Article and images by Grant Scholtz
It’s been a strange winter for swell here in South Africa, as well as a very long COVID-19 lockdown period. The first lockdown started way back on March 27 2020—a full 18 months of uncertainty. Add the recent violence and looting in the country and it was time to get away and reconnect with nature.
The west has always been a place that’s full of swell, but it is plagued with fickle winds. It’s also a strange time along this coastline, with lots of very big and significant changes. There was a time when the west coast was inhabited by only a handful of divers, working to make a living and surfing when they weren’t diving. Some made a fortune and survived, while others stayed for a while and then just left. It’s a hard place with many challenges, but certain events have changed the pace of the west coast forever.
Spot guide: South Africa
There has always been mining along the coastline, but it’s now open season, with the unscrupulous Australian mining operation Tormin stripping the beaches in the south and the arrival of the Chinese, mining diamonds north of Hondeklip Bay.
When you visit the west coast, nights are spent under the stars or in rustic miner’s accommodations. You have to be prepared to sleep in the dirt and carry everything you need with you, from wood and water to food and other supplies, as there are no shops. A good first aid kit is also a must, as you are a long way from help and need to be self-sufficient.
I joined two old friends who were reconnecting on a trip to see if we could find some waves and get away. Josh Redman from Durban is married with two kids and Frank Solomon recently got engaged, but the two have been searching for waves together for many years.
After watching charts, we decided to just hit the road, leaving Cape Town via the N7. There isn’t much up the coast, and we decided that the less contact we had with the outside world the better. We took supplies for five days and had a rough plan for a couple of spots we wanted to check. The roads aren’t bad, but there are areas where a 4x4 is essential, and most of the time we were going to be living in the dirt. That sounded great to us. Any new waves we found would be a bonus.
There are actually no truly new waves, as the coast has been explored for many years, since most of the diamond divers who live and work up there are surfers. But there were many waves that were new to us—setups that that we had yet to discover for ourselves. It was time to reconnect and get away.
There is a lot of planning that goes into these trips, because once you leave the tar, you lose signal and are on your own. And we always try to leave the coast in a better state than when we arrive. To that end, we take a lot more than water and firewood with us. All of our garbage, as well as any trash we find on the beach is taken home too. This includes broken boards—and there are always a couple of those, since we are searching for slabs and barreling beach breaks.
There are a couple of reasons to head west, and getting away from it all is certainly a big one. Living in the dirt makes you aware of what little you need to survive and helps you appreciate what you have. But the lack of comms makes forecasting a little bit of a challenge, but we had the help of some local knowledge.
When surfing the west coast, you have to be mindful of the diamond operations. Many of the slabs are on working operations and we aren’t allowed to access these breaks from the land. This changes from year-to-year, but more and more we are being locked out. There is a new Chinese operation that has active security and locked gates to a number of breaks that we used to be able to access. Times, they are-a-changing.
But one of the big reasons you go west is for the excitement you get when come over a hill or around a corner and find the conditions are better than you could have anticipated. Wind, swell size, swell direction, and the tide all line up, and you get rewarded.
You also need to be flexible. Sometimes you need to sit it out and sometimes you need to move on. The most important rule is that you never drive away from waves. A number of these breaks work only on specific tide and wind conditions, so a short drive down the road to check another break could shorten the time you have at a wave that is working. Or you could get stuck in the sand and waste for an entire session.
The wise man sits and waits. Of course, when you tell that to frothing youngsters, you don’t always see eye-to-eye. But Josh and Frank have been around this block more than a couple of times and know the program. The west coast may be fickle, but more often than not the boys end up scoring.