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…
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…
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.
The 2014 J-Bay Open was incredible. The final day was epic, off-the-chart incredible. We arrived at the Supertubes arena and our jaws dropped to the sand. Huge 8-10ft sets were pummeling Boneyards to shreds and firing down the point, Spike’s swell predictions were correct it seemed and Jeffreys Bay was very much alive, in a very big way.
Surfing Feast for the Eyes
Just before I had time to wipe the drool from my gaping mouth, J-Bay Champ Mick Fanning dropped-in on a bomb of a wave and started hacking away at the massive wall ahead of him before pulling into a tube a bit further down the point. Today was Mick’s day.
We stood in awe at the sight before us, eyes locked on the surreal waves unleashing at Supertubes. Watching the world’s best surfers riding big J-Bay is a humbling experience and for three hours, time stood still. By early afternoon the beach was packed and the action was heating up. The quarter finals were done and surf legends Tom Curren and Occy paddled out for their heritage heat. Then, the penny dropped.
Should we go surf? asks Steve. Matt laughs and I join him. Good joke, Steve. It takes a few minutes for the question to really sink in though. Do we attempt to surf these waves or do we watch the contest to its conclusion? That was our dilemma, a dream and a nightmare barreling towards us at the same time. Decisions, decisions. What would you do?
Two hours later we were suiting-up in the parking lot at Point. We watched some big sets rolling in and that anxious feeling set in. Here we were at J-Bay about to paddle out in perfect and somewhat intimidating 8ft+ surf, the biggest we’ve ever seen here, crikey!
Steve pipes up and says “Don’t worry man, the take-off is just like Muizies”. Silence ensues before we all burst out in laughter at the absurdity of the comment. How can anyone even compare J-Bay to Muizenberg? Really?
I noticed that my leash looked awfully thin, definitely not suited to the conditions, but we headed to the water anyway. With our hearts in our throats and adrenalin coursing through our veins, we set out on a mammoth paddle. The ocean was bearing down on us as big sets kept pumping down the point, but we eventually made it out. We could finally breathe.
In the distance, Supertubes was going mental and I knew that those very waves were coming our way. At that very moment we witnessed Mick Fanning weaving his way through an endless tube to victory against Joel Parkinson. This was all just too much to take in. Watching the contest from the water and seeing those waves offloading at Supertubes is an image burn’t deep in my mind, something I don’t want to forget. Man pitted against nature at one of the world’s best waves, it doesn’t get much better than that, hey!
A few minutes later and before I could even think about catching a wave, a big set detonated on my head. I felt my leash pull tight, and then nothing. My leash snapped, and I was left bobbing out at sea. I could see my board about 5- metres away but the next wave was already upon me and I had no choice but to let it go and start the long swim back to shore. The guys caught some waves and stoke levels were through the roof for the rest of the day. I found my board washed in over rocks, still in one piece. I was happy. What a great day to be alive…
Winter surfing in Cape Town is by far the best time for surfers to suit-up and ride waves. The water is ice cold and it’s usually raining, but on the up side, the dreaded South Easter is mostly dead and perfect offshore winds prevail most of the time, depending on the break. The best waves are known to grace the Mother City during the Winter months thanks to regular low pressure systems sweeping across South Africa.
So, when the first proper, large, winter swell of the year hit the weather charts around Cape Town last week, surfers everywhere went mentally haywire. On the one end of the surfing scale, there were a few big wave surfers piling into boats with tow-in crews revving their jetski’s in Hout Bay Harbour, ready to surf mountains in privacy at Dungeons. And on the other end of the scale, you had everybody else, myself included, piling into the sea to surf mountains at Muizenberg and Long Beach. With my GoPro in hand, I set my sights on the sea and paddled out into the chaos.
Surfing in Muizenberg
Surfing in Muizenberg is almost always a crowded experience, even more so when there is fresh Winter goodness pulsing into Surfer’s Corner. Unsurprisingly, I arrived to find at least 300 surfers waiting to scratch onto the next wave that appeared on the horizon. It was low tide and by the looks of it the swell was still filling in and a clean 2-3ft Muizies freight train was on the cards.
