Bali Daze – Drop of Faith

Words and photographs by Gero Lilleike (unless otherwise stated)

Bali Daze

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 surf and 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.

The Bukit Peninsula offers consistent swell with warm, perfect waves on offer. Photo - Gero Lilleike

The dream – perfect waves that roll in endlessly from the deep. Photo: Gero Lilleike

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.

Uluwatu offers up another dream ride. Photo - Gero Lilleike

Bali has some of the best surf breaks in the world. The waves are fast and the reef is sharp, beware! Photo: Gero Lilleike

‘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

Gero Lilleike strikes a pose in a rural village on Nusa Lembongan. Photo - Ross McIlroy

Things to do in Bali? Explore, surf, love and ride old rusty bicycles… Photo: Ross McIlroy

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.  

Bingin lights up at sunrise. Photo - Gero Lilleike

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.

Bingin at sunset. Photo - Andrew Crawford

First surf in Bali with the sun setting at Bingin Beach. Epic… Photo: Andrew Crawford

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 great for exploring the Bukit, just drive carefully. Photo - Andrew Crawford

The Bukit’s numerous surf breaks are best explored on an iron horse. Photo: Andrew Crawford

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.  

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Uluwatu is one of Bali’s most revered surf spots and it can be daunting when it’s breaking big. Photo: Gero Lilleike 

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.

Surfers walk out to the waves at low tide at Uluwatu. Photo - Gero Lilleike

The lineup at Uluwatu is accessed via this cave, shown here at low tide. Photo: Gero Lilleike

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.

Dream ride at Uluwatu. Photo - Gero Lilleike

An unknown surfer rides a wave at Uluwatu. Photo: Gero Lilleike

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!

Another dream wave at Uluwatu. Photo - Gero Lilleike

The wave at Uluwatu viewed from above. Photo: Gero Lilleike

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!

Gero Lilleike makes a drop of faith at Uluwatu. Photo - Andrew Crawford

Gero drops in at Uluwatu. Photo: Maree Lilleike

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.

The cave at Uluwatu. Photo - Gero Lilleike

Uluwatu cave at high tide, the starting and ending point of every surf.  Photo: Gero Lilleike

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.

Gero Lilleike drops in at Uluwatu. Photo - Maree Lilleike

One good wave is all you need… Photo: Maree Lilleike

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.

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There’s is much to see and do if the surf is off. Tegenungan Waterfall is a must-see attraction near Ubud. Photo: Gero Lilleike

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.

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The Komune Beach Club in Keramas is a great place to socialise and eat. Photo: Gero Lilleike 

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.

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Tegallalang Rice Terrace viewed from above. Photo: Gero Lilleike

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.

A surf trip isn't complete without a boat ride out to the reef. Photo - Andrew Crawford

A boat affords you the opportunity to explore waves that are typically out of reach. Photo: Andrew Crawford

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.

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Nomans reef delivered the waves and we had to ourselves. Bliss… Photo: Ross McIlroy

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…

Watch my Bali Daze video here!

Ross McIlroy stoked after his surf at Nomans. Photo - Andrew Crawford

A surf trip to remember… Photo: Andrew Crawford

 

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Fly Fishing in the Mist

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Words and Photographs by Gero Lilleike

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.

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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…

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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.

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If you wish to experience Lake Naverone for yourself, check out their website here!

Also read:

Gone Fishing the Breede River
On the fly at Dwarsberg Trout Hideaway
Gavin Erwin Fish Art in South Africa

Namibia Through My Lens

Words and Photographs by Gero Lilleike

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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.

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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!

2. Swakopmund 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

Go find your own wave…

Also read:

Namibia in Pictures
The Leatherfoot Fish Project – Building a Wood Surfboard
Winter Surfing in Cape Town
Surfing in Elands Bay
Surfing in Muizenberg
Choosing the right surfboard with Dutchie Surf Designs

 

Bliss in Mozambique

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Gero Lilleike about to explore the sea bed. Photo: Gero Lilleike

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?

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The units at the White Pearl Resort are luxurious. Photo: Gero Lilleike

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…

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Sea kayaking is a must-do activity at the White Pearl Resort. Photo: MM

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!

