Winter Waves Slam Muizenberg

Words and photographs by Gero Lilleike.

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.

Muizenberg Surf © Gero Lilleike
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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

Muizenberg Surf 6 © Gero Lilleike
To paddle or not to paddle? Photo: Gero Lilleike

 

 

GSA Surfing the Maldives

Words by Gero Lilleike

Photographs by Gero Lilleike / Roarke Bouffe / Dara Ahmed

I hail from a dedicated crew of Johannesburg-based surfers known as the GSA (Gauteng Surfing Association). Never heard of us? Well, now you have. Don’t forget it.

Refusing to be defined and restricted by the shackles of living in a land-locked city in the middle of the South Africa, we have developed a fine appreciation for surfing and the ocean over many years. Incredibly, we’ve racked up surf time all across the world. We’ve surfed all over South Africa, ridden waves in Mozambique, Namibia, Tanzania and even ventured abroad to surf swells in the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Europe, Canary Islands, Mauritius, Bali, Sri Lanka and even Hong Kong. The list is growing.  

In a recent escapade, a select GSA crew, including Ross McIlroy, Jerome Tozer and yours truly, unleashed themselves in the Maldives. Riding waves in an exotic location such as the Maldives is a surfing dream come true  and this surf trip was hugely significant for us and more importantly, for the GSA. 

We were writing our history.

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Gero Lilleike, Ross McIlroy and Jerome Tozer, making history for the GSA in the Maldives. Photo: Roarke Bouffe

Our foray to the Maldives, however, wasn’t nearly as provocative or groundbreaking as that of the late Tony Hussein Hinde and his friend Mark Scanlon, two Aussie adventurers who were en route to South Africa from Sri Lanka in 1973. Tony was a natural-footer with an African dream of surfing the groomed walls of Jeffreys Bay but his dream was dashed when their sailboat ran aground on Helengeli reef in the Maldives. 

Effectively stranded in the Maldives, Hinde committed himself to the islands and went on to discover and surf the very breaks that we were about to enjoy. That’s an epic tale, one that’s well documented in the film Serendipity, a story that has inspired surfers the world over. 

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Cinnamon Dhonveli, home to Pasta Point, one of the most consistent left-handers in the Maldives. Photo: Gero Lilleike

We were headed to Cinnamon Dhonveli to surf Pasta Point, a famed left-hander that Hinde himself loved and surfed for many years.

For a goofy-footer, Pasta Point is heaven and no aeroplane on earth could fly me over there fast enough. Our surf skill level is best described as intermediate with a hint of kookery and it remained to be seen how we would fare on the long walls of Pasta Point. 

More than this, we would also be surfing another left-hander in the Maldives, Lohis, a wave known for producing big, gaping barrels. Hell yes, bring it on!

Waves for days at Pasta Point

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The wave at Pasta Point delivers fun by the bucketload. Photo: Roarke Bouffe

After 15 hours of travel, our plane made its approach to Malé, the capital of the Maldives. Looking out the window below, I could see countless pristine islands surrounded by a vibrant blue sea pulsing with waves. We were amped!

A quick 30-minute boat ride got us to the Cinnamon Dhonveli resort and after checking in, we beelined for Pasta Point to check the surf. It was low tide and Pasta was laying down 4-foot runners in clear azure water that was impossible to resist in the humid heat. In the blink of an eye, we were lining up our first wave of the trip. The flood gates opened and we surfed our brains out!

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Gero Lilleike riding the line at Pasta Point. Photo: Roarke Bouffe

With only 30 surf passes issued at any given time, there was more than enough stoke to go around and we gorged ourselves on the waves rolling down the point with only a handful of surfers in the water.

After lunch, we were at it again and surfed until last light. What a day! Every day should be like this!

The surf was firing the next day and there was nothing else to do but to go surfing. What a blessing!

We all dropped into bombs and had incredible rides that left us beaming with joy. Hinde was so right about this left, what a phenomenal wave! 

We witnessed another magical sunset from the water and with only 3 of us on the point, it was the perfect end to another great day of surfing.

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Magical sunset in the Maldives . Photo: Gero Lilleike

My barrel came the next morning. The swell had dropped off and within 5 minutes of paddling out, my first wave of the morning appeared and I thought I’d give it a go.

I was slightly out of position and I took off in the white water. I almost kooked it, but somehow I managed to regain control. I shot back onto the face of the wave and started making my way down the line. As the wave reached the inside reef section, the wall jacked-up ahead of me and all my senses stood to attention.