Although Muizenberg is super crowded most of the time, it’s often exaggerated by the fact that it’s such a big lineup and everyone just spreads out, making it bearable on most days and thankfully I managed to catch a few chilled waves of my own. Later that day, the swell whipped up into a frenzy of meaty walls and the incoming tide extended the paddle-out by what felt like a couple hundred metres. The wind was offshore with clouds brewing on the mountain and the waves just kept rolling in for everyone’s enjoyment. Surfing in Muizenberg is like that. On its bad days it makes you feel like going back to work and on the good days it makes you feel like you surfing in heaven.
Surfing at Long Beach
Two days later, Muizenberg went flat and I had a sneaky suspicion that Long Beach in Kommetjie might still be picking up some nice leftover swell. I was right, but an army was surfing there too. Long Beach differs from Muizenberg in the sense that the lineup, or zone for catching waves is much smaller, so like always, when it’s crowded, it’s really crowded and you have to fight for your waves. Consider yourself a winner if you get a Long Beach wave all to yourself.
The wave at Long Beach is a bit more punchy compared to Muizenberg, especially on the inside section and it can be a really fast and fun ride when the swell is a bit bigger. I joined the army of surfers in the water with clean 3-5ft waves washing our sins away. It took a while to get a wave but perseverance paid off and when that wave came along, it was good. I decided to beat the crowds and do a bit of bodysurfing in the shorebreak to end my session, which actually turned out be loads of fun.
Across the ocean, Dungeons was alive with moving mountains of water pounding the Sentinel senseless. The sound of Jetski’s revving filled my ears, somewhere there, a wave was being ridden.
For those of you who’ve been living under a rock for too long and don’t know who Matt Bromley is, wake the hell up! Matt is a man who takes no prisoners and he is one of South Africa’s hardest charging big wave surfers alongside the likes of Grant ‘Twiggy’ Baker and Frank Solomon to name a few and you may even have seen him striking a pose on the cover of ZigZag Magazine, numerous times.
Last week saw the re-awakening of the beast that is Dungeons in Cape Town, possibly for the last time this year, and Matt Bromley was out there doing what he does best, surfing big-ass waves to his heart’s content. When the swell gets large and dangerous, most people run for the hills, but not Matt, he comes out to play, he drops-in, stands tall and gets the biggest barrels you can imagine, all with a nice big smile on his face and that’s what he’s about.
I met Matt for the first time a few months ago just before he was about to embark on a ‘slab hunting’ mission in Western Australia and I can honestly say that he’s one of the friendliest, most grounded and genuine surfers I have ever come across. That’s not surprising though because surely getting barreled on the world’s biggest, most terrifying waves must have a positive effect on you and Matt is a great example of positive energy personified. I threw a couple of questions his way to learn more about him and being the nice guy that he his, he answered them. Check out the interview below.
[GL) What is your full name and do you have any weird nicknames?
[MB] Matt Bromley “Bromdog”
[GL] When were you born into this world?
[MB] 12 September 1991
[GL] Where do you live?
[MB] Kommetjie, Cape Town
[GL] How do you pass your time?
[MB] I study part-time and I travel the world as a professional free-surfer.
[GL] What do you love most and why?
[MB] Waves, because they come from God. I’m constantly in awe of creation.
[GL] What are your professional achievements?
[MB] 3 x SA Junior Surfing Champion, 2 x SA Captain and 3 x Covers of ZigZag Magazine
[GL] Do you have any sponsors? If so, who are they?
[MB] Billabong, Monster Energy, Nixon, VZ, Kustom, Dakine, Futurelife and Virgin Active
[GL] What has been your most memorable sporting achievement so far?
[MB] Beating Jordy Smith at my home break when he was ranked world number 1. That was in the Coldwater Classic.
[GL] Do you have any other interesting hobbies?
[MB] Spear fishing. I love it! It compliments big wave surfing because it teaches you to be comfortable under the water and increases your lung capacity.
[GL] When and how did you start surfing?
[MB] My Dad got me into surfing at the tender age of 6. With the passion he had for surfing, I couldn’t not be a surfer.
[GL] In all the world, where is your favorite wave and why?
[MB] Teahupoo, Tahiti. It’s the most terrifying wave in the world as well as the most rewarding, if you survive it.
[GL] If you could change anything, what would it be?
[MB] I would have given more time in my life to previously disadvantaged people and helping those in need. But the good thing is that I’m still young and have lots of time in the future for this.
