were, however, accompanied by experienced and resourceful river guides, Patrick and Erastus, who would ensure our safe passage on the river.
With views like this every day, the paddle is worth it! Photo: Gero Lilleike
With camping gear and supplies packed and loaded on our boats, we set off down the Orange River. Paddling quickly becomes the norm as the reality of the distance sinks in. Despite the aches and pains, you simply have no choice but to keep pushing on! A headwind is your worst enemy on the water and when it arrives it can make paddling exceedingly difficult and torturous as you fight for every metre gained.
For the most part, we had stunning conditions for paddling and the water was exceptionally clean and clear. The harsh landscape is oddly pretty and the vibrant colours of the dry and rocky mountains stand in stark contrast to the greenery along the river.
Anyone for a cup of tea? Mmm… Photo: Gero Lilleike
Camping next to the river and sleeping under the stars is a particular highlight considering that the higher temperatures negate the need for a tent.
Nonetheless, having a tent is recommended if you are worried about creepy-crawlies paying you a visit in the middle of the night…
Other campers were apparently forced into their tents when Red Roman spiders were doing the rounds in their camp!
A troop of noisy baboons kept us up one night with their loud barks that echoed eerily through the warm night while an owl hooted in the moonlight from a nearby tree. Sleeping in the wild definately makes the experience more exciting!
Erastus with the day’s catch. This man knows how to fish! Photo: Gero Lilleike
If you love fishing then the Orange River is paradise. A wide variety of fish species call this river home and some of these include smallmouth and largemouth yellowfish, carp, barbell, bass and kurper.
Erastus has been a river guide for 24 years and he has extensive fishing experience on the river. I was amazed at how successful his fishing exploits were. He was regularly hauling in fish and enjoying his catch over an open fire every evening. What a champion!
Perseverance does pay off in the end. Photo: Patrick Engelbrecht
By the end of the trip, I had caught 4 different species of varying sizes while some of the fish were simply too big to catch on my tackle and bent hooks were evidence of this. It goes without saying, there are some monstrously-large fish lurking in the Orange River, so be sure to come prepared.
I was also intrigued by the names given to some of the rapids on this section of the river including Morning Shower, Rocky Waters, Snotklap, Root of Hell, Scorpions Tail and the biggest rapid on this route, Sjambok. Despite their ominous names, we found the rapids to be relatively easy to navigate, which makes this paddle a great option for families.
Sjambok rapid can be tricky if you get it wrong. Photo: Gero Lilleike
Remember to pack lots of eco-friendly sunscreen and don’t forget to wear protective and light breathable clothing. On most days, the mountains literally bake and the heat can be stifling. We experienced temperatures close to 50°, but thankfully the river is always close enough for a refreshing dip.
The Orange River was our home for 5 days and being in this remarkable place was both grounding and humbling. This adventure is easy to recommend and if you are in need of nature’s magical healing powers then you know what to do…
My phone rings to the tune of Rancid’s Time Bomb and I can’t help but turn the volume up full blast and let it ring, leaving Ross hanging on the other end. As the song reaches its climax, I answer. We exchange pleasantries and the conversation quickly shifts to surfand travel. Out of nowhere, Ross drops the Bali bomb on me.
“Dude, let’s go to Bali” he says.
Neurons fire in my brain as images of warm, hollow and perfectly peeling waves consume me. Surfers standing tall in gaping barrels, bronze flesh, cold Bintangs, golden sunsets, palm trees, paradise — the dream.
A surf trip to Bali crosses every surfer’s path at some point and out of pure desperation to escape the daily grind, I submit to the inevitable.
“I’m in, let’s do it”, I respond. Days later and with more research under the belt, common sense and doubt started gnawing away at the dream.
‘We can’t surf these waves. Our surfing is not on that level yet, we aren’t good enough,’ I think to myself.
