I was thinking about the first surfers here in the 1920s and about scenes from ‘The Endless Summer’. The then-unknown break off Cape St. Francis in South Africa became one of the world's most famous surfing spots thanks to that film. Jumping into the ocean and being immersed by the water my daze from travel, anxiety and monkey-mind thoughts were cleansed and I was solidly back to the present moment…
Zane and Bondi, bonding.
Special trips aren’t always those with the most air-time or the best barrels. Most often I have found the most special moments are those shared with others. On day two I met with James Theron and Jacques Terblanche, two big wave surfing pioneers and the early adopters of the waterman lifestyle here in Cape Town, and they’d now caught the foil bug too. We hit Melkbos at sunrise, where we met up with the AK team. With damp wetsuits, the sun coming up, and an epic foil session ahead of us, it was time to jump in. We had an extra surprise when Nathan van Vuuren, one of my good buddies, turned up and joined in for the foil session. I’d met Nathan a few years ago when we were competing in some of the greatest channel crossing championships on a hydrofoil.
After our morning foil session in Melkbos, we went back to Muizenberg. I love that travels and adventures always hold some sort of surprise. My plans usually don’t go too far beyond my airport arrival destination, and I’m open to flow and willing to adapt with the local motion and lifestyle… and this is where the idea to chase an incoming swell up the east coast and do some exploration began.
By this point I’d already started to get familiar with the AK team and my new friends, Kyle Cabano and Dale Staples, who became the champions behind the steering wheel on this trip. Kyle and Dale generously shared their home with me while introducing me to their friends and family (and surf spots) along the way. Between shooting the shit and telling stories, I started to get an idea of just how big this country is and how familiar and comfortable the locals are with moving around the coastline. They’ll drive for hours on end for an adventure. Which worked out perfectly, as it was time to pack for our mission up the coast. With J-Bay, Bruce’s Beauties and some other iconic South African waves ahead of us, we packed everything from shortboard and longboard surfboards, to hydrofoils, SUPs and kites!
Our drive started late in the afternoon but that still gave us enough time to hit a novelty wave that Kyle thought might be rideable. After a few hours of driving we pulled off the side of the highway. Boards and foils in hand, we jumped over the guard rail where Kyle had spotted a potential trail and made our way down the rough cliff. We then caught sight of the water – the setup was crazy. The bay was long and narrow with a rocky point, sat under a bridge and ending at a river mouth. There was a wave breaking along the rocks, but tons of boiling and exposed obstacles were scattered throughout this small area. No complaints from me! It was a blast to foil there, perfect for rock starts and pumping around the rocks toward the waves breaking off the point, banking turns and gliding with the swells funneling in under the bridge.
We continued our road trip through the beautiful mountains and rolling hills. Many sections were covered with flowers or crops for as far as the eyes could see and in other areas we got glimpses of the coastline and ocean. Clinton and Julia got on the road shortly after we did from Muizenberg, but due to our foil session they were well ahead and giving us a surf report from Buffalo Bay. We pulled the location up on the map and determined that we’d be able to make it before dark. We arrived with enough sunlight for one more solid session to close out the day. The swell we were chasing to Jeffery’s Bay had not yet hit, so the surf was still small, but perfect for foiling. Dale, Clinton and I shared some epic flight time, playing ping-pong with waves from one peak to the next while Kyle was posted up on the beach capturing the action. You could see him itching to join the session.
As evening closed in on our first full day of adventuring, we arrived at Dale’s family home in St Francis Bay. First to welcome us was the family dog, Nala, and then – coming squawking and waddling from around the corner – came Bondi the duck, followed shortly after by Daryl and Ingrid, Dale’s parents, who warmly invited us into their home. Once again, I found myself pondering in the present moment about how fortunate I am to be able to not only travel and follow my passions, but to be welcomed by local families like this. What a gift. We stayed up and talked stories, before our beds finally called…
“Between shooting the shit and telling stories, I started to get an idea of just how big this country is and how familiar and comfortable the locals are with moving around the coastline. They’ll drive for hours on end for an adventure.”
Kyle woke us up before sunrise with his need for coffee. We got our morning buzz on, then started our surf check from the front the house that overlooked Hullett’s and Bruce’s Beauties. With the light barely breaking over the horizon, I ungracefully slid into my wetsuit, still cold and damp from the day before. I then had a decision to make… what to ride? With the small and clean waves peeling down the coast, and the vision of Endless Summer in my head, I decided to trim and ride the nose on a log and pay my respects to this historical wave.
