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…
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.
It’s on!!! The time to whip out the ‘Big Guns’ is looming on the horizon as the monster that is Dungeons is set to come alive for the 2014/15 Big Wave World Tour (BWWT) following the announcement of the official tour schedule by the Association of Surfing Professionals (ASP).
The BWWT will see the world’s finest big wave surfers tackle surf no smaller than 25ft and South Africans will witness the full power of Dungeons bearing down on their heads, so yes, there is definitely reason to be excited.
The BWWT is split into a two-part schedule, with generous window periods for both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, with the gnarliest big wave spots in the mix. The 2014/15 BWWT schedule is as follows:
Southern Hemisphere (April 15, 2014 through August 31, 2014):
• Punta de Lobos, Chile
• Pico Alto, Peru
• Dungeons, South Africa
Northern Hemisphere (October 15, 2014 to February 28, 2015):
• Todos Santos, Mexico
• Punta Galea, Basque Country Spain
• Pe’ahi (Jaws), Maui HI
Dungeons and Pe’ahi (Jaws) are new events to the tour and will hopefully add some big wave flavor to what looks to be a tasty treat for the contestants and big wave spectators around the world. Grant ‘Twiggy’ Baker, the current BWWT leader, will no doubt be chuffed to surf in his home waters and put on a show of a lifetime in front of a home crowd. All we need now is for ‘The Kraken’ to emerge from the depths of the Atlantic and kick up some serious swell when the times comes. For now, all we can do is wait…BRING IT ON!!!
There’s no excuse for being bored in Cape Town and if you are, you’re either lazy, or poor. Great things lie beyond your doorstep, but don’t forget your wallet on your way out. Everyone is different and there’s lots to do if you are open to the experience, Cape Town has something for everyone. I decided to step-out and discover what Cape Town has to offer and this is what I found. Here are six things to consider doing when visiting the Mother City.
Cape Town offers countless surf spots to satisfy your surfing needs, whether you’re an advanced surfer or a beginner, it doesn’t matter, there’s a wave for every kind of surfer. Surfing in Muizenberg is probably your best bet if you are new to surfing and there are numerous surf shops and places to rent surfboards. The wave at Muizenberg is also very forgiving but you will have to contend with crowds, especially on weekends. If you are an intermediate or advanced surfer you may want to take a drive to Kommetjie or Noordhoek for a more exciting ride or explore less crowded spots along the coast, the choice is yours. Surfing is a great option if you are keen for a bit of adventure and the best part of it is that it’s a relatively cheap activity that won’t leave a dent in your wallet.
Climb Table Mountain
You can’t say that you’ve experienced Cape Town until you have scaled Table Mountain, so why not do it? If hiking is up your alley then this is a great way to conquer Table Mountain but be sure to do your research beforehand and pay attention to the weather as conditions can change in the blink of an eye. If you are looking for the easy way up, then the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway is at your service. Once at the top, Table Mountain will provide breathtaking views of the whole city and will probably leave a lump in your throat. Either way, Table Mountain is there to be conquered and you should seriously consider it.
Visit the V&A Waterfront
The V&A Waterfront in Cape Town is a popular hangout for locals and tourists alike and offers a plethora of activities for the whole family, from food, shopping, boat trips and daily entertainment, there’s always something to do here. The V&A Waterfront is also home to the Two Oceans Aquarium which allows you to get up close and personal with the wonders of the ocean and should be high on your priority list when you make your visit. There are various boat rides available to you and they provide a unique perspective on Cape Town. My personal suggestion is to book a ride on the Jolly Roger Pirate Ship which makes for a fun boat trip out to sea, especially if you have children.
Drive Chapman’s Peak
If you are keen for some spectacular Cape scenery, then all you have to do is get in your car and take a drive along Chapman’s Peak Drive, you won’t be disappointed. There are many spots along the way where you can stop and soak in the scenery, just be sure to have your camera ready to snap all the special moments. Chapman’s Peak offers awesome views of Hout Bay and Noordhoek Beach, but remember this is a toll road so there is a fee to use this section of road. If you don’t want to drive then feel free to use your legs and walk or you can tackle the hills with your bicycle. Chapman’s Peak is definitely a must-do activity if you are in Cape Town so be sure to check it out.
Walk Cape Point
If you are in Cape Town, do yourself a favor and visit Cape Point. Cape Point forms part of the Table Mountain National Park and offers great walks with stunning scenery to keep you company. Cape Point is the most south-western point of the African continent and was named the ‘Cape of Storms’ by Bartolomeu Dias who navigated it in 1488. Be sure to make your way up to the lighthouse which was erected in 1859 and stands some 249m above sea-level. A second, more effective lighthouse was erected in 1914 and stands only 87m above sea level and is the most powerful lighthouse on the South African coastline. There are many viewpoints which offer stomach-churning views of the cliffs and ocean below, so tread carefully here.
Have a beer in Kalk Bay
Apart from offering an arty shopping experience, Kalk Bay also offers superb dining options overlooking Kalk Bay Harbour and False Bay, the perfect place to kick back and relax. As an avid beer drinker and lover of seafood, I recommend you pay a visit to the Brass Bell which serves delicious seafood meals and has enough beer to quench the biggest beer thirst. To make the deal that much better, you have the ocean by your side and if you’re lucky enough you may even spot a whale or two breaching offshore. Kalk Bay also offers a pretty good wave when conditions are right so you might want to keep your surfboard handy in case the ocean plays it’s part, but remember, don’t surf if you have beer in your belly.
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.