How on earth will two average and occasionally kooky Joburg-bred surfers cope at breaks such as Padang Padang, Impossibles, Bingin, or heaven forbid, the legendary walls of Uluwatu or Keramas for that matter? These are some of the best breaks on the planet, right? It felt like we were way in over our heads on this one.
With flights and accommodation booked, there was no turning back. The Island of the Gods had us firmly in its grasp.
My wife, Maree, joined us for the adventure while our friend and colleague, Andrew, decided to come along at the last minute. Our crew was complete
We set off with the goal of exploring the now popularised, wave-rich Bukit Peninsula, using Bingin as our base for 5 days before heading up Bali’s east coast to surf the renowned right-hander at Keramas for the remainder of our 10-day surf bonanza.
The stifling heat and sticky humidity hit us square as we stepped off the plane at Ngurah Rai International Airport. Balinese security thought Andrew to be a fine African drug mule and proceeded to search every nook and cranny of his body and luggage. They even caressed his hair in awe, they’d probably never seen a pale drug mule from Africa before.
Andrew survived the rubber glove and soon we found ourselves in the throngs of Bali traffic with trucks and scooters expertly weaving through the congested streets. We arrived at our private villa in Bingin later that afternoon, frothing for a surf. With skegs in and wax on, we made our way down the steep steps to the beach where countless warungs and guesthouses lie tucked against the plush hillside, providing stunning views of the glistening incoming surf.
It was mid-tide and the waves were small. Further south, larger clean lines groomed by offshore wind rifled in at Padang Padang before offloading the last of their might at Impossibles. Further still, we could see larger sets pummeling the famed Uluwatu. The scene was magical and what was once a dream was now our reality. This heavenly place was our playground.
We shared waves in the golden glow and as the sun set over this watery wonderland, Bali welcomed us into her bosom and with a few Bintangs down the hatch, we were right as rain!
Scooters are a wonderful way to explore the Bukit and from the hilltop above Bingin, we set our sights on nearby Dreamland, which appeared to be picking up a sizable chunk of swell.
We scooted over for a closer look and arrived to find heaving swell filling the lineup. The short paddle-out ended with a beating as solid 6-footers bore down on us from the deep.
Ross scratched into a screamer and raced it all the way to the beach while I got hammered into oblivion by walls of whitewater. He returned to backline with a smile brimming from ear-to-ear and shouted, “That was one of the best waves of my life!”
My turn came soon after and I found myself drawing lines on a large, fast face that took me right to the beach where I got drilled into the sand in front of wide-eyed Chinese tourists. Our stoke pots were overflowing but we were hungry for more and as our confidence levels started surging we soon ticked off more rides at Bingin, Padang Padang Right and Impossibles.
Then, Ross pulled up a surf report and all our attention shifted to the possibility of surfing Uluwatu for the first time. Prior to coming to Bali, we had written Ulu’s off purely based on our skill level and we were well aware that the complexity of the break was perhaps beyond our ability.
We’d gathered that Uluwatu was a break best left to those with the skill and nerve to navigate its often large and powerful barrels that break with bone-crunching force on shallow reef. It’s not a wave to be trifled with, that we knew, but after some consternation, we decided to go see it for ourselves.
Situated on the southern tip of the Bukit Peninsula, Uluwatu is perfectly positioned to receive the biggest swells the Indian Ocean can muster. More so, massive limestone cliffs and an expansive lineup makes Uluwatu even more intimidating.
We arrived on the high tide and the surf was pumping with 8-10 foot waves detonating on the outer reefs and breaking unpredictably across the lineup. The intensity of the rip on the high tide was vicious. The cave at Uluwatu is where you enter and exit the lineup and from above we watched as surfers were being swept from the cave and dragged far down the point in no time at all. It looked sketchy and the paddle was going to be monumental.
We observed the lineup in silence for a long time, grappling with our fear and contemplating consequences. Ross was fighting a ferocious internal battle. The grandeur of what lay before him was tearing his conscience apart. He clearly wasn’t comfortable and truth be told, nor was I. We were simply out of our depth and eventually Ross suggested that we give the surf a miss. We stared on blankly in silence as the surf exploded on the reef below.
