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.
It’s been months since I’ve gone fishing, which is really sad, because there are so many good fishing venues within two hours of Cape Town. There’s simply no excuse for any self-respecting fisherman to not go fishing. Now was my chance and I was more than happy to put my line out. With my lady, our dog and fishing tackle ready, we set off for the town of Bonnievale on a mission to dial into the rhythm of the Breede River and hook into some fish. Or that was the idea, at least.
When it comes to choosing fishing accommodation, location is king. Then I found Bordeaux River Cottages. What a place! Three private timber cottages lie perched high on the steep banks of the Breede River and flanked by beautiful vineyards, this was prime. Wooden decks built into Bluegum trees offer splendid views over the river. And here’s the best part, the final link in the chain, the clincher. Each cottage has its own canoe, the perfect vessel to launch a fishing assault.
Tough Luck Fishing
With its source in the Swartberg Mountains, the Breede River runs some 337 km before reaching the Indian Ocean at Witsands and fish species vary depending on the region being fished. In Bonnievale, bass, barbel and carp are common and since we were hunting bass, we rigged our tackle accordingly. I was keen to give my trusty fly rod a go while my lady would attack using a standard coffee-grinder setup with a Junebug worm. A two-prong offensive was our best shot. Akatski, the dog, would be our fish-spotter. A bit of strategy always helps, you know.
The Breede River is a marvellous place to be, especially in a canoe, which makes exploring the nooks and crannies so much easier. The water was surprisingly clear and we saw plenty large fish cruising around beneath us, which was a positive sign. The river was alive. Birds bickered in a nearby tree and peace soon consumed us. Hours passed, drifting along slowly to the whim of the wind. This is what we came here for.
Then, it happened. The boat rocked with excitement, there was action on my line. Akaski was on high alert and after some splashing and a brief tussle, I had a small-size fish by my side, but what was it? It wasn’t carp or barbel, so my guess was smallmouth bass, but somehow I wasn’t entirely sure.
It didn’t really matter anyway, because over the next four days and despite countless hours of persistent perseverance, the Breede River wouldn’t yield another fish and we were left to drift along with only questions in our minds.
After exhausting our tactics, we set course for the shore, utterly outwitted and defeated. I docked the boat and proceeded with more frivolous things, like making fire and finding answers in the bottom of a wine bottle. That’s fishing for you. There’s always next time.
Just the other day, I was minding my own business, working away quietly, when in the distance I heard a rumbling sound barreling towards me. It was a sunny day so there were no storms around, just this rumbling sound coming closer, and closer. Baffled, I peered out my office window and saw nothing. Seconds later, the 2014 Lamborghini Huracan rolled up before me in all its glory and the sound spitting from the quad exhausts was so loud, my heart skipped a beat.
2014 Lamborghini Huracan has looks to kill
There are few cars in the world that have a hypnotic effect on those who set their eyes on it and the Lamborghini Huracan is one of them. You simply can’t help but ogle and drool at the beauty of this car. Its low, predatory stance and sharply defined features lock you in and if your’e not careful, will hold your gaze for eternity and possibly turn you into stone.
The face of the Huracan is dominated by large reptilian-like air intakes and the LED headlights are reminiscent of a snake ready to strike on command. Stepping inside the Lamborghini Huracan is like stepping into a fighter jet, with flickable switch gear and viper green sports seats that make you feel like you going to war. Everything about the the Lamborghini Huracan just screams FAST! And it is…
Riding the Bull
Obviously, there was no way I was going to drive the Huracan, I’m just not man enough, or rich enough, so I was quite happy to experience my first ride in a Lambo in the passenger seat. Out on the road, the Lamborghini Huracan seemed out of place. Congested city roads is no place for a car of this caliber.
Other motorists quickly fell under the spell of the Huracan and just couldn’t help themselves from stopping in the middle of traffic to get a snapshot of the car. The attention the Huracan generates on the road is perplexing and fascinating, people just love supercars I guess, and what’s not to love about the Lamborghini Huracan?
With a stiff suspension setup geared for track driving, the drive within the city was rather bumpy and every little imperfection in the road surface could be felt. But who cares, this is a Lamborghini Huracan right? On the open road, the Huracan comes to life and the sound of that 5.2-litre V10 howling away behind you is just magical. With thumping 448 kW of power and 560 Nm of torque on command, you can just imagine what’s possible on a quiet country road.