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The fruits of the White Pearl Resort. Photo: Gero Lilleike

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.

 

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The locals are super friendly, support them! Photo: Gero Lilleike

 

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.

I will return…

For more information about the the White Pearl Resort, visit their website at www.whitepearlresorts.com/

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The beach at White Pearl Resort. Photo: Gero Lilleike

 

 

 

Mick Fanning vs Great White: Ocean Kings Clash

Words and Photographs by Gero Lilleike

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.

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Kelly Slater hooking it. Photo: Gero Lilleike

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.

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Kelly Slater draws a fine line. Photo: Gero Lilleike

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Kelly Slater locks in. Photo: Gero Lilleike

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.

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Mick Fanning dominates once more: Photo: Gero Lilleike

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.

 

 

Gone Fishing the Breede River

Words and Photographs by Gero Lilleike

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.

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Wooden decks offer splendid views of the Breede River. Photo: Gero Lilleike

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.

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Akatski dog on the high alert. Photo: Gero Lilleike

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.

Fishing Breede River

The Catch of the Day. Photo: Gero Lilleike

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.

Fire on the Breede River

Fire on the Breede River. Photo: Gero Lilleike

2014 J-Bay Open Fires On All Cylinders

 

2014 J-Bay Open

What a day for surfing… Photo: Gero Lilleike

Words and Photographs by Gero Lilleike

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.

Mick Fanning J-Bay

Mick Fanning drops-in on a bomb in J-Bay. Photo: Gero Lilleike

 

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.

Tom Curren J-Bay

Surfing legend Tom Curren has still got what it takes. Photo: Gero Lilleike

 

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?

Taj Burrow J-Bay

Taj Burrow slips behind the curtain. Photo: Gero Lilleike

Go Surf

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!

Fred Patachia at J-Bay

Fred Patachia sets up at Supertubes. Photo: Gero Lilleike

 

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.

Owen Wright J-Bay

Owen Wright sets his line for the barrel at J-Bay. Photo: Gero Lilleike

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!

Matt Wilkinson J-Bay

Matt Wilkinson squares off with Taj Burrow at the 2014 J-Bay Open. Photo: Gero Lilleike

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…

 

Mick Fanning J-Bay

2014 J-Bay Open Champ sets up for the barrel in style. Photo: Gero Lilleike

A Day at Vindoux Guest Farm

 

Vindoux welcomes you. Photo: Gero Lilleike

Vindoux welcomes you. Photo: Gero Lilleike

 

Words and Photographs by Gero Lilleike

A warm and welcome winter sun breaks the peaks of the Witzenberg mountains and the Tulbagh Valley comes to life. This is wine country, home to countless wine farms and the birthplace of the good-old hangover. In search of charm and wine, we followed the road to Vindoux with the surrounding vineyards lying bear in the morning glow.

Charming country cottages are on offer at Vindoux. Photo: Gero Lilleike

Charming country cottages are on offer at Vindoux. Photo: Gero Lilleike

Only a 90-minute drive from Cape Town and with the splendid Saronsberg mountains as a backdrop, Vindoux Guest Farm & Spa greeted us with a smile. Accommodation varies according to your taste and although Vindoux is very much geared for couples looking for a romantic getaway, there’s something here for everyone. Vindoux Guest Farm is well-known for its romantic luxury tree house units which offer perfect views of the farm and mountains. A large and well-sorted tree lodge is ideal for family and friends and there are also country cottages to choose from. If you’re like me and you enjoy having your pet around, then it’s pleasing to know that Vindoux is pet-friendly, but only on request. That said, pets are only allowed if you reside in a cottage. The self-catering country cottages have a certain simplistic charm about them, which I liked very much, and the cottages are fitted with everything you could possibly need for your stay, including a cozy fireplace.