In an effort to find some solace, I tried to imagine how Gerry Lopez would have mentally approached his first surf at Uluwatu in 1974, but comfort was lost to me. Gerry paddled out and pulled into a barrel on his first wave, but that’s Gerry for you… what a legend!
Recent events in Uluwatu had cast a darker shadow over our endeavour. Just 3 weeks before our arrival in Uluwatu, Jae Haydon, an Australian surfer and musician perished in these waters after suffering a wipeout in massive surf that reportedly knocked him unconscious. Despite efforts by other surfers to rescue him, Haydon drowned and his body was discovered some 12 hours later in the region of Impossibles near Padang Padang.
Yet, here we were, faced with a critical decision – paddle out, or merely observe. The thought of missing my only opportunity to attempt surfing Uluwatu was crushing me. Time was ticking and our window of opportunity was slipping away fast. I knew I had to push Ross harder to commit.
“Am I paddling out alone?” I asked Ross, nervously.
Ross looked at me and smiled, “Don’t worry G, you’re not paddling out there alone”. It was on!
I kissed Maree goodbye and told her I love her, hoping it wouldn’t be the last time I saw her. Minutes later we were in the cave with my heart pounding hard and fast in my chest. Neither of us had ever felt this tense before a surf.
“Have faith in your ability, we can do this”, Ross suddenly said reassuringly. Fear was replaced by calm as we stepped into the turbulent waters of the cave. Adrenalin surged through our veins. We paddled into the sunlight and into the unknown.
Beyond the chaos of the cave, the rip swept us quickly around the point and we spent the next 15 minutes paddling into position at ‘The Peak’ which was breaking at about 6 foot with bigger sets occasionally catching us off guard. We watched in wonderment as more experienced surfers dropped into the bowels of thick pits that only Uluwatu could conjure up. The power and perfection of these waves was incredible to witness.
I looked around at the pulsing surf and jagged cliffs. I couldn’t believe we were sitting in the lineup at Uluwatu! It was a surreal moment. My heart was happy, content but also filled with fear. We sat in the swell for a while, waiting. The size and power of the surf became overwhelming and with the tide dropping, we decided to hustle a wave and head for dry land.
All we needed was one good wave. Ross eventually paddled for his first wave but flogged it after the drop but then quickly scavenged a rare mid-break right which he almost rode back into the cave. He was safely back on land.
A while later, the Gods of Uluwatu spawned a solid left for me. It was my time to go! I stuck the drop sweetly and rode the wave out onto the shoulder and paddled hard to make it back into the cave before being swept back around the point. A Balinese woman conducted a Hindu prayer ritual in the cave and the smell of incense filled the air. We were blessed, we were alive, and we had endured one of the most intensely special surfs of our lives. Stoke palpably radiated from us for the rest of the day.
We left the Bukit buzzing after surfing Uluwatu, but we still had high hopes for Keramas. We booked into the chic Komune Resort in front of the famous right-hander. The waves were sizey when we arrived, but onshore wind made conditions choppy. We surfed anyway and caught some great waves but we would never see Keramas in its full glory.
That evening, we congregated at the Komune Beach Club for dinner and a few Bintangs to celebrate our arrival in Keramas. I ordered the ‘Chicken Schnitty’ which sounded like a marvellous way to replenish my waning energy reserves. The meal arrived and it was delicious up to the point that I discovered what looked like toilet paper under my schnitzel. I called the waiter over to find out more, thinking that perhaps it was a Balinese custom of sorts.
The waiter was utterly horrified and genuinely apologetic about this diabolical discovery and quickly removed it from the table. The chef arrived in shame soon after to apologise and we shared a few laughs with no harm done. I would recommend the ‘Chicken Shitty’ to anyone visiting Komune Resort, it really was delicious.
