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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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

 

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.

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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.

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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?

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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

Orca Foundation

Orca Foundation

Conservation always begins with people and I have had the pleasure of collaborating with great people at the The Orca Foundation in Plettenberg Bay to share valuable information but also to raise awareness around conservation whether it be on land or in the sea. This is an ongoing mission and there is a lot more to come, so keep your eyes peeled. For now, here is some valuable information about the Orca Foundation.

You protect that which you love. If you have an understanding about the environment, you will learn to love it, if you love it, you will protect it. This is the motto of the Orca Foundation, a private initiative supported by the community of Plettenberg Bay and ensuring the sustained utilisation of marine and coastal resources through improved management, research and education. The conservation and protection of our environment starts with the awareness of issues that are affecting our environment. Only once we are aware can we actively participate in preserving our environment in meaningful and sustainable ways.

Founded by Ocean Blue Adventures, The Orca Foundation is a volunteer community committed to marine conservation in South Africa and its success depends on the dedicated willingness of others to further the volunteer and conservation ethics and pave the way for a better future. The Orca Foundation is involved in many ongoing research, conservation and education initiatives in the Plettenberg Bay area. I will be covering these initiatives in more detail in the weeks ahead, but for now take the time to visit the Orca Foundation website at http://www.orcafoundation.co.za and learn more about the awesome work they are doing to save our oceans.

Year Of Our Ocean, YOOO can make a difference. Peace.

World Ocean Day 2011

Year Of Our Ocean is dedicated to the conscious preservation of our beautiful mother ocean, each and every day. June 8 2011 marks World Ocean Day serving the same pupose, raising awareness around the state and future of our oceans that make life on earth possible. This very second, thousands, probably hundreds of thousands, even millions of tons of garbage is finding its way into our oceans and threatning sea life worldwide.

Each and every person can make a difference, whether it be picking up litter in your street or cleaning up your local beach. Every bit helps towards creating an environment where all sea creatures may live out their days as intended. We are responsible for our mess,  we need to change and change begins within. Our oceans need us, now more than ever. Lets do this, together. YOOO can make the difference.

Here’s some advice from Laird Hamilton and Gabrielle Reece on fighting pollution and saving our oceans.  

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VPf1DZm8pl8

Year Of Our Ocean

I must thank the Editor of ZIG ZAG, Mr Will Bendix, for publishing this letter because I feel it’s important to create awareness around the state of our oceans. Unfortunately he didn’t publish the poem accompanying the letter but I have included it here to drive the point home and get people thinking about it.

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Year Of Our Ocean – Published in Zig Zag Surf Magazine April 2011

Surfing in the kelpy lineup of Elands Bay on 1 January 2011 was an amazing experience that made me realise how much we actually take the ocean for granted. As surfers and sea lovers, we reap so much love and joy from the ocean. Humankind, however can be brutal in raping and pillaging the ocean for what it’s worth – be it through oil pollution, over fishing, poaching, or plastic, you name it.

That’s why 2011 is so important. It’s officially Year Of Our Ocean or YOOO, an action-driven awareness campaign that’s running across the globe. Everyone can do their bit to save our oceans, even if it means simply pulling some plastic from the sea after every surf. So to all my fellow readers out there, use YOOO to start making the difference. Its our responsibility and the time is now.

The Sea

In the darkness and the deep,
Where the mother yearns,
Do forgotten secrets sleep,
In love, her heart burns.

In the distant light to be,
With wind she must dance,
Her treasures for all to see,
In waves, lies her trance.

On the shore we stand in awe,
Her bosom full of joy,
Through her eyes we see our flaws,
Her soul, we destroy.

No matter what she will be,
Forever, she is our sea.

Gero Lilleike

The Great Escape

The Great Escape

Published in the Saturday Star on 2 June 2007

Written by Gero Lilleike

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We stayed in Kelso, south of Scottburgh, in a camp called Vulamanzi, the “place of open water”. For more details go to http://www.wheretostay.co.za/vulamanzi