Acceleration in the Lamborghini Huracan is ridiculously brutal with the help of a 7-speed dual clutch transmission that sends power to the large 20-inch alloy wheels. The 0-100 km/h sprint is claimed at 3.2 seconds and if you have the nerve to press on even faster, the beast that is the Huracan will take you right up to 325 km/h without even batting an eyelid.
I got back to the office with my heart in my throat and a big smile on my face, my work was done for the day.
The story of Gavin Erwin, a professional fish artist based in Johannesburg, is both fascinating and inspiring. Specialising in painting fish, water and marine life, Gavin’s fish art is rapidly gaining popularity in South Africa. At first glance, you might think that he’s just an ordinary guy, and he is, but there’s more to Gavin Erwin than meets the eye.
Take a good look at his fish art and you will soon realise that Gavin is bursting with artistic talent and flair that deserves recognition. Look a little deeper and you will discover a man true to his heart, a man living out his dream, no matter what. There’s a lesson in that for all of us. Driven by his passion for fishing and nature in general, Gavin has harnessed and honed his artistic skills to become one of South Africa’s top fish artists, alongside renowned artists Craig Bertram Smith and Tom Sutcliffe.
A Fish Artist is born
For Gavin, life as an artist started at a very young age and time played an integral role in forging the artist he is today. “I started drawing as soon as I was old enough to hold a pencil and talk, I was probably about 5 or 6 years old when I started, maybe younger. My Dad always had a pile of scrap paper lying around, and he always said, ‘you must draw’. As kids, with my brother Steven, we used to sit and draw. We drew dinosaurs, cars, fish and pretty much anything, but the passion for drawing and painting started there”, explains Gavin.
With the support of his family, Gavin kept putting pen to paper, slowly developing his own style throughout his childhood, but it was fishing that lit a fire within him and so, a fish artist was born. “My father, Ken Erwin, was a big influence in my life. He started fishing in his twenties and he basically passed his passion for fishing and the great outdoors onto us. It has inspired me ever since to actually paint fish and obviously the angling side of it inspires me too,” says Gavin.
Fishing became an important part of Gavin’s life and provided him with much joy, but fishing also gave Gavin a unique perspective on life and brought him closer to nature and the subject matter of his art. For Gavin, fishing is a way of life.
Gavin explains it best, ” Fishing, to me, is a lifestyle. I love fishing. To me, fishing means getting your mates together, planning a trip, going and getting out into nature for days at a time, just enjoying yourself and appreciating the great outdoors. The thing I love about fishing is the mystery. You’re on open water, whether it be brown or blue, you don’t know what’s lurking beneath you, you don’t know what’s there, it’s about the mystery of ‘are you going to catch?’ and ‘what are you going to catch?’ and when you do catch something, you’re satisfied, you’re over moon. It’s all about the mystery. Fishing is in my blood, I can’t help it.”
Life as a Professional Fish Artist
It was only when Gavin finished school that he had to decide what he was going to do with his life, and he was in no rush. While most of his school friends went off to pursue ‘traditional’ careers, Gavin went fishing…and decided to become a professional fish artist and he hasn’t looked back since.
“I’ve been painting professionally for about 10 years now and each year has been getting better and better. People are starting to recognise me as the ‘fish artist’ explains Gavin. ” I always had the dream of becoming an artist. When I discovered that there was a demand for art in general, I decided to pursue it as a career”.
Humbly plying his trade from his art studio in Kensington, Johannesburg, Gavin has learnt to cope with the hardships associated with being an artist living and working in South Africa. Hard work and commitment towards his fish art has put Gavin on the road to success. “I have learnt that you have to work hard and work smart. Just like anything in life, the more energy you put into something, the more reward you get out. It’s not easy being an artist in South Africa, especially a ‘fish artist’, but I have found that niche market that everyone talks about and I’m just riding the wave to success from here” explains Gavin.
The art industry is flooded with artists trying to make a name for themselves and Gavin is no different. Painting is one thing, but differentiating yourself from the crowd is something that every artist has to grapple with. How an artist deals with that dichotomy is often the difference between success and failure. Gavin shares further insight into the rigors of being a successful fish artist, “To find your fish-loving client you definitely have to market yourself hard, find something that you love painting and then get yourself out there. The only way someone is going to see your talent is by showing people the real thing, in the flesh. The current state of art in South Africa is not as good as it has been in the past, so it just means that you have to work and paint harder to make it. My art is affordable and that’s what I want, I would rather paint constantly for the rest of my life than sit on a painting for months at a time waiting for the right client with the credit” says Gavin.