Sadly, the surf report for Keramas wasn’t looking good for the remainder of our stay. The wind was skunking us and we needed another plan. With a bleak surf outlook, we decided to take some time to explore the region of Ubud, the cultural epicentre of Bali. Bred, a local tour guide and surfer took us to beautiful attractions such as the nearby Tegenungan Waterfall and the famous Tegallalang Rice Terrace on the outskirts of Ubud, both of which are in easy reach of Keramas and well-worth the effort.
Armed with local surf knowledge, Bred suggested that we catch a ferry to the nearby island of Nusa Lembongan to surf a break called Shipwrecks which would be offshore in the prevailing wind. We took his advice and boated across the Badung Strait from Sanur the following day, reaching Lembongan in time for the tide. Shipwrecks was crowded and we were advised to surf the nearby Nomans reef instead. It turned out to be the best call.
We chartered a boat and headed for Nomans. Our captain couldn’t speak English but he knew exactly what we were after. Crystal clear water and a fun, consistent right lay before us and we had it all to ourselves — what a pleasure! An empty lineup is a rare treat in Bali and it’s days like these that make surf travel so gloriously wonderful.
We couldn’t ask for more, this was Bali magic! After conquering Nomans, we squeaked another quick surf at a nearby break called Lacerations to top off the day before catching the ferry back to Sanur.
Bali left us in a daze and its warm waves and friendly people made this trip truly memorable. More importantly, this surf trip also taught us that with a drop of faith, a dash of hope and a splash courage, your impossible can become your destiny. Your dream is there for the riding, so just paddle in and enjoy the ride…
I stumble to my feet in the dark, my senses fixed on the faint hint of day. A thick mist hangs, shifting in all directions on a glassy lake. The morning rise beckons me into action. Is today the day that Lake Naverone reveals the fish that lurk in her waters? Perhaps, maybe not… I grab my fly rod and head for the boat and stroke off into the calm. The hunt is on as I cast my line out into the mist. Silence, peace and mountains surround me as I work my fly.
It’s no secret that the Drakensberg holds some of the most exquisite fly fishing waters in South Africa. Lake Naverone, situated in the Southern Drakensberg near Underberg, is but one such place. It’s more than that though, it’s a wonderfully scenic place.
With self-catering cottages nestled along its banks, Lake Naverone is a near-perfect hideaway for fly fisherman and if your fishing luck happens to run out, head for the hills. These wilds will tame you…
A must-do hike in the area is the Three Pools Hike, but make sure you have a permit and a map. Our map-reading skills were lacking somewhat, but we went in search anyway. We set off at noon with a cloudless sky overhead and autumn leaves underfoot. High on a ridge, Eland were grazing in the sun.
We walked a bit further and suddenly a distinct bark echoed through the valley. Baboon. We spotted the troop cavorting on the hillside, while a large male locked his eyes on the two trespassers below. We never found the Three Pools that day…
Back in the boat, the mist was rising in the fresh morning glow. Trout were gnawing at my conscious, breaking me down. My fly kissed the water with grace, my mind willing a take with each retrieve. Hours passed. Then came the nibble, the first sign of life. The tip of my rod twitched vigorously, but my strike was futile. The mountains watched over me as I cast and cast some more, for days, and then some more until darkness blinded my sight. It was not to be and for now, the trout swim free.
If you wish to experience Lake Naverone for yourself, check out their website here!
With sand stretching as far as your imagination can wonder, the Namib Desert’s allure is difficult to resist. It’s the oldest desert in the world, eerily desolate and immeasurably beautiful. I recently spent six days in Namibia, exploring the coast, the dunes and the desert and the experience was hugely enjoyable.
Namibia, the land of open spaces, is so large and diverse and I have attempted to capture the magnitude of what Namibia has to offer those who visit it. I hope these images will inspire and motivate you to pack your bags and travel into the unknown. Enjoy!
1. The Namib Desert
The allure of the Namib Desert is one of the main reasons why so many people love Namibia. It’s a humbling and grounding place that forces you to reflect on your life. It’s a special place.
