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

 

Bliss in Mozambique

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

Mozambique is one of those countries I’ve always wanted to visit. It’s close to home and I have only heard good things about the waves, people and the food. Wait no more little boy, luck is on your side. Working as a motoring journalist (Cars.co.za) often takes you to places that you would never have visited and the White Pearl Resort at Ponta Mamoli is one of those places.

Ponta Mamoli is situated on Mozambique’s southern coast, only 25 km from the South African border post at Kosi Bay. That’s not far, but getting there can be tricky if you aren’t in a 4×4 and familiar with the route. That said, you need a capable car and the new Toyota Hilux was our chariot to paradise.

As soon as we crossed the border, tar turned to sand and after about 40 minutes of bouncing around in the dirt, we arrived. The White Pearl Resort is a luxury beach resort, so all you have to do is show up and relax. It’s spectacular! Private units are nestled amongst the lush subtropical vegetation, all with dream views of the ocean. Needless to say, each unit has its own private pool, an outdoor shower and if you need anything at all, your personal butler is never too far away. What more could you want?

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

We only had two nights at the White Pearl and there was nothing else to do but make the most of it. There’s a diving centre on site if diving is your thing, and there are other activities too such as ocean safaris, horse riding, kayaking, snorkelling and surfing. We did all of them, almost…

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

One thing you can be sure of is that the food is divine, whether it be breakfast, lunch or dinner. Expect familiar dishes such as delicious Eggs Benedict or indulge in succulent Mozambican-style piri piri chicken. The White Pearl also has a well-stocked beach bar to take the edge off the humid weather and to keep you liquored up all day long. When at the White Pearl, call the barmen over and order an R&R, a refreshing fusion of locally made Rhum Tipo Tinto and Sparberry soda. Obrigado!

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

The coastline at Ponta Mamoli is rich in ocean wildlife. Between the months of November and February each year, Loggerhead and Leatherback turtles come ashore to lay their eggs. These creatures of the deep are under constant threat from humans and both species are listed as endangered. As a result, the White Pearl Resort, along with the Southern Mozambique Marine Turtle Nesting Monitoring, Tagging and Conservation Programme, are actively involved in conservation efforts to ensure the future of these peaceful sea creatures. The White Pearl offers guided Turtle Walks along the coastline to educate people about the plight of turtles and it’s highly recommended. If you are lucky, you might just witness a turtle laying its eggs, something that’s increasingly rare.

 

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

 

The one thing that struck me about Mozambique, apart from the gorgeous locations and the food, is the people. Every local I spoke to and interacted with had a big smile on their face and friendliness was the order of the day. That’s pretty rare too by South African standards. Many of the locals are poor but choose to be happy and friendly. That’s refreshing and there’s a lesson in that for all of us.

I will return…

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

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The beach at White Pearl Resort. Photo: Gero Lilleike

 

 

 

Mick Fanning vs Great White: Ocean Kings Clash

Words and Photographs by Gero Lilleike

We awoke to a perfect Sunday in Jeffreys Bay, a surfer’s wet dream. The sun edged over the horizon, lighting the most beautiful scene. Crisp clean waves rolled down the point, a gentle wind kissing them on their way. We paddled out, caught a few waves and had a laugh. This is the surfing way.

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Kelly Slater hooking it. Photo: Gero Lilleike

Further up the point, the final day of the the J-Bay Open had begun . Today, a king would be crowned. Last year, Mick Fanning dominated J-Bay in what I call epistellar surf, an event that will be remembered for a long time. This year, the King of J-Bay was back to defend his title, to dominate once more.

We watched a heat you don’t get to see everyday, or ever, if you live in South Africa. Mick Fanning, Kelly Slater and Gabriel Medina, clashing horns for a guaranteed spot in the quarter finals. What made this particular heat special, for me at least, was watching Kelly Slater surf in front of my eyes for the very first time. It was surreal. Just to watch and photograph him drawing lines at J-Bay put a smile on my face. That was my highlight of this year’s event.

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Kelly Slater draws a fine line. Photo: Gero Lilleike

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Kelly Slater locks in. Photo: Gero Lilleike

Ocean Kings Clash

Sitting in the surf on that Sunday was just magical. The vibe was good, we were sharing waves, literally having a blast on one of the best waves in the world. What a pleasure! Somewhere out to sea, a Great White, the King of the Deep, was going about its business, slowly making its way to the speed lines at J-Bay.

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Mick Fanning dominates once more: Photo: Gero Lilleike

For any surfer, a shark, whatever species it may be, is ever present, whether it be in the back of your mind or lurking beneath you when you stroke into your next wave. It’s there when you paddle into the ocean and it’s there when you dream.

When Mick Fanning and Julian Wilson paddled out at Supertubes on Sunday, a shark was present. A mighty clash of ocean kings ensued and so the King of J-Bay was crowned.

 

 

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.

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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.

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

Big Wave World Tour coming to Dungeons, South Africa

Grant 'Twiggy' Baker about to tame the beast, Dungeons, Cape Town, South Africa. Photo: Kimi Stewar Billabong XXL

Grant ‘Twiggy’ Baker about to tame the beast, Dungeons, Cape Town, South Africa. Photo: Kimi Stewar Billabong XXL

Words by Gero Lilleike

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!!!

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