My time had come!

I tucked in and stepped on the gas as the lip of the wave curled over me, the sea gods blessed me with my first Maldivian barrel.

I was so stoked! 

Most Joburgers will drown in a teaspoon of water and the fact that I got shacked at Pasta Point made me incredibly happy. I was beside myself! 

Meeting the locals

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The locals are friendly in the Maldives. Photo: Roarke Bouffe

After breakfast, we went snorkelling offshore in the hope of spotting blacktip reef sharks and turtles. We boarded Tony Montana, a boat operated by Atoll Adventures, and set off around the island. Just beyond Pasta Point, sharks and turtles are common and after a quick briefing, it was time to meet the locals…

We spotted a few juvenile blacktip reef sharks patrolling the reef and then a while later we were swimming alongside a beautiful turtle that seemed completely unphased by us. What a magical experience!

The wind turned onshore in the afternoon, effectively skunking us, but the day couldn’t have been better. My dream of catching a barrel in the Maldives had come true and my stoke pot was overflowing. I was quite possibly the happiest man on the planet.

Surfing Sultans

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You can easily acess Sultans and Honky’s by boat. Photo: Gero Lilleike

There’s a cranking right-hander near Pasta Point called Sultans, named so by the legendary Hinde himself and we were amped to surf it. Interestingly, the perfect left-hander adjacent to Sultans is called Honky’s, which was Hinde’s nickname. 

It was still dark when we made our way to the harbour where we boarded a boat with surfboards underarm for the short ride to Sultans. When Sultans is firing, it gets crowded very quickly and by catching this early boat, it meant that we would have Sultans to ourselves for the magic hour before other boats arrived.

We arrived at Sultans at first light and the waves looked fun. There were a few bigger sets that looked tantalising and as they rolled in over the reef, the inside section hollowed out and barreled beautifully over the reef. We could only imagine what it would look like on a big swell with heaving barrels rolling down the line.

We jumped into a warm, deep blue sea and paddled over to the peak. The sunrise was spectacular!

We had a fun surf at Sultans but after 2 hours in the water, hunger drove us back to the boat. A thick storm rolled in that afternoon and the surf went mank. 

It was time to look forward to surfing Lohis!

Living the life at Lohis

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At the gate to Lohis. Photo: Photo: Roarke Bouffe

The storm set in overnight and it was pouring with rain.  We packed and made our way to the harbour to catch a boat to Malé where we would transfer to another boat to get to Adaaran Select Hudhuranfushi resort, home to Lohis.

When we set eyes on Lohis for the first time, we were amazed, yet again, to see a perfectly structured wave. It looked super fun and we couldn’t get into the water quickly enough!

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Ross catches his first glimpse of the waves at Lohis. Photo: Gero Lilleike

It’s a fast, rippable wave and on a large swell, Lohis delivers big, long barrels that run endlessly down the point. With a surf pass limit of 45, crowds are well-managed and we got it good with only a few surfers out.

Access to the wave is made easy with a slipway that serves as the entry and exit point to the surf and perhaps the most attractive facet of Lohis is that it’s a wave that caters for all skill levels and there always seems to be a fun wave on offer. 

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Lohis from above. Paradise. Photo: Gero Lilleike

There’s also a large viewing deck right on the break and Lohis bar and restaurant is ready to serve you an ice-cold beer and a meal as soon as you step out of the surf. 

It was our last night in the Maldives and so we went bar-hopping to celebrate the trip and I even showed the locals a thing or two on the dance floor…

I woke up at 4:30 am, half-boozed and depressed. It was dark and I couldn’t sleep anymore. The reality of going home was sinking in and this Maldivian dream I had been living so fully for the last few days was quickly closing out on me, much like the wave that barreled over me at Pasta Point 2 days before.

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The surf at Lohis is easily accessed via a slipway. Just watch out for urchins! Photo: Gero Lilleike. 

I got out of bed and walked to Lohis to look at the wave in the dark. I saw nothing, but I could hear the wave breaking just beyond the limits of my vision. It was music to my ears. I closed my eyes and listened intently to the sweet sound of Lohis dancing in the dark.  

First light came and Lohis was alive. The ocean was calm and clean with a perfect wave peeling before my eyes. My depression instantly evaporated and stoke flowed through me once more.

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Lohis is known for producing tasty barrel sections on bigger days, but it’s a super fun and fast wave when it’s smaller too. Photo: Gero Lilleike

I paddled out for the last time and managed to get stuck into a few waves.  Another storm was brewing at sea. The surf was short-lived as the wind picked up and the sea turned to chop. We spent the day relaxing in hammocks before packing for the long haul home. 