This photograph was taken in the late afternoon in the dune belt in the vicinity of the well-known Dune 7 near Walvis Bay. The dune belts in this area are home to massive sand dunes. However, much larger sand dunes are to be found in southern Namibia at Sossusvlei, where you will find a dune aptly named ‘Big Daddy’, standing at least 325 metres high. Good luck climbing that one!
If it’s fine German cuisine and beer you’re after, then Swakopmund is definitely the place to fill your belly and quench your thirst after a long day in the desert. Swakopmund is situated on the Atlantic coast some 280 km west of Windhoek, Namibia’s capital city.
Nearly 45 000 people call Swakopmund home and the German colonial town was founded in 1892 as the main harbour for what was known as the German South-West Africa (1884-1915), now called Namibia. The German translation for Swakopmund is “Mouth of the Swakop”, which refers to the Swakop River mouth found south of the town. Many of the buildings showcase fine German architecture and there’s lots to see and do in town. But first, have a beer!
3. Willys Jeep in the Desert
Somewhere in the Namib Desert, in a dune belt known as Rooibank, lies a fascinating piece of steel. Don’t ask me exactly where it is because I wouldn’t be able to tell you, but it’s out there, somewhere.
This is a photograph of what’s believed to be an iconic Willys Jeep, or what’s left of it, in the middle of absolutely nowhere. From what I was told by a local guide, the vehicle broke down in the desert decades ago and was never recovered. What intrigues me about this photograph is how the desert reduces and reclaims what was, whether it be a living being or even a car. I love how the steering wheel trim is hanging on for dear life. I can’t help but question how this car could be reduced to this? The answer still eludes me. Many, many years in the desert I suppose…
4. Shipwreck Zeila, Skeleton Coast
Between Swakopmund and Henties Bay on the Skeleton Coast is another fine example of nature reclaiming a man-made object. In this case, the victim was a fishing trawler named Zeila that got stranded on August 25, 2008.It’s one of many shipwrecks to be found on the Skeleton Coast.
As the story goes, Zeila was a scrap vessel bound for Bombay, India, but it came loose from its towing line near Walvis Bay and drifted north to its final resting place. I was told by locals that it took several hours for authorities to locate the missing vessel as the incident happened under the cover of night and it was only discovered once it finally ran aground. The Zeila is now home to hundreds of seabirds that use its decaying shell as a nesting site. Notice the barreling wave in the foreground…
5. Goanikontes Oasis, Namib-Naukluft National Park
The Namib-Naukluft National Park is the largest game park in Africa and the fourth largest in the world. Within the park, and some 40 km east of Swakopmund, is an area known as the ‘Moon Landscape’. The darker tones of this Damara Granite landscape gives it its name and it formed some 460-500 million years ago. Goanikontes Oasis is tucked away in the ‘Moon Valley’ and is found alongside the now dry Swakop riverbed.
The name Goanikontes is of Nama origin, meaning ‘The place where you can remove your fur coat’. Historically, Goanikontes was a rest stop for people travelling from Walvis bay and Swakopmund to Windhoek. In the 1750’s the Swakop River served as an oasis for the Herero and Nama tribes and it was the perfect place to raise and feed cattle. Later on, in 1849, the first white settlers arrived and proceeded to trade cattle with the local tribes. The fertile soil on the banks of the Swakop River also made for good crop farming, with the produce sold in Walvis Bay and Swakopmund.
My family has history in Goanikontes Oasis and the area has particular relevance to me since my late grandmother lived and farmed the land there. But, alas, that’s a story for another day.
Goanikontes is a great place to visit if you happen to be in the area. The historical farmhouse was built in 1903 and is now a restaurant, serving cold beer and delicious meals. It’s well worth a look-see, and another beer.
6. Surfing in Namibia
I like to leave the best for last.