[GL] In what ways do you think surfing or sport in general can empower the youth in South Africa?
[MB] It brings a smile to EVERYONE!! When you enter the water, you leave your worries on the beach. This rejuvenation of joy and appreciation for the water saves kids from a life of crime because it keeps them off the streets and in the water.
[GL] If you had the chance to speak to the President of South Africa, what would you say?
[MB] Get everyone in the water and inject the stoke into every community.
[GL] What is your message to the youth of South Africa?
[MB] Put your trust in God and take every opportunity to enjoy his creation.
If you wish to read more about Matt Bromley and his big wave surfing escapades, I strongly suggest you follow his blog at http://bromdogsblog.wordpress.com or follow him on Twitter @bromdog783
So, it’s the end of the month and you’re standing in your local surf shop drooling over the slick new surfboards before your eyes and the time has finally come to put your hard earned cash on the counter for a new surfboard, but what do you do? Finding the right surfboard is like finding the right women, it’s flat-out darn difficult but thankfully not impossible. It’s out there, somewhere. There are so many options to consider but what type of surfboard will be best suited to you and your surfing ability? Ultimately, the decision lies with you and you’ll have to consider many factors before making your final decision. To get the ball rolling, you should take the time to think about what type of surfer you want to be, what waves you will be riding and how you want to ride them. That way, you will most likely choose the right surfboard that will satisfy your surfing needs. It’s also useful to remember that there are no hard and fast rules when choosing a surfboard and this is because everyone approaches surfing in their own unique way and everyone will have their own personal preferences. The key however, is to choose a surfboard that will help you achieve your surfing goals while also providing the most enjoyment and satisfaction while you frolic in the surf .
For the sake of finding some answers, I managed to pick the brain of master Cape Town surfboard shaper, Dutchie, of Dutchie Surf Designs to find out more about choosing the right surfboard. Dutchie has been shaping surfboards for over 14 years with an excess of 15 000 surfboards behind his name. With a background in graphic design and an enthusiastic passion for surfing, Dutchie has become highly respected in the surfing industry for his quality workmanship and professional approach to surfboard shaping and his surfboards are being ridden in just about every ocean across the world. Dutchie is a man with a wealth of surfing knowledge and I was eager to step into his office and learn more about these things us humans ride so “gently on the surface of the sea”.
“Surfing these days is all about volume and your height, weight and surfing level is super important. Surfing also requires timing, balance and rhythm, and like golf, surfing is very organic in that it’s impossible to duplicate a golf shot and no waves are ever the same. The first thing a customer needs to understand is that there are different kinds of surfboards for different kinds of surf and they must decide how much volume they are comfortable with and then look at what type of surfboard is suitable for the waves they will be surfing” explains Dutchie.
Some things to think about before you break the bank
• Experience – Are you new to surfing or are you an intermediate or advanced surfer looking for a more challenging ride? Your level of experience will influence your choice in surfboards.
• Fitness – The board you choose to ride should be suited to your level of fitness. After all, there’s no point trying to surf a high performance shortboard if you can’t paddle it into waves let alone stand on it.
• Body Weight – The dimensions of your surfboard must be suitable for your height and weight.
•Waves – The type of board you choose to ride must be suitable for the waves you intend to surf.
• Surfboard Dimensions – Optimum surfboard dimensions will give you maximum enjoyment in the surf.
• Budget – How much are you willing to spend on a surfboard?
Surfboards for Beginner Surfers
Never surfed before? Well, you’re in for a big surprise as Dutchie puts surfing fitness in perspective perfectly, “The ocean, this unknown element, covers most of the earth’s surface and somehow we feel connected to it. Whenever you see people connect with the ocean, like fisherman and surfers, they don’t let go” explains Dutchie. “There’s a very strong bond to a very powerful energy source that we don’t really know anything about. The first thing you must know about surfing in general is that you are dealing with the ocean. Surfing is quite possibly the most physically demanding sport in the world because it requires so many different elements like flexibility, muscle strength, power and resilience and when you paddling out, you actually paddling against the force of the ocean, so it’s a really physically demanding sport. ”
If you are a complete newbie to surfing, you might want to keep your money warm in your pocket before buying a new surfboard that you may only ride once in a blue moon. Many beginners buy a brand new surfboard only to realise that surfing is not as easy as they initially thought and as a result that surfboard eventually finds its way to the bottom of the junk pile in the garage. If you have surfed a couple of times, you may want to weigh up your commitment to surfing before splashing out on a new surfboard. It might be in your best interest to ‘test ride’ different kinds of surfboards to get a feel for what you enjoy riding, so you may want to visit your local surfboard rental shop to do this before buying your very own surfboard.