While I was packing, I thought about all the amazing experiences we had in the Maldives. The perfect waves, the crazy-good rides, my barrel at Pasta Point, the incredible sunsets, the stunning accommodation, excellent food, the laughs with friends and all the great people we met along the way. 

All these experiences filled me with immense joy and gratitude. This place makes you feel alive and being able to witness the beauty of the Maldives and to ride her swells will surely rank as one of the best surf experiences of my life.

Just as Tony Hussein Hinde’s surf dreams came true in the Maldives all those years back, so too did ours and we have him to thank for that. The GSA would never be the same again…

Book your dream Maldives surf trip on Pollywog here!

 

 

Bali Daze – Drop of Faith

Words and photographs by Gero Lilleike (unless otherwise stated)


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

 

Mick Fanning

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.

 

 

The Leatherfoot Fish Project – Building a Wood Surfboard

Leatherfoot Fish Surfboard

Words and Pictures by Gero Lilleike

The thought of building my own surfboard has always appealed to me.  Naturally, things like time, money and commitment have stood in my way for some time, but that all changed in a heart beat. I came across wood surfboard builder, Patrick Burnett of Burnett Wood Surfboards on the internet and from that moment, a little seed was planted in my brain. It took more than two months for that seed to grow and I finally decided to build my very own hollow wood surfboard. It’s far too easy to walk into your local surf shop and choose a surfboard, whereas building your own, from wood, brings a whole new level of satisfaction.

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Choosing a Shape

Patrick Burnett, a surfer and waterman, has a wealth of surfing knowledge and offers building courses for a variety of surfboards and SUP’s from his workshop in Scarbourgh, Cape Town. But what shape to build? I wanted a board that would be fun to surf in the slop, easy to paddle, but it also needed to perform when the waves were cranking. I also wanted to build a surfboard that was different to what I was used to surfing on a regular basis.

Patrick Burnett and Gero Lilleike in the zone.

Patrick suggested a fish and I immediately liked the idea. I’ve never surfed or owned a fish before and the design appealed to me. I was sold. This particular fish shape is a classic retro Steve Lis outline with a twin-fin setup. The original shape is a 5’6″, this being a step-up 6’0″ of the same design. This particular board also has some added girth in the rails to float my belly but also makes catching waves easier which will help get that wave count up.

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Working with Wood

Patrick knows best when it comes to building a wooden surfboard and he managed to source some beautiful Redwood that would, with a bit of blood and sweat, become the Leatherfoot Fish. Like anything, the construction of a hollow wood surfboard happens in phases and with wood, you have the choice to exploit certain characteristics for aesthetic appeal but also to achieve and exceed your surfing expectations. The wood is the key ingredient and the possibilities are endless, making this board and the building experience, completely unique.

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Working wood takes time and patience and each phase of the process affects the end result, so paying attention to detail is important from start to finish. Each phase is a challenge, from constructing the decks, building and planing the rails, setting the ribs, sculpting the rails, sanding, chipping away, and sanding some more, its all an adventure. With each sweeping pass of your plane and every shaving that falls to the floor, you learn and discover. Every moment is savored. It’s magical.

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As for the artwork on the surfboard, I approached my friend and artist, Steve Erwin, to apply his knowledge and create something unique. I felt that artwork would give the surfboard some character and we decided to take a minimalist approach as we didn’t want to detract from the beauty of the wood itself. The oak tree on the top deck of the surfboard is symbolic of my surname, meaning ‘Little Oak’, while the fish on the underside represents the board itself which has been dubbed ‘Leatherfoot Fish’.  The artwork was applied using stencils and water-based acrylic through an airbrush.
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I recently had the chance to surf the Leatherfoot Fish in perfect 4-5 ft surf at Muizenberg, which was exceptionally fun. I was brimming with stoke. There is nothing quite like pacing along the face of a wave on a surfboard you crafted yourself. The feeling was just incredible and I can’t wait to do it again.

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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

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

Surfing in Elands Bay

Sunset at Elands Bay. Photo: Gero Lilleike
Sunset at Elands Bay. Photo: Gero Lilleike

Words and Photographs by Gero Lilleike

An eerie mist hangs over a glassy sea, its secrets held close. In the distance, birds float freely while a seal cavorts nearby. The renowned Elands Bay surf break, some 200 km North of Cape Town, lies dormant. I have seen the reef at Elands Bay working to its full potential only once before, and besides the pleasure of surfing this wave, just standing on the beach and watching it crank is a special sight. Nature has indeed done splendid work to create such a remarkably mechanical wave. However, on a recent surfing trip to Elands Bay, that perfect wave of our dreams was nowhere to be seen.