Apart from sand, Namibia also has waves in abundance and if you’re a surfer, with an adventurous spirit, then there’s a wave in Namibia with your name on it. Namibia was, and still is, a largely unexplored surfing destination and with the discovery of the now-famous Donkey Bay a few years back, surfers regularly flock to Namibia to experience the magical wave that is the Donkey.
Many surfers consider Donkey Bay to be the most perfect wave in the world, and if you consider the ridiculously long tube rides surfers have scored there, they can only be right. There is no other wave on the planet that gives a surfer so much time behind the curtain. Sure, Donkey Bay is awesome when it’s cranking and looking at the photograph above, it’s enough to make any surfer’s knees buckle with stoke. Or is it?
This photograph was taken at my ‘secret spot’ in Namibia and no, you can’t find it on Google Maps!
Mozambique is one of those countries I’ve always wanted to visit. It’s close to home and I have only heard good things about the waves, people and the food. Wait no more little boy, luck is on your side. Working as a motoring journalist (Cars.co.za) often takes you to places that you would never have visited and the White Pearl Resort at Ponta Mamoli is one of those places.
Ponta Mamoli is situated on Mozambique’s southern coast, only 25 km from the South African border post at Kosi Bay. That’s not far, but getting there can be tricky if you aren’t in a 4×4 and familiar with the route. That said, you need a capable car and the new Toyota Hilux was our chariot to paradise.
As soon as we crossed the border, tar turned to sand and after about 40 minutes of bouncing around in the dirt, we arrived. The White Pearl Resort is a luxury beach resort, so all you have to do is show up and relax. It’s spectacular! Private units are nestled amongst the lush subtropical vegetation, all with dream views of the ocean. Needless to say, each unit has its own private pool, an outdoor shower and if you need anything at all, your personal butler is never too far away. What more could you want?
We only had two nights at the White Pearl and there was nothing else to do but make the most of it. There’s a diving centre on site if diving is your thing, and there are other activities too such as ocean safaris, horse riding, kayaking, snorkelling and surfing. We did all of them, almost…
One thing you can be sure of is that the food is divine, whether it be breakfast, lunch or dinner. Expect familiar dishes such as delicious Eggs Benedict or indulge in succulent Mozambican-style piri piri chicken. The White Pearl also has a well-stocked beach bar to take the edge off the humid weather and to keep you liquored up all day long. When at the White Pearl, call the barmen over and order an R&R, a refreshing fusion of locally made Rhum Tipo Tinto and Sparberry soda. Obrigado!
The coastline at Ponta Mamoli is rich in ocean wildlife. Between the months of November and February each year, Loggerhead and Leatherback turtles come ashore to lay their eggs. These creatures of the deep are under constant threat from humans and both species are listed as endangered. As a result, the White Pearl Resort, along with the Southern Mozambique Marine Turtle Nesting Monitoring, Tagging and Conservation Programme, are actively involved in conservation efforts to ensure the future of these peaceful sea creatures. The White Pearl offers guided Turtle Walks along the coastline to educate people about the plight of turtles and it’s highly recommended. If you are lucky, you might just witness a turtle laying its eggs, something that’s increasingly rare.
The one thing that struck me about Mozambique, apart from the gorgeous locations and the food, is the people. Every local I spoke to and interacted with had a big smile on their face and friendliness was the order of the day. That’s pretty rare too by South African standards. Many of the locals are poor but choose to be happy and friendly. That’s refreshing and there’s a lesson in that for all of us.
We awoke to a perfect Sunday in Jeffreys Bay, a surfer’s wet dream. The sun edged over the horizon, lighting the most beautiful scene. Crisp clean waves rolled down the point, a gentle wind kissing them on their way. We paddled out, caught a few waves and had a laugh. This is the surfing way.
Further up the point, the final day of the the J-Bay Open had begun . Today, a king would be crowned. Last year, Mick Fanning dominated J-Bay in what I call epistellar surf, an event that will be remembered for a long time. This year, the King of J-Bay was back to defend his title, to dominate once more.
