First Look at the Crown Princes of South African Big Wave Surfing

Alan van Gysen

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Updated 12d ago

Last month, there was a special day out at Sunset Reef, Cape Town. It was the day of the year and a bunch of the upcoming, younger guys stepped up to the plate.

Charging doesn't come close to what went down. These are the crown princes of SA's big wave contingent, destined to take up the mantle from their peers.There's more than a few names to keep an eye on, and what better fitting an introduction than a profile on all of them.

On this day in particular, September 19, to be precise, big wave aficionado Matt Bromley was on the scene in Kommetije: "It was spring low tide and there were a few waves that were absolutely mental, barreling off that back ledge and freight-training through the first section," he says.

"I remember seeing Eli Beukes - his second session out there, on a 9’0, spin and airdrop over the edge on a massive one. Other young guns like Dan Lock, Luke Slijpen, Ford van Jaarsveldt and Mark Taylor, who have been regular stand-outs out there this year, were super impressive too.

"I even heard that 12-year old Levi Kolnik - who has been coming out with his dad Jake, went out to tow in the afternoon. It’s really exciting to see the wave of younger guys coming up. For the first time since I think Frank (Solomon), Josh (Redman) and I, there’s a younger crew who really have that “Eye of the Tiger” hunger and approach. They’re putting themselves in the zone and you can see they want it.”

“I haven’t surfed in Cape Town for a couple years as I've been concentrating more on the West Coast of Africa during these A-Grade swells but it was great to be back in Kommetjie and surfing with the boys again recently after lockdown," adds Twiggy. "The first thing I noticed was how many youngsters there were in the lineup and how many of them were going hard! It was defiantly the day for it, 18-20ft with perfect winds and a clean swell, and from what I saw it was a coming out party for Cape Town's next big wave generation. Watch out world!”

Disclaimer: While the following young guns were standouts on the last few swells, there are other, talented young guys starting to come up. The following, upcoming big wave surfers were selected from the following criteria; 1) Under 25 years old 2) surfing Sunset Reef 3) Winter 2020 4) 15-foot waves and above 5) Supporting photographic evidence. Here's the first look at SA's next top hellmen.

Levi Kolnik, 13

© 2020 - Nick Wren

Hometown: Kommetjie, Cape Town
Surfboard: Grow surfboard 8’6” and Grow tow-board 4’8”
Favourite big wave: Sunset Reef
What motivates you to ride big waves: I’ve always liked bigger waves and I like getting drilled. Sunset is on my doorstep and I’ve been watching my dad going out there every swell for as long as I can remember.

© 2020 - Alan Van Gysen

How do you train/prepare for big waves: My training is my surfing. I surf twice a day usually, sometimes more. I have done a breath-hold course, but I don’t do much other preparation except make sure my vest is ready to be pulled.
Best wave ever: I had an insane wave down the beach not so long ago. A long barrel which spat twice. Still trying to find another one like that.
Worst wipeout: First time out at Sunset. While on one of my first waves I wasn’t really sure where the lip was behind me and it landed square on my head.
Favourite big wave surfer: Billy Kemper
The most important decision you ever made in big wave surfing: Deciding to listen to Andrew Marr when he called me into my steepest and biggest wave at Sunset.

Luke Slijpen, 19

© 2020 - Alan Van Gysen

Hometown: Llandudno, Cape Town
Favourite big wave: Sunset Reef
What motivates you to surf big waves: I enjoy the challenge of big wave surfing, it also gives me the varied experience that I need to push my self wether it’s on the QS or just searching for mental waves.

© 2020 - Alan Van Gysen

How do you train/prepare for big waves: I keep my body strong as well as my mind. I keep learning as I go along. I’m lucky enough to have solid waves all around where I live, so that gives me opportunity to get comfortable in solid waves.
Best wave ever: My best wave ever was definitely Namibia, I was there on that big swell last year which was crazy good!
Worst wipeout: A slab up the west coast where I fractured my L2 ( my lower back ) .
Favourite big wave surfer: My favourite big wave surfer would be Matt Bromley, I’ve seen him make some freakishly crazy looking waves.
The most important big wave decision I’ve made: Once I’ve made the decision to commit, I’m going.