Although there’s no doubt that hard work, commitment, perseverance and a sound marketing strategy contributes towards success as an artist, there is one crucial and powerful ingredient that determines the degree of any artist’s success, and that’s passion, something Gavin has in bucket loads. “Art is just an expression of the person doing it and the more passion you have within yourself, the better your art will be and the more satisfied you will be with your art. If you not fully into it and you haven’t got any passion, you not going to like what you painting and you not going to like yourself for it. Passion is key. I am basically doing what I love and painting what I love, I’m painting my passion.” says Gavin, with a smile on his face.
The Art of Fish Art
For Gavin, there’s no shortage of inspiration and his vast experience as a fisherman informs what he portrays on canvass and when it comes to painting fish, it’s all about the fish. “I love the flow of fish, the movement. If you can portray the movement of a fish and people can see what you trying to get across, that’s awesome. I love painting movement under water, the colors are amazing. There is not a boring fish out there, every fish has its own character and personality, whether it be a Tigerfish or brown Trout in a stream, each one has its beauty” explains Gavin.
Realism is something Gavin’s fish art has in common with well-known South African fish artist, Craig Bertram Smith, but perhaps so to a lesser degree. Although Gavin strives for realism in the fish he portrays, he also places value on textures to develop the character of the fish he is painting. Gavin explains his technique further, ” I usually use the fish as the main focus point, the main character, and actually try portray the character of the fish before anything else. The way that I differ in some of my paintings is that I put in a lot of textures, so it’s not only visual, but you can feel it, you can see the texture. The texture adds another dimension which I think is great. I don’t like to get too real, I work it until I get a nice character of the fish. Lines, sparkles, movement and light is what defines my fish art.”
Capturing the essence of a fish and it’s aquatic world is no easy feat but by embracing his medium, Gavin is able to bring his fish art to life. Drama is something Gavin incorporates into his fish art which adds to the overall effect of the scenes he portrays. “With paint, there’s no limits. You can put extra shadows, a bit more contrast in places where there usually wouldn’t be, but it makes it more dramatic, it’s all about making things more dramatic, making things stick out, making things pop. That means you are altering what you have in your mind, it adds drama to the painting” explains Gavin.
Through years of trial and error, Gavin has developed his own unique approach to painting fish but he also recognises the influence that other fish artists had in his development as an artist. “From my perspective, guys like Craig Bertram Smith and Tom Sutcliffe are the best of the best. Craig Bertram Smith is brilliant, he’s an inspiration to me and has inspired me since I was a kid and his work is top-notch. Tom Sutcliffe is also very good, he’s got his own style and his focus is mainly on streams and wild trout. His art is very well done and there is a market for that” says Gavin.
Apart from painting fish, Gavin also dabbles in fly tying, an art in its own right. As an avid fly fisherman, Gavin experiments with various materials to make his flies and uses his artistic experience to create beautiful fly art. The delicate art of fly tying has inspired Gavin to paint a wide variety of fly patterns, in various sizes, which supplements his larger body of work.
The Future of Gavin Erwin Fish Art
Although Gavin revels in the joy of fishing and painting fish, he also takes great pleasure in sharing his fish art with the public and displays his art in numerous galleries and art shops in South Africa (see list below) while also steadily breaking into international markets. “I want to get my art onto different continents. I have a few works in Miami, Florida at the moment. More of my fish art must go there because that area is very fishing orientated. There’s a big market there and I want to get my work into more galleries, I want my work to be seen. Everyone must see my work”.
Being a friendly, social person, Gavin enjoys the reaction his fish art generates and he holds his audience in the highest regard, “I love it, I love the reaction. Some of my artworks are in your face, as fish art goes, but it’s the reaction I get from people that makes my life worthwhile.”
At age 28, Gavin Erwin has come a long way as an artist and each and every stroke of his brush is painting his future as one of South Africa’s finest fish artists.
Buy Gavin Erwin Fish Art
Gavin displays his fish art at numerous venues in South Africa and if you would like to buy fish art then don’t hesitate to contact him directly or feel free to visit any of the venues listed below. Gavin also does commissioned fish art, so if you have an interesting idea, tied your own fly or want to portray a special fishing moment as art, Gavin will be more than happy to meet you.