We watched a heat you don’t get to see everyday, or ever, if you live in South Africa. Mick Fanning, Kelly Slater and Gabriel Medina, clashing horns for a guaranteed spot in the quarter finals. What made this particular heat special, for me at least, was watching Kelly Slater surf in front of my eyes for the very first time. It was surreal. Just to watch and photograph him drawing lines at J-Bay put a smile on my face. That was my highlight of this year’s event.
Ocean Kings Clash
Sitting in the surf on that Sunday was just magical. The vibe was good, we were sharing waves, literally having a blast on one of the best waves in the world. What a pleasure! Somewhere out to sea, a Great White, the King of the Deep, was going about its business, slowly making its way to the speed lines at J-Bay.
For any surfer, a shark, whatever species it may be, is ever present, whether it be in the back of your mind or lurking beneath you when you stroke into your next wave. It’s there when you paddle into the ocean and it’s there when you dream.
When Mick Fanning and Julian Wilson paddled out at Supertubes on Sunday, a shark was present. A mighty clash of ocean kings ensued and so the King of J-Bay was crowned.
The thought of building my own surfboard has always appealed to me. Naturally, things like time, money and commitment have stood in my way for some time, but that all changed in a heart beat. I came across wood surfboard builder, Patrick Burnett of Burnett Wood Surfboards on the internet and from that moment, a little seed was planted in my brain. It took more than two months for that seed to grow and I finally decided to build my very own hollow wood surfboard. It’s far too easy to walk into your local surf shop and choose a surfboard, whereas building your own, from wood, brings a whole new level of satisfaction.
Choosing a Shape
Patrick Burnett, a surfer and waterman, has a wealth of surfing knowledge and offers building courses for a variety of surfboards and SUP’s from his workshop in Scarbourgh, Cape Town. But what shape to build? I wanted a board that would be fun to surf in the slop, easy to paddle, but it also needed to perform when the waves were cranking. I also wanted to build a surfboard that was different to what I was used to surfing on a regular basis.
Patrick suggested a fish and I immediately liked the idea. I’ve never surfed or owned a fish before and the design appealed to me. I was sold. This particular fish shape is a classic retro Steve Lis outline with a twin-fin setup. The original shape is a 5’6″, this being a step-up 6’0″ of the same design. This particular board also has some added girth in the rails to float my belly but also makes catching waves easier which will help get that wave count up.
Working with Wood
Patrick knows best when it comes to building a wooden surfboard and he managed to source some beautiful Redwood that would, with a bit of blood and sweat, become the Leatherfoot Fish. Like anything, the construction of a hollow wood surfboard happens in phases and with wood, you have the choice to exploit certain characteristics for aesthetic appeal but also to achieve and exceed your surfing expectations. The wood is the key ingredient and the possibilities are endless, making this board and the building experience, completely unique.
Working wood takes time and patience and each phase of the process affects the end result, so paying attention to detail is important from start to finish. Each phase is a challenge, from constructing the decks, building and planing the rails, setting the ribs, sculpting the rails, sanding, chipping away, and sanding some more, its all an adventure. With each sweeping pass of your plane and every shaving that falls to the floor, you learn and discover. Every moment is savored. It’s magical.
As for the artwork on the surfboard, I approached my friend and artist, Steve Erwin, to apply his knowledge and create something unique. I felt that artwork would give the surfboard some character and we decided to take a minimalist approach as we didn’t want to detract from the beauty of the wood itself. The oak tree on the top deck of the surfboard is symbolic of my surname, meaning ‘Little Oak’, while the fish on the underside represents the board itself which has been dubbed ‘Leatherfoot Fish’. The artwork was applied using stencils and water-based acrylic through an airbrush.
I recently had the chance to surf the Leatherfoot Fish in perfect 4-5 ft surf at Muizenberg, which was exceptionally fun. I was brimming with stoke. There is nothing quite like pacing along the face of a wave on a surfboard you crafted yourself. The feeling was just incredible and I can’t wait to do it again.