For beginner surfers however, the best surfboards to learn on are longboards and funboards, preferably made of foam, which helps prevent injury while trying to perfect the basics of surfing. As a general rule of thumb, if you are learning to surf, start with a surfboard that has lots of volume for flotation and stability and as your confidence increases you can choose to ride something with less volume and then eventually as your skill level and confidence soars, you can shave more volume off and attempt riding shortboards which typically have less volume, but require more skill and ability to ride them properly .
Surfboards, such as your longboards and funboards, are best suited for learning because of their forgiving length, width and thickness which makes standing and surfing on a wave that much easier for just about any type of surfer. The theory is simple. The longer, thicker and wider the board, the easier it will be to paddle into waves and the easier it will be to actually stand. Longboards however can be unforgiving in terms of handling the board in the surf and are less performance orientated than a shortboard.
“Hybrid Funboards and your Mini Malibu and bigger Fish designs are very much beginner orientated and these boards are designed specifically for flotation, stability and finding your feet and are popular choices for first-time surfboard buyers” explains Dutchie.
If you simply have to buy a surfboard but are unsure about whether surfing is for you, then you may want to consider buying a cheaper second-hand surfboard until you decide whether surfing is something you want to actively pursue. A good second-hand surfboard can go a long way in teaching you the basics of surfing and it won’t be the end of the world if you ding it a couple of times while you learn to surf. However, if you are buying a second-hand surfboard, make sure that it’s in reasonable condition, meaning that it shouldn’t be severely damaged and shouldn’t be full of dings that will take on water and destroy the board over time. If second-hand is not your thing, then by all means, go big and arm yourself with a new surfboard. In the wise words of Dutchie, “There is no such thing as a cheap, good surfboard and no good surfboards are cheap”.
Surfboards for Intermediate Surfers
Once you have spent sufficient time in the water coming to grips with the basics of surfing and your confidence and ability has improved, you may want to explore new surfboard territory to replace your trusty piece of drift wood that made you love surfing in the first place. As an intermediate surfer, you have probably started learning the basics of wave riding by linking maneuvers together on a wave and you will in all probability be ready to try shorter boards with less volume, but with the advantage of more maneuverability and speed.
Apart from high performance shortboards, the intermediate surfer has various surfboard shapes to experiment with, whether it be the longboard, shortboard, funboard, hybrid, fish or retro, the world is your oyster. However, your final decision should ultimately be based on your surfing ability and the type of waves you are surfing.
Not surprisingly, Dutchie offers sound advice on how to harness your ability and fine tune your wave riding skills, “You need to learn the ocean. The number one problem for people who struggle to progress in surfing is positioning. Every wave has a point A and a point B, where it peaks and where it fades or closes out, and once you position yourself in the right place and catch the wave, the line you ride between those points, and how you approach that wave, that is surfing. Your surfing ability is therefore really important and as you get better, you squeeze that volume out and refine your surfing.”
Surfboards for Advanced Surfers
I’ll go all in and say that an advanced surfer can ride a wave on just about anything, even a plank. Advanced surfers are another breed entirely and if you are lucky enough to be one, you will most likely be throwing yourself into the biggest, most powerful waves on the planet at the drop of a hat, with a fat smile on your face. Dutchie elaborates, “The beginning of advanced surfing is when you starting to control your environment in the ocean. In other words, you start surfing much bigger and more powerful waves. You are handling that, not just surviving, but actually playing in those waves. It’s like when you paddle out and there’s a 8-foot Speedies G-Land freight train coming at you and there’s a guy standing so far back, in the most dangerous position you have ever seen, and you don’t understand why the guy has a big smile on his face while everyone else is running for hills. That’s when you start to master the ocean.”
The high-performance surfboards that advanced surfers ride on a regular basis are designed with a specific purpose and wave in mind and the high level of surfing these guys engage in on any given day is something us amateurs will never comprehend. But one thing remains consistent throughout, no matter what type of surfer you are, it all comes down to what you enjoy, the wave you are surfing and how you going to surf that wave.