Surfing Elands Bay
Patience pays off when surfing Elands Bay. Photo: Gero Lilleike

Surfing in Elands Bay, for me at least, is a deeply cleansing experience, whether there’s a wave or not, there’s always fun to be had. The scenery, cold water, mountains, dust and sand that dominate the West Coast landscape creates a perfect playground for the soul. The best thing about surfing Elands Bay when there’s no swell is that there are no crowds, you have the reef all to yourself and even better, there won’t be anyone watching. Frolicking in the stinky kelp in hope that the odd wave might come along is certainly fun and it can pay off if you’re patient enough.

Surfing at Elands Bay
The gang about to paddle out into the mist near Elands Bay. Photo: Gero Lilleike

Most surfers wouldn’t even bother when the sea is flat, but surfing in Elands Bay no matter what, forces you to realise that it’s not always about the quality of the waves, but rather about appreciating the experience. Throw some good friends and camping into the mix and you have a recipe for making unforgettable memories that will keep your stoke meter topped up until the swell eventually arrives.

Surfing near Elands Bay
There’s a wave somewhere near Elands Bay. Photo: Gero Lilleike

As it turned out, there was no swell coming our way so we decided to explore the coast towards Lamberts Bay for a wave, however small. Luck was on our side, and we found a tiny gem. It wasn’t long before our wetsuits were on and we paddled into the mist, but we weren’t alone. A pod of West Coast Dolphins welcomed us while we had the time of our lives on this desolate piece of coast. The experience was surreal and full of joy. It was all worth it in the end.

Beach walking at Elands bay
Beach Walking is a good option when the swell dies. Photo: Gero Lilleike

Grant ‘Twiggy’ Baker cooks a big win at 2014 Mavericks Invitational

 

Grant 'Twiggy' Baker rides a big one. Photo: Grant Ellis
Grant ‘Twiggy’ Baker rides a big one. Photo: Grant Ellis

Words by Gero Lilleike

If there is any reason at all to feel like a proud South African then today is surely the day and Twiggy is the reason. To most South Africans, the name Grant ‘Twiggy’ Baker is like any other but within the loins of the surf community, that name means business, serious business, and with good reason, the man is as tough as nails and has the heart of a lion beating in his chest. On Friday, Twiggy cleaned the pipes of 23 of the world’s top big wave surfers at the Body Glove Mavericks Invitational held in perfect 40ft surf at Pillar Point, Half Moon Bay, California.

Grant ‘Twiggy’ Baker tops Big Wave World Tour standings

That’s a huge achievement for South Africa and South African surfing right there. Twiggy scored two amazing 10-point rides during the event to score an overall 29.33 out of 30, which is a phenomenal performance considering that Shane Dorian, who placed second, came in with a score of 25.53 out of 30. Twiggy clearly dominated the lineup and put his best foot forward to claim his second Mavericks crown and his second consecutive win on the Big Wave World Tour after conquering the Arnette Punta Galea Challenge in Spain this past December. The result puts Grant ‘Twiggy’ Baker right on top of the Big Wave World Tour (BWWT) standings.

Twiggy had the following to say shortly after the event, “I’m feeling pretty good – amazing in fact! Two of my favourite surfers in the world, Shane Dorian and Greg Long, were in the final so to win Mavericks is the greatest feeling in the world!”.

Twiggy wasn’t the only South African representing on the day. Fellow big wave chargers Chris Bertish (2010 Mavericks Champ) and Frank Solomon (Alternate Competitor) were also there to celebrate the big win.

 

Chris Bertish, Grant Twiggy Baker and Frank Solomon celebrate in the channel. Photo: ZigZag
Chris Bertish, Grant Twiggy Baker and Frank Solomon celebrate in the channel. Photo: ZigZag

A massive 40ft congrats goes out to Grant ‘Twiggy’ Baker for bringing this big win home. Damn it feels good to be South African today. A few parting words from Twiggy sums up the feeling perfectly, “I’d like to thank everyone in South Africa for their support. This is it, we are the best.”