Ford van Jaarsveldt, 21

© 2020 - Alan Van Gysen

Hometown: Kommetjie
Surfboard: Lyle Carlson 9’6
Favourite big wave: Sunset Reef
What motivates you to ride big waves: The feeling of pure exhilaration while to survive in the rawest form of nature.
How do you train/prepare for big waves: I have a standard fitness program that I apply every week and also do as much yoga as possible for breathing, flexibility and comfort when surfing solid waves.

© 2020 - Alan Van Gysen

Best wave ever: 8-10ft standup barrel at my local beach break (Dunes).
Worst wipeout: Seven waves on the head consecutively at sunnies after going over the falls on the takeoff of the first one.
Favourite big wave surfer: Grant ‘Twiggy’ Baker
The most important decision you ever made in big wave surfing: To strengthen my mind and confidence through being in the best physical shape possible.

Odd Persson, 24

© 2020 - Alan Van Gysen

Hometown: Kommetjie, Cape Town
Surfboard: DVG 11’2
Favourite big wave: Dungeons
What motivates you to ride big waves: After chasing big waves for some years it becomes your drive, your life revolves around preparing and chasing the biggest swells. There is no other place I’d rather be than in a massive wild sea.

© 2020 - Alan Van Gysen

How do you train/prepare for big waves: We are so lucky in Cape Town that we get big swells year-round so I train everyday to be prepared for the next swell. A lot of trail-running and weights, combined with breath-holding and meditation. Not forgetting the never-ending rehab from my long list of injuries.
Best wave ever: My first wave at Mavericks six years ago on a board that Jeff Clark lent me.
Worst wipeout: Sunset two years ago when I ended up with a burst eardrum, concussed and paralysed. Luckily I was not surfing alone that time and the guys were able to swim me back to shore. When you’re pushing the limit regularly you realise that they some times push back. It can go really bad really quickly.
Favourite big wave surfer: Andrew Marr
The most important decision you ever made in big wave surfing: Turned around and paddled for the wave. Go big and stay safe!

York van Jaarsveldt, 18

© 2020 - Grant Scholtz

Hometown: Kommetjie, Cape Town
Surfboard: Alessandro Pierre 9’2
Favourite big wave: Sunset Reef
What motivates you to ride big waves: I’m motivated to ride big waves because it gives me a thrill and adrenaline like no other sport or activity in the world.
How do you train/prepare for big waves: I train three times a week for high performance surfing and big wave surfing. I prepare for big waves usually the night before. I start with getting a good, early night sleep and waking up at first light, getting my board together, stretching and then checking I have my safety vest, wax and my leash. After that I just relax and go surfing.

© 2020 - Alan Van Gysen

Best wave ever: My best wave ever was at Sunset Reef. I paddled for a wave that I knew I was late for but I still committed to it and air dropped into. I thought I was going to fall, and it literally felt like I was going to die but somehow I made it, and that’s my best wave at Sunset.
Worst wipeout: My worst wipeout was at The Outer Kom. I did a tight turn on a double over head wave and got hung up in the lip and I almost had a two wave hold under.
Favourite big wave surfer: My favourite big wave surfer is Kai Lenny. He’s so good at what he does, and he pushes the limits in every possible way.
The most important decision you ever made in big wave surfing: The most important decision I make often is to just commit and not hesitate, and just go.

Mark Taylor, 17

© 2020 - Kim Bouchier

Hometown: Cape Town
Surfboard: Liquid Freedom 9’5 and Alessandro Pierre 9’10
Favourite big wave: Sunset Reef
What motivates you to ride big waves: It almost feels that if there was a reason it would be false. It is much deeper than that. Words can’t describe why, it’s just a feeling. It’s just what I do. And I love it.