Mark Walton takes aim at a wildebeest. Photo: Gero Lilleike

Mark Walton takes aim at a wildebeest. Photo: Gero Lilleike

A lovely viewing deck revealed zebra, wildebeest and springbok grazing quietly in the sun. We were told that a female wildebeest was to be darted and relocated to a nearby farm. A few moments later and with dart gun in hand, Mark Walton, the local veterinarian arrived and invited us in on the action. Mark waited patiently for the perfect shot and finally his moment came and he took careful aim. He pulled the trigger and the wildebeest bucked high into the air before bolting off, it was a good shot. Minutes later, legs buckled and the beast dropped, sleeping soundly in the soft grass. Mark and his team got to work quickly and moved the animal to its new home.

The wildebeest sleeps. Photo: Gero Lilleike

The wildebeest sleeps. Photo: Gero Lilleike

 

Wine Tasting by Bike

With the action over, we decided to get stuck into some wine action. Vindoux offers ‘Wine by Bike’ which is a very fun way to experience the countryside and taste some wine while you at it. With a map in hand and the scent of wine on the wind, we set off to a nearby wine farm. Our first stop was Montpellier and we didn’t hesitate on sampling some wine. Our taste buds were working hard. As a beer drinker, the wine-tasting experience was surprisingly pleasant, and I wanted more. I don’t regard myself as a sophisticated wine drinker, but I can certainly appreciate the way wine makes me feel.

Wine by Bike at Vindoux Guest Farm. Photo: Gero Lilleike

Wine by Bike at Vindoux Guest Farm. Photo: Gero Lilleike

Eager to get a second wine farm under the belt, we mounted our bikes and headed towards Saronsberg wine farm for round two. The wine was flowing at Saronsberg and we spent the afternoon soaking up the sun and scenery, eventually returning to Vindoux for a much needed and well deserved braai. A day of drinking wine and peddling the sunny countryside takes its toll on the body and there is nothing more welcoming than a comfy bed after a long day on the bottle.

Wine Tasting at Saronsberg Wine Farm. Photo: Gero Lilleike

Wine Tasting at Saronsberg Wine Farm. Photo: Gero Lilleike

We awoke at sunrise to go fishing at a nearby dam in the hope of hooking into some bass. The bass were leaping from the water in the early morning light but we didn’t catch any and were left to appreciate the beauty of our surroundings instead. On our return to Vindoux, we paid a visit to Vindoux Day Spa for a relaxing treatment which successfully expelled the lingering aftermath of our wine tasting forays the day before. Unfortunately our stay had come to an abrupt end and the friendly staff at Vindoux Guest Farm bid us farewell.

Early morning fishing near Vindoux. Photo: Gero Lilleike

Early morning fishing near Vindoux. Photo: Gero Lilleike

 

Exploring Tulbagh

The nearby town of Tulbagh is interesting and we parked in famous Church Street for a bite to eat. Tulbagh was rocked by a 6.5 earthquake in 1969 which left the town mostly in ruins. The buildings in Church Street, with their distinct Cape-Dutch architecture, were restored and today Church Street has the largest concentration of National Monuments in a single street in South Africa.

We checked our map and decided to visit the local waterfall on our way out. A 15-minute walk takes you to the top of the waterfall where you get a different perspective of the mountains and the Tulbagh Valley, a must-see for anyone visiting the area. With a boot full of wine, we put the Tulbagh Valley behind us and headed back to Cape Town, well-rested and ready to conquer the world.

For more information visit www.vindoux.com or call +27 (0) 23 2300 635 to make a reservation.

The waterfall at Tulbagh. Photo: Gero Lilleike

The waterfall at Tulbagh. Photo: Gero Lilleike

Namibia in Pictures

Namib desert namibia

The Namib Desert of Namibia. Photo: Gero Lilleike

Words and Photographs by Gero Lilleike

Namibia holds a special place in my heart, not only because my late father was born there, but also because there is no other place like it on this planet. It’s a truly amazing place. I vaguely remember visiting Namibia as a child but I was just too young to comprehend where I actually was and to be honest, I still struggle to wrap my mind around the beauty that resides there.

I returned to Namibia recently, along with my family, to pay tribute to my dad’s life, to bring him home and to say goodbye. This was a remarkably special trip for me and I have chosen several photographs of my journey that showcases some of the beauty of Namibia, but they also have particular relevance and represent something more to me that simply can’t be expressed. I hope you enjoy them.