If you wish to follow the Big Wave World Tour then visit bigwaveworldtour.com

The Matt Bromley Interview: For the Love of Big Wave Surfing

Matt Bromley in Hawaii. Photo: Sacha Specker
Matt Bromley in Hawaii. Photo: Sacha Specker

Words by Gero Lilleike

For those of you who’ve been living under a rock for too long and don’t know who Matt Bromley is, wake the hell up! Matt is a man who takes no prisoners and he is one of South Africa’s hardest charging big wave surfers alongside the likes of Grant ‘Twiggy’ Baker and Frank Solomon to name a few and you may even have seen him striking a pose on the cover of ZigZag Magazine, numerous times.

Last week saw the re-awakening of the beast that is Dungeons in Cape Town, possibly for the last time this year, and Matt Bromley was out there doing what he does best, surfing big-ass waves to his heart’s content.  When the swell gets large and dangerous, most people run for the hills, but not Matt, he comes out to play, he drops-in, stands tall and gets the biggest barrels you can imagine, all with a nice big smile on his face and that’s what he’s about.

Matt Bromley surfing Dungeons, Cape Town, South Africa. Photo: Steve Benjamin
Matt Bromley surfing Dungeons, Cape Town, South Africa. Photo: Steve Benjamin

I met Matt for the first time a few months ago just before he was about to embark on a ‘slab hunting’ mission in Western Australia and I can honestly say that he’s one of the friendliest, most grounded and genuine surfers I have ever come across. That’s not surprising though because surely getting barreled on the world’s biggest, most terrifying waves must have a positive effect on you and Matt is a great example of positive energy personified. I threw a couple of questions his way to learn more about him and being the nice guy that he his, he answered them. Check out the interview below.

Matt Bromely gets pitted somewhere in Western Australia. Photo: Pete Frieden
Matt Bromley gets pitted somewhere in Western Australia. Photo: Pete Frieden

[GL) What is your full name and do you have any weird nicknames?

[MB] Matt Bromley “Bromdog”

[GL] When were you born into this world?

[MB] 12 September 1991

[GL] Where do you live?

[MB] Kommetjie, Cape Town

[GL] How do you pass your time?

[MB] I study part-time and I travel the world as a professional free-surfer.

[GL] What do you love most and why?

[MB] Waves, because they come from God. I’m constantly in awe of creation.

Matt Bromley getting shacked in Tahiti. Photo: Brian Bielman
Matt Bromley getting shacked in Tahiti. Photo: Brian Bielman

[GL] What are your professional achievements?

[MB] 3 x SA Junior Surfing Champion, 2 x SA Captain and 3 x Covers of ZigZag Magazine

[GL] Do you have any sponsors? If so, who are they?

[MB] Billabong, Monster Energy, Nixon, VZ, Kustom, Dakine, Futurelife and Virgin Active

[GL] What has been your most memorable sporting achievement so far?

[MB] Beating Jordy Smith at my home break when he was ranked world number 1. That was in the Coldwater Classic.

[GL] Do you have any other interesting hobbies?

[MB] Spear fishing. I love it! It compliments big wave surfing because it teaches you to be comfortable under the water and increases your lung capacity.

[GL] When and how did you start surfing?

[MB] My Dad got me into surfing at the tender age of 6. With the passion he had for surfing, I couldn’t not be a surfer.

[GL] In all the world, where is your favorite wave and why?

[MB] Teahupoo, Tahiti. It’s the most terrifying wave in the world as well as the most rewarding, if you survive it.

Matt Bromley sussing out a perfect wave in Tahiti. Photo: Unknown
Matt Bromley sussing out a perfect wave in Tahiti. Photo: Unknown

[GL] If you could change anything, what would it be?

[MB] I would have given more time in my life to previously disadvantaged people and helping those in need. But the good thing is that I’m still young and have lots of time in the future for this.

[GL] In what ways do you think surfing or sport in general can empower the youth in South Africa?

[MB] It brings a smile to EVERYONE!! When you enter the water, you leave your worries on the beach. This rejuvenation of joy and appreciation for the water saves kids from a life of crime because it keeps them off the streets and in the water.

[GL] If you had the chance to speak to the President of South Africa, what would you say?

[MB] Get everyone in the water and inject the stoke into every community.

[GL] What is your message to the youth of South Africa?

[MB] Put your trust in God and take every opportunity to enjoy his creation.

If you wish to read more about Matt Bromley and his big wave surfing escapades, I strongly suggest you follow his blog at http://bromdogsblog.wordpress.com or follow him on Twitter @bromdog783

Matt Bromley taming a beast. Photo: Ant Fox
Matt Bromley taming a beast. Photo: Ant Fox