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Wavescape - Surfing in South Africa

The jagged spire of the Sentinel, Hout Bay, marks the start of the southern Cape Peninsula. From Dungeons – at the foot of the Sentinel – the next stop is Noordhoek, followed by the villages of Kommetjie and Scarborough and the marine reserve down to Cape Point. Tourism authorities say the South Peninsula includes False Bay, but for our purposes, False Bay is a separate section.


SANDY BAY TO CAPE POINT

We end the boundary of the southern peninsula at Cape Point (despite a chunk from this coast and the False Bay coast occurring in the official municipality) because of differences in water temperature, swell angles and wind requirements.


Dungeons    

Made famous by Red Bull Big Wave Africa, this big right-hander is seldom ridden by paddle surfers outside the event, but tow surfers ride it frequently. Just off the Sentinel off Hout Bay, Dungeons starts breaking from eight to ten foot. Best in light winds and a thumping 20-foot west swell. Best on the low tide, otherwise it gets too thick (too much water). Beyond 20 foot, the tide is less significant. One session on 30 July 2006 saw tow surfers tackle monstrous 60-foot faces – the biggest waves ridden in Africa at the time.


Hout Bay
  

Off the harbour wall and on the beach in huge southwest swell there are some waves. On a huge day in northwest winds, the harbour wall gets quite good.


The Hoek
   

An archetypal Cape Town A-frame peak that barrels over a shallow sandbar in crisp, clean water and a majestic setting. An offshore reef focuses the swell into the corner of a small boulder-strewn bay at the base of the cliffs below Chapman’s Peak. At best, a world-class tube – short, round and perfect. The lip sucks top to bottom; throws fast and hard. Protected, slightly, from the offshore southeaster, the Hoek works on a low tide and copes best with a medium-energy four- to six-foot west swell.


Noordhoek Beach
  

This sandy bay, between Chapman’s Peak and Kommetjie, is punctuated by peaks of various lengths, shapes and sizes. Some get close to perfect, depending on sand movement and swell quality. Light to moderate southeast and high tide is best.


Dunes
    

Long-period southwest to west swell focuses on a submerged reef – the ‘mound’ – 300 metres offshore. This produces a wedge-shaped kink that continues until it hits low-tide sandbars that can transform into world-class tubes. On a solid six- to eight-foot day, Dunes needs a spittoon it barrels so much. The tubes might look perfect, but they break on compacted sand like concrete. A wipeout can snap your board and smash you around. There have been shark incidents here, one fatal. Also entails a mega-walk along the beach.


Kakapo
  

Towards Long Beach lies an old wreck in the sand. Only the boiler of the Kakapo sticks out. Sometimes the strong southeaster drives the sand away to reveal the ribbed remains of the hull. Rarely ridden shore break nearby.


Sunset
    

Out to sea lies a deep-water bombora reef like its namesake in Hawaii. A huge right peak with jaw-dropping take-offs. Backdoor it and a cathedral dome arches on high as your tiny earthly shape passes through sun-glinted Pearly Gates. Wipe out and the heavenly light recedes as you somersault into the roiling madness of Hades. A giant tapered shoulder expends itself on the ledge, then fades into a deep channel. On the other side of the peak, a sharp drop-off in bathymetric contour nullifies the left. The local crew surf here on fun 15- to 20-foot days, and in ‘small’ 10- to 12-foot conditions. While it doesn’t offer the top-to-bottom, sectioning castle walls of Dungeons, the immense power of this pea-green A-frame has its own romantic attraction. Tow surfing is popular at Sunset.


Crons
 

A shore break at Long Beach popular among bodyboarders due to the sucking barrel. Fast and hollow. Often dumps a long close-out section on to a boiling sandbar. Also known as: Krons, Krans, Kraans and "That Evil Right Hander at Long Beach"  - for spot history, click here.


Long Beach
   

Facing Chapman’s Peak on a promontory at the south end of Noordhoek Beach, an established learning ground teeming with surf rats. Because this spot faces almost due north, the southwest wind is offshore here, making it one of the few spots that can handle this wind. The downside is that the swell has to bend from the exposed west side of the coast, almost doing a U-turn to reach this north-facing break. The refraction focuses clean lines towards the beach that result in left-breaking peaks that run for at least 40-60 metres before ending in a shore break close-out.


Boneyards
   

A long walling right-hander over kelp beds on an outer reef off Kommetjie. Best in west swell and light northeast winds, but works in light south winds. Entails a long paddle. Gets good. Needs high tide