Near one of the oldest fishing villages on South Africa’s west coast, along a rugged stretch of nature reserve more famous for its crayfish (rock lobster), perlemoen (abalone) and bokkoms (dried fish - usually mullet), sits a strange and mutant slab called Tand.
A core group of bodyboarders, and the odd crazy standup, have been courting this particularly special bit of reef for more than a decade now -- not for the sea creatures. With giant granite rock shelves and boulders strewn along the coast, both in and out of the water, it is little wonder that one of Africa’s most alluring slabs would be found here.
In colloquial Afrikaans 'Tand' simply translates to 'tooth'. Named for the giant granite spire that sticks out of the water like an ogre's tooth in front of the wave - not to be confused with the slab itself, although it is equally impressive and dangerous, Tand produces impressive explosions of white water every set and makes paddling in very treacherous.
Driving in along the dusty dirt road, there are numerous other slabs, reefs and rocky ledges that catch your eye. Especially as stacked lines from the horizon march in and unfold onto Southern Africa. These waves are legitimate options but certainly more fickle - preferring very specific conditions, making them difficult to commit to when you know Tand is on. The left inside the camping site is particularly mesmerising and picturesque.
Pulling into the mussel-caked carpark Tand can be clearly seen out right, through the car window. Usually a winter wave, it prefers season NW winds and clean groundswells. These swells beeline straight to the where the slab is and slow down as they hit the bottom - going top-heavy, and then lurch - throwing wide open on take-off into the barrel, before running off a short point like section, perfect for launching. It’s an intense wave, with lots of water moving around.
The first time you jump in and paddle out your heart is in your throat beating like a steady drum. You have to jump into a crevice formed between the wave itself and two other jagged sections of rock. Waves crash all around and the current is sucking hard in and out. Wait for the drain and then commit.
Up until recently it has been considered a “bodyboard only” wave. With little room for error, the take-off spot is literally right in front of the dry slab, the drop and scoop-in is often under the lip while it's barreling on the sets overhead. Just ask Peter Lambert about his near fatal back-breaking injury some years back. He’s ok now, but a wipe out here isn’t trivial.
Some of the best I have ever seen and heard charge Tand are stalwart regulars like Allan Horton, Iain Campbell, Tristan Roberts, Rupert le Grange, Peter Lambert, Henk Loubser, Andre Botha, Wilder Schultz and Mafoos Lombard to name a few, but more recently slab hunting stand ups like Matt Bromley, Josh Redman, Koa Smith, Benji and Eli Beukes have frequented “the tooth” and deciphering the drop and mesmerising barrel.
Like any nature reserve or stretch of coast in Southern Africa, there's wildlife abound both in and out of the water. Although I’ve never seen any apex predators give Tand a drive-by, they certainly are out there. Whales will come right into the bay to check out the show - making one realise how deep the drop-off is next to Tand. Dusky dolphins speed into the zone and launch out of the water to say hi. Penguins lazily swim on by in groups of three of four. And all kinds of birds and fish frequent the area.