© 2020 - Alan Van Gysen

How do you train/prepare for big waves: There are two aspects: 1) Physical - I regularly swim laps at the gym, focussing on hypoxic breathing. I try to stay generally fit, which includes gym work, trail-running, and cycling. 2) Mental - I mentally prepare days before a big swell by visualising the conditions, visualising riding the wave confidently, taking the decision (when the perfect wave comes) to spin and go without hesitating, and preparing myself for the possibility of a massive beating. Mental preparation for all possibilities is important to me.
Best wave ever: On 30th June a really clean swell came through to Sunset Reef and I caught my best wave ever. Rick Wall was filming ‘Young Guns’ and we had been out the whole day. The waves jacked in the afternoon and I found myself in the perfect spot when a bomb came through. No one else paddled for it, so I took it early and deep, but somehow still air-dropped mid-face. I stuck it, bottom-turned right, and was surrounded by a massive wall of white water. I emerged and rode safely into the channel. What a rush!
Worst wipeout: Ironically my worst beating was from a wave that I never even got to ride. I was chilling in the lineup after three hours of surfing on a relatively small day when a monster unexpectedly came through and took us by surprise. We scratched for the channel but got chased down and mowed over. The only consolation is that Dougal (Paterson) and Dan (Lock) were with me and took an equal beating. We had a good laugh about that one afterward.
Favourite big wave surfer: Matt Bromley introduced me to big wave surfing so he’ll always be my hero. Every South African respects Twiggy Baker, but I would also mention Lucas “Chumbo” Chianca from Brazil who has insane skills and courage.
The most important decision you ever made in big wave surfing: To listen to my mum who bought me an inflatable vest and made me wear it. That thing is a lifesaver.

Dan Lock, 18

© 2020 - Alan Van Gysen

Hometown: Kommetjie, Cape Town
Surfboard: Twig Surfboard 9’4
Favourite big wave: Sunset Reef

© 2020 - Alan Van Gysen

What motivates you to ride big waves: The adrenaline rush that you get after paddling into a big wave.
How do you train/prepare for big waves: I surf almost everyday, and I always practice my breath-holds.
Best wave ever: My best wave ever was probably in West Java, Indonesia when I got my first stand-up barrel. I couldn’t have been more stoked!
Worst wipeout: My last session out at Sunsets. I was going really fast and hit a bump, and was launched off my board and got beaten down the face of the wave, and then got sucked back over.
Favourite big wave surfer: Ian Walsh
The most important decision you ever made in big wave surfing: To never sit on the inside, and make sure to always keep an eye on the horizon in case a set comes… don’t ever get caught!

Max Elkington, 19

© 2020 - Ian Thurtell

Hometown: Kommetjie, Cape Town
Surfboard: DVG 9’10
Favourite big wave: Sunset Reef
What motivates you to ride big waves: I haven’t been chasing bigger waves for very long, but what keeps me going back for more is the feeling of excited fear when you are paddling into bigger waves. I’m enjoying pushing myself and my mind to try and get myself into bigger and bigger waves. It’s such a great feeling when you commit to a scary one or get a big set on the head and come out unscathed.

© 2020 - Alan Van Gysen

How do you train/prepare for big waves: I try to be as fit as possibly, so when the bigger days come I’m as confident as I can be. I train in the gym and spend loads of time in the water. I’m working on getting my equipment 100 per cent, so I have total confidence when it gets big.
Best wave ever: I haven’t had a single wave that has really stood out above the rest, but I’ve had a couple big ones out at Sunset that I’m stoked on.
Favourite big wave surfer: James Lowe and Matt Bromley
The most important decision you ever made in big wave surfing: Not attempting to duck-dive an 20-footer at Sunset. Hahaha! I was half way up the face and I though, “mmm, maybe I could duck under and make it out the back.” Sadly you can’t duck dive those guns, so at the last minute I decided to bail and I’m glad I did, because I would have gone over in the lip on that wave.

Eli Beukes, 19

© 2020 - Alan Van Gysen

Hometown: Kommetjie, Cape Town
Surfboard: DVG 9’8
Favourite big wave: Dumps, West Coast
What motivates you to ride big waves: Living in a community where I’ve been surrounded by good, big waves and good, big wave surfers. I always wanted to get into it. I enjoy pushing myself and have fun surfing bigger waves.