Surfboards for Big Wave Surfers
Talk about pulling out the big guns! Always remember, if you want to run with the big dogs, don’t piss like a puppy! In big surf, your choice of equipment becomes critical and apart from your surfing ability, it’s the only thing that stands between you and the towering beast that’s about to break on your head. For this very reason, big-wave surfers need to be meticulous about what surfboard they choose to take into big surf.
Every big wave spot in the world will require a specific type of surfboard suited to the wave. Big wave surfboards are commonly known as ‘Big Wave Guns’ or ‘Paddle-in Guns’ and generally range from anywhere between 7 and 11-feet in length, depending on the wave you are surfing. Big Wave Guns are typically long and narrow with healthy volume and exhibit a pointed nose and tail. These typical ‘Big Wave Gun’ characteristics are attributed to the fact that big waves move considerably faster than smaller waves and the time a surfer has to make the drop onto the face of a big wave is significantly reduced and Big Wave Guns therefore allow the surfer to negotiate the critical drop-in section of the wave while generating enough speed to outrun a large breaking wave. Big Wave Guns are not necessarily designed for maneuverability but are more suitable for holding your line and hanging on for dear life. Although, the smaller Guns can be used for doing turns on the face of a big wave, but only if the wave will allow it.
In the words of Laird Hamilton, if you are “surfing in waves too big to paddle into”, then you may want to consider riding a tow-in board which are generally in the six to seven-foot range and are a bit heavier than your average shortboard which helps with stability while flying down the face of a hefty wave. Tow-in boards are usually fitted with foot straps which help the surfer maintain control of speed and chop on the face of the wave. If you plan on tackling big waves, make sure that you are using the right equipment for the wave and conditions and be sure to speak to local surfers and surfboard shapers to get the inside scoop on the best equipment to use, your life may depend on it.
The process of buying a new surfboard may seem daunting considering the vast array of options available on the market, but don’t let that deter you from your mission to find your perfect board. With a guy like Dutchie around you can be sure that you’ll get the best results. Strive to find the surfboard that is best suited to your ability, height, weight and the waves you will be riding. If in doubt, make contact with a reputable surfboard shaper, like Dutchie, and discuss the various options available to you. True to form, here is some parting advice from the legend that is Dutchie on how to choose the right surfboard, “Go to credible people and do your research because the guy who is selling that surfboard to you in the surf shop, he doesn’t have a fucking clue about a surfboard, the shaper does, he’s the doctor, the other guy is the pharmacist and you can get misdiagnosed with the pharmacist.” Most importantly, whatever you do , keep paddling and persevere with your surfing, the ocean has many gifts to give, you just need to make sure that you are there to receive them.
On Monday 28 January 2013, Hawaiian big wave surfer Garret McNamara was towed into what many people believe to be a 90-100ft wave off the coast of Nazaré, Portugal, the same place McNamara set his 2011 Guinness World Record for riding a 78ft wave.
Apart from the sheer courage, skill and even luck required to surf a wave of that magnitude, the location is particularly unique too, from a geological perspective that is. McNamara himself explains, “There is an underwater canyon 1,000ft deep that runs from the ocean right up to the cliffs. It’s like a funnel. At its ocean end it’s three miles wide but narrows as it gets closer to the shore and when there is a big swell it acts like an amplifier.” McNamara also reportedly remarked, “The waves break into cliffs 300ft in height. You can’t contemplate coming off because it would kill you.”
Looking at the picture, there’s no denying that the wave is massive and could very well be in the region of 90-100ft and hats off to McNamara and his team for being there and taking on the swell, but I cant help but wonder, is this really the biggest wave ever surfed? It quite possibly is, but how big is it really? In my experience, surfers have always had differing opinions as to how big a wave might be. One man’s 2ft is 4ft for the next and as the size increases, so too does the exaggeration. Either way, it will be interesting to see what the ‘official’ height is and how it was determined. In my humble opinion, this wave is no less than 70ft in height and I wont be surprised if its 100ft.
What do you think? Do you think this is the biggest wave ever surfed? And more importantly, do you think that the 100ft surfing benchmark has been achieved here?