As dawn’s muted colors turned into beaming daylight, I headed in to switch crafts. I always like to keep balance. Learn from the past, live in the present and manifest your future is a value I try to live by. Honoring the past with that dreamy longboard session had me present in the moment, but there was a tickle inside of me that was hungry for innovation and the urge to step it up a notch by drawing some lines that were not possible on a traditional board. Time to bust out the latest innovation in surfing, the hydrofoil. Let’s see what this thing can do…
That day could have never ended, and I wouldn’t have noticed. Days like those on the ocean are what it’s all about. I felt like I was creating a genuine relationship with this environment and tapping into the energy of the area by not only experiencing the community and its people, but also by appreciating and observing the nature around me. Reality set in with a stunning sunset to mark the end of the day, while a shoal of fish had approached the lineup at around the same time, attracting hundreds of birds. Every minute more flocks of birds joined in on this feeding frenzy, and we witnessed fish boiling the surface of the water. Pumping back out to the next wave, I decided I wanted to have a closer look. I pumped my hydrofoil straight into the middle of this bird and fish pile. Indignant birds squawked furiously, and as I split the fish pile into two it felt as though I was starting to foil through peanut butter, and the birds’ vortex around me as I looped back around towards the lineup was like the cherry on top to finish the day.
That night we barbecued (or a ‘Braai’ in South African terminology) with the Staples family and two old school waterman legends, Graham Hynes and Johnny Paarman. They shared history and insight on the transforming culture and area. I shared my appreciation and gratitude for having experienced the natural beauty in South Africa and to have had a chance to see the thriving life in the ocean first hand. They laughed and asked me, “Haven’t you seen that before?” Of course, I have. But it’s encouraging to continue to see it in new places what with all the craziness that is negatively affecting our oceans and reefs. With my travels to over 60 countries I’ve felt I’ve seen the best and the worst, but mostly signs of the worst. It’s refreshing to see wildlife thriving. But I guess I hadn’t seen real wildlife yet, not until I ventured off to the South African grasslands…
The next day we drove to a nearby wildlife nature reserve where we could check out some ‘real’ wildlife. Within the first hour in the Addo Reserve I was on the edge of my seat. Like a child I was giggling and geeking out as we approached zebra, elephants, ostriches, muddy wart hogs and much more. I didn’t really think that there were still animals like this around, living so close to human civilization. After a few hours though I felt like a fish out of water, and it was time to get wet. We found some surf that fit the criteria for shortboarding and later on a sketchy slab that grinded along the rocks that I wanted to SUP despite warnings about the rocks and proximity to the cliff.
With two days left in our trip, we still were waiting patiently for that Jeffery’s Bay swell to arrive. It seemed to be lining up well and we took the last chance we could to ride this iconic wave. There were crowds but the wave stretched such a long way that there were a few zones to ride with no-one out. I was thinking how perfect it would be for the longboard, but Dale was quick to suggest the foil. I wasn’t so sure as I normally like to ride the foil far from other ocean goers, utilizing waves that aren’t great for other surf sports. But my host was local to the area and pushing for me to give it a go.
I ran as far up the beach as I could to the top of the point. There was a gnarly slab of reef along the edge. It was pretty sketchy to navigate my way through the shallow impact zone with the foil. I jumped off when I thought there was a good enough break in the surf to make it out. Not quite! I got pounded for 10 minutes, pushed up against the slab with my hydrofoil dragging on the bottom. I had to turn it upside down and try to make it into deeper water to flip it and duck-dive under the next wave before it smashed me. Once I made it out, I quickly realized the wave was a lot hollower and bigger than it had looked from the beach. The bottom of the wave dropped out on my first take off, and the wave doubled up, catapulting me from top to bottom while I tried to avoid the foil. Turns out foils aren’t quite made for late air drops into the pocket!
Humbled from my first attempt, I gave it another go on a smaller one, and was able to paddle in and get up before the foil had a chance to hit the bottom. I kicked out with speed and pumped out and wide to the next one where I found myself in a much sweeter zone. As I was speeding down the line on a wave towards Supertubes, I realized the wave behind it was even bigger. So, I kicked out and pumped to the one behind. Looks on the surfers’ faces I passed were baffled and nervous. Eyes were wide open trying to anticipate my next move…
The wave just kept screaming down the coast. I’m used to getting rides for miles on end with my downwind and open ocean channel crossings on the foil, but riding a wave I’ve dreamed about on such an adventure was something else entirely…
To top it off, many locals, including Dale, were calling it the longest wave ever ridden at J-Bay… My first wave ever at Jefferey’s and it was a screamer, stretching the entire line-up. What a way to experience it!
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As morning broke, I could finally see my surroundings. I was situated at the foot of the Sandstone Mountain, only a stone’s throw from the ocean and across from a surf spot known locally as ‘Dangers’. Clinton met me early that morning and we went straight to Muizenberg – the birthplace of surfing in South Africa – for my first session in the South African ocean. After getting past the cold shock of slipping into a wetsuit still damp from the APP Stand Up World Tour events in New York, I couldn’t help but reflect upon the past as I walked into the water with my hydrofoil, and the new evolution of surfing that it represents.