© 2020 - Alan Van Gysen

How do you train/prepare for surfing bigger waves: I haven’t had much experience yet, but I just try and stay fit by training with Neil Zietsman, and I try surf as much as possible on a daily basis.
Best wave ever: West Coast
Worst wipeout: Sunset reef Saturday before last. I got caught in the lip on a big one.
Favourite big was surfer: The older guys who I grew up watching: Mickey Duffus, Andrew Marr, Simon Lowe (the coach), Jake Kolnik… if I just pick a few off the top of my head.
The most important decision you’ve ever made in big wave surfing: I haven’t been surfing big waves for long enough yet to be honest. I still have a lot more to learn and experience, but I always try to keep calm and just enjoy it. (Dads advice: "Never panic, and while you are down there, check where the crayfish holes are.”)

Jake Elkington, 20

© 2020 - Ian Thurtell

Hometown: Kommetjie, Cape Town
Surfboard: DVG 9’2
Favourite big wave: Sunset Reef
What motivates you to ride big waves: Surfing big waves has allowed me to see how far I can push myself and they push me out of my comfort zone. It gives you a deep appreciation for the power of the ocean.

© 2020 - Alan Van Gysen

How do you train/prepare for big waves: I do a combination of endurance and strength training with my personal trainer Neil Zietsman. We have worked to give myself the best chance of catching and feeling comfortable with some of the waves we get around Cape Town.
Best wave ever: An almost successful barrel at The Outer Kom. If you make the barrel you weren’t deep enough.
Worst wipeout: Stalling too hard at Sunset and having the lip land on my back. I didn’t manage to get under it, and I was bounced into the air. My board hit my hip and it put a hole straight though the board.
Favourite big wave surfer: Matt Bromley
The most important decision you ever made in big wave surfing: Thankfully I don’t feel that I’ve been involved in a life or death situation yet. I hope that if I ever am I’ll be prepared to save my own or someone else’s life. It has been great to have mentors like Dougal Paterson who have shown us the way with water safety and have given us an idea of what can go wrong in big waves.

Fabian Campagnolo, 21

© 2020 - Alan Van Gysen

Hometown: Kommetjie, Cape Town
Surfboard: Spider Murphy Missile 10’
Favourite big wave: Mavericks
What motivates you to ride big waves: Keeps me in check in many aspects of my life, and also makes for the greatest/ healthiest available high one could ask for :)
How do you train/prepare for big waves: Keep the lungs and neck strong, and let nature take its course ;) And believe it or not, I think jamming the harmonica over the past few years has definitely influenced my lung capacity loads too.
Best wave ever: Must have been December last year (2019) in Nazare after snapping four leashes in five hours of paddling, and receiving countless beatings without catching any waves I managed to snag one crazy one just before the sun went down. I was super deep but knew the one behind was probably going break on me so I frantically turned & dropped into what felt like a 25ft wave. I knew it was really big because by the time I made it back to the surface I was only a few metres from the shoreline.

© 2020 - Alan Van Gysen

Worst wipeout: Was definitely during the Punta Galea challenge in Spain in 2019. I got pitched by a lip on the first wave of a set and when I tried to inflate my vest I realised that my leavers had slipped under my rash vest so I couldn’t get a grip on them. When I surfaced the ski grabbed me and we bolted for the channel trying to outrun the next monster coming down on us. At that point I didn’t have energy to hold on anymore and felt my board slip away from the sled, held on for a second then felt myself cartwheeling in front of a 15ft white water. I got mowed down by the wave before I was able to catch a breath from bailing off the ski. I think those were probably some of the wildest thoughts that have ever gone through my head, beers went down well that night :)
Favourite big wave surfer: Andrew cotton motivated me to help others. From the get-go he has always been willing to help the underdogs in any way that he can and now I find myself trying so hard to help others on their trip with the bigger waves.
The most important decision you ever made in big wave surfing: I moved up to Cape St. Francis a month ago after receiving a few too many concussions throughout my sessions this last year. For the greater good of riding big waves for a lifetime I need to ride less big waves now - pretty backwards, but then again so is the approach to most things that take time.