The Great Escape

The Great Escape

Published in the Saturday Star on 2 June 2007

Written by Gero Lilleike

We snuck away from Johannesburg under the cover of night. Our destination was a small town on the KwaZulu Natal South Coast, where we were to rendezvous with the ocean and the waves that had beckoned us for so long. We were desperate…

The drive to Durban was short and painless. We pushed south to Scottburgh and then to Kelso, where we settled for a much needed rest.

The onshore wind was strong, leaving the ocean puckered with waves breaking unevenly all along the coast. We drifted into a relaxing sleep, with the breeze soothing our dreams.

The afternoon faded and so too did the wind, a clue of what was to come.

A train passed with empty carriages and the driver blew his horn, sending Vervet monkeys scurrying into the surrounding bush before disappearing into the distance. There are 10 of us and we all live and work in Johannesburg. We are all different but have one thing in common – our love for the ocean. We spend most of our time talking about surfing and the waves that provide us with so much pleasure.

We are simply by consumed by it, taking every opportunity to pack our bags and head off to the coast to do what we love, to do what makes us happy. For us it’s the ‘Great Escape’, an adventure unlike any other. Although we’re from Johannesburg, A land-locked city in the middle of nowhere, we surf, or at least try to. Our time has finally come.

The rising sun pierces through our cabin, waking us to a beautiful day. John screams “Hey, get up”. He taunts us from our slumber. It’s 7 am. There’s no wind. The air is fresh. The waves have arrived.

Standing on our porch with toast and coffee in hand, we ogle the waves wrapping around the point. Our camp is chaos as we prepare our equipment and make our way to the beach where fishermen line the shore in hope of a bite.

The sea is clear and warm. We paddle out and with much pain reach the waves that we’ve dreamt of for so long. We peer through the water and see fish swimming beneath us.

The bottom is rocky. Not too long ago, the coast of KwaZulu Natal was pounded by the biggest swells recorded in 23 years. Apart from doing massive damage to seaside properties along the coast, the massive swells also washed away many of the sandbanks, exposing rocks. It’s really scary looking down and seeing rocks , especially when you plan on riding a wave over them. There are about seven to ten waves in a set, with the last being the biggest and breaking a little further out to sea.

This is the wave you want to catch, and it’s called ‘the outside’. Fear strikes when this wave arrives. Just as we are talking about the rocks and the damage they could inflict, a sizeable wave pitches on the horizon.

I yell “outside” and panic sets in. Everyone scratches the water to get over it. The beast approaches and I just make it. I look down at those who are too late and shout “goodbye”. The wave crashes down, spraying shards of water into the air.

I chuckle to myself. Some make it, some don’t. Who cares? It’s all part of the fun.

As the morning progresses, more surfers flock to the break for a piece of the action. One of them fascinates me. He’s a grey-haired man in his mid-seventies carrying a longboard. He paddles into the sea greeting everyone on his way.

He is fit and before long everyone witnesses him yodelling into some of the best waves of the day. We all smile, knowing that hopefully we will be doing the same when we are his age.

After a few hours in the water, hunger sets it and we are forced to retreat to our cabin for lunch. There’s not a moment of silence as we tell stories of our experiences in the waves.

Our faces are beaming, rejuvenated by the energy of the sea. We’re happy. Everyday should be like this. The sea is a strange thing; it toys with your emotions, your fears, but when you embrace these emotions, the sea can truly liberate your soul. When you come from a fast-paced environment such as Joburg, there is simply nothing better than lying in the ocean and thinking about nothing.

It’s therapeutic and it’s not surprising that so many people choose the sea as their favourite holiday destination. It’s a great place to unwind. And so the days went by, in and out of the sea, surfing, eating and sleeping.

If life were that simple, we would never leave. In the distance of our minds, Joburg was calling, pulling us back to reality. We have jobs and we need to make money, but I know we will escape again.

We stayed in Kelso, south of Scottburgh, in a camp called Vulamanzi, the “place of open water”. For more details go to

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