August is one of those months that can treat you good or drive you crazy. It's the hottest month of the summer in the northern hemisphere, but who wants to be up north when all of the storms are brewing down the south?
The problem with all of those storms, of course, is that they bring more than just swell. So while August is the dead of winter below the equator, and pretty much guaranteed to deliver waves, it can also be very temperamental. The trick, then, is to find a coastline that both picks up swell and protects it from the elements—a zone with lots of different options for all different wind conditions. A zone like South Africa.
When it comes to surf, the Saffas have a lot of things going for them. For one, South Africa has a wide variety of waves, ranging from pointbreaks to beachbreaks to reef slabs and big wave bombies. Just about anything a surfer could look for is available on the southern tip of Africa, where multiple coastlines are fed by one of the most active storm-generating oceans in the world.
Another thing South Africa has going for it is that there aren’t actually that many surfers there. While Europe, the US, and Australia have millions of wave riders, South Africa has only a fraction of that, which means that all but the most well-known of its waves are virtually empty (except for the sharks, of course!).
Finally, as an added bonus, South Africa has great neighbors. Imagine having some of the best righthand sandbars in the world right next door—and the best lefthand sandbar in the world on the other side of you!
That’s what the Saffas have going on, with Mozambique to the east and Namibia to the west. It isn’t likely that you’d ever get tired of surfing in South Africa, but if you do decide you need a change of pace, all you have to do is take a quick, cheap jaunt across the border. It doesn’t get much better than that.
With so many choices, how are you supposed to decide where to surf? It really depends on what type of wave you are looking for. Durban and the KZN area on the east coast are renowned for beachbreak barrels and righthand sand points, along with close proximity to Mozambique (which has even more righthand sand points).
Cave Rock is one of the country’s best righthand reef barrels, rounding out a region that is ideal for the regular-footed tube hound Cave Rock is one of the country’s best righthand reef barrels, rounding out a region that is ideal for the regular-footed tube hound. And for those who enjoy history, competition, or both, the Ballito Pro (originally called the Gunston 500) is the world’s longest running professional surfing competition. Local talent like Jordy Smith often have to fight off some of the top international QS surfers in this highly rated event, putting on a great show for spectators.
Jeffreys Bay is arguably the best known and highest quality wave in South Africa, at last if you are a fan of freight-training, righthand rock points. J-Bay features on the Championship Tour, where it often sees some of the best performances from the most powerful and stylish surfers in the world.
Local wildcard Sean Holmes can always be counted on to get himself into the mix, and Tom Curren’s first wave at the point is the stuff of legends. For the regular-footed surfer, J-Bay is a veritable pilgrimage site, one of the waves that one must surf before they die.
Cape Town is the other major surf zone in the country, with a bevy of slabs and big waves spots, including the infamous Dungeons, which was previously a stop on the Big Wave Tour.
Cape Town is also notorious for frigid water and some of the biggest, hungriest great white sharks in the world—a fact that doesn’t seem to faze He-Man hell-chargers like two-time big wave world champ Grant “Twiggy” Baker. But the best part about those swells that light up Cape Town’s big wave reefs? Three days later, they light up Skeleton Bay, which is a conveniently short flight across the border in Namibia.
Arguably the best wave in the world (not to mention one of the most difficult to surf), Skeleton Bay is a two-kilometer-long shorebreak that grinds ferociously down the spit, providing life-changing barrels to those lucky and good enough to surf it, and vicious beatings to anyone brave enough to paddle out.
While there are a handful of local surfers in the area, the standouts at Skeleton Bay are often visiting pros such as Koa Smith, Anthony Walsh, and Aritz Aranburu, along with a cadre of South African rippers who make the journey north every time the Skeleton starts rattling it’s bones.
Whether you are a goofy or regular, a big wave charger or a pointbreak streaker, a barrel hound or high-performance contest guy, South Africa has something for everyone. Pack a wetsuit and your favorite brand of shark repellent—August in South Africa means waves for days.
Cover shot: Alex McGeown