Exploring Swakopmund

Swakopmund Namibia

Sand meets the sea at Swakopmund in Namibia. Photo: Gero Lilleike

Swakopmund is situated 360 km west of Windhoek and is a popular coastal holiday destination for local Namibians. This German colonial town is also a tourist hot-spot and  khaki-clad Germans are as common as the sand on which the town is built and they can be found marching in the streets and drinking beer in every restaurant and pub in town. Swakopmund is the gateway to the vast Namib Desert and it also happens to be where my Dad grew up, which makes it significant, to me at least. Compared to similar towns in South Africa, Swakopmund is remarkably clean and the people here are really friendly. The architecture of the buildings in Swakopmund point to its German heritage and many of its residents are actually German.

namib desert namibia

Exploring the Namib Desert on a Quad Bike. Photo: Gero Lilleike

The Namib Desert is the oldest desert on earth with an estimated age of 55-80 million years and is largely uninhabited. Just beyond the town of Swakopmund, sand dunes unfold into the distance and the landscape here is nothing short of spectacular. We had some time on our hands and decided to take a two-hour quad bike tour of this sandy abyss. Our guide, Gideon, was a friendly Namibian chap who knew his way around the dunes and ensured that we didn’t get lost in the bowels of this vast landscape. Exploring the Namib Desert on the back of a quad bike is a great way to have some fun and experience the desert up close and personal. This was definitely one of the highlights of our trip.

The Search for Welwitschia Mirabilis

Our main reason for coming to Namibia was to search for Welwitschia Mirabilis, an extraordinary plant that is perfectly adapted to life in the desert.  A few kilometers out of Swakopmund, we entered the  Namib-Naukluft Park which is home to the famous Welwitschia plains. Along the way, we stumbled onto what is known as the ‘Moon Landscape’, a barren and eerie looking Damara Granite landscape that formed some 460-million years ago. As barren and devoid of life as it is, the ‘Moon Landscape’ is strangely appealing to the eye and serves as a reminder of how harsh and unforgiving this place can be.

Moon Landscape Namibia

The ‘Moon Landscape’ in Namibia is an eerily lonely place. Photo: Gero Lilleike

 

We pushed on towards the Welwitschia plains some 80km from Swakopmund and eventually crossed the dry Swakop River bed. With our petrol running low, we decided to pull over and take a closer look at the strange but intriguing Welwitschia Mirabilis. The plant is endemic to Namibia and southern Angola and is only found in what is known as the ‘fog belt’ stretching roughly 1000km along the west coast from the Kuiseb River south of Walvis Bay to the Nicolau River in Angola.

Most Welwitschia Mirabilis specimens are found within 80-100km of the coast and consist of a large tap root and a short hardy stem which produces only two strap-like leaves that grow continuously to lengths that can exceed three meters or more. Apart from groundwater, the plant survives largely on fog condensation which is captured by the leaves and channeled into the ground which is then absorbed by the tap root.

The Welwitschia Mirabilis is commonly referred to as a ‘living fossil’ because this ancient plant can live for hundreds if not thousands of years. The Welwitschia Mirabilis is undoubtedly the ultimate survivor of the desert and is plentiful in this region, but treat them with respect, they are considered to be endangered and are reasonably well protected in Namibia.

Welwitschia Mirabilis Namibia

The Welwitschia Mirabilis is the ultimate survivor of the Namib Desert. Photo: Gero Lilleike

Game Viewing in Erindi Private Game Reserve

With our mission accomplished and only one day left in Namibia we headed to Erindi Private Game Reserve some 175 km’s from Windhoek. Erindi is massive and is home to just about all the animals you would expect to see in Southern Africa. The accommodation was stunning, with a big waterhole on our doorstep and crocodiles basking on its banks, it couldn’t get any better than this. Lucky for us, we arrived just in time for the evening game drive, the perfect opportunity experience the bush and photograph some animals.

Lioness at Erindi Private Game Reserve

A lioness giving me the eye. Photo: Gero Lilleike

Ully, our Herero guide, guaranteed some good sightings and he certainly lived up to his promise. It was only five minutes into the game drive when Ully’s radio came to life. There were lions nearby. We made our way to the sighting and sat for a couple of minutes watching  the lions lounging in the grass. A particular lioness, shown above, unsettled me. Her wild stare pierced right through me and I couldn’t help but think that she wanted to eat me. As more vehicles arrived on the scene, we decided to head off in search of tamer game.

African Wild Dogs Namibia

A pack of African Wild Dogs scout the bush in Erindi. Photo: Gero Lilleike

About 30 minutes later, the radio informed us of African Wild Dog in the area and Ully put his foot down in hot pursuit. We found the pack along a boundary fence and I was happy to lay eyes on them, for I had never seen them in the wild before. The game drive was turning out to be a treat it seemed. It was great to see them purely because the African Wild Dog is the most endangered carnivore on the continent  and are rarely seen in the wild. I never imagined them to be so slender, almost to the point of looking under-fed, but Ully explained that they will run their prey ‘dead’ and are fierce and highly intelligent hunters.

african wild dog namibia

The matriarch of the pack poses for a photograph. Photo: Gero Lilleike

Erindi only has one family of African Wild Dog with 14 individuals. The picture above shows the alpha female of the pack posing beautifully for the camera. Shortly after this photo was taken, the radio alerted us to elephant in our vicinity and we left the African Wild Dogs to their business. A while later, Ully stopped the vehicle and showed us fresh elephant tracks on the road accompanied by liquid spatter in the sand. “An elephant in musth” said Ully, apparently not something you want to encounter face-to-face. We drove on for a while and spotted two White Rhino grazing peacefully in the bush. Ully switched the vehicle off and we watched them intently. Then, the unexpected happened. About 100m ahead of us, a herd of elephants crossed the road and out of the bush, Stompie appeared.

Stompie prepares to show us his dark side. Photo: Gero Lilleike

Stompie prepares to show us his dark side. Photo: Gero Lilleike

Stompie is a large bull elephant and the dark temporin secretion on the side of his head confirmed that he was in musth. Elephants become highly aggressive when in musth and Ully told us that Stompie was notorious for causing trouble in the reserve. Unbeknownst to us, Stompie was about to show us his dark side. Upon spotting the rhino’s, Stompie charged at them and drove them away into the bush. Ully started the vehicle and moved slowly forward to get a better view. Then, Stompie turned his attention on us and chaos ensued.

Elephant charging namibia

Stompie charging and showing us who’s boss. Photo: Gero Lilleike

 

I’ve never been charged by an elephant, but let it be known, there are few things scarier than a bull elephant in musth bearing down on you. This was a pure, adrenalin infused moment. Ully put his foot on the gas and my family were in a flat panic screaming ‘GO!! GO!! GO!!’ while Stompie charged us at full speed. In the chaos, I managed to maintain some composure to capture this amazing image of Stompie doing what he does best, being the boss of the bush. This was by far the most intense experience I’ve ever had in the bush so far and I will remember it for the rest of my life.

elephants Erindi

Young elephants having a sundowner in Erindi. Photo: Gero Lilleike

 

We kept a safe distance from Stompie and set off to find the breeding herd nearby. Ully told us that the reason why these elephants have such short tusks, unlike the elephants from the Kruger National Park in South Africa, is because they lack the necessary calcium in their diet, an interesting fact I wasn’t fully aware of.

We watched the elephants for a while, keeping a keen eye-out for Stompie feeding nearby, before moving on for sundowners in the bush. With gin and tonic in hand, we watched the sun set over Erindi, the perfect way to end a perfect trip. Somehow I knew I would return again, someday.

Sunset erindi

Sunset at Erindi. Photo: Gero Lilleike

 

Winter Surfing in Cape Town

wave at Long Beach Cape Town

An empty wave slips past unridden at Long Beach, Cape Town. Photo: Gero Lilleike

Words and Photographs by Gero Lilleike

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.

Surfing Muizenberg

Riding giants in Muizenberg, Cape Town. Photo: Gero Lilleike

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.

Surfing Long Beach Cape Town

Surfing a fun wave at Long Beach, Kommetjie, Cape Town. Photo: Gero Lilleike

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.

Long Beach Cape Town

The scene at Long Beach in Cape Town. Photo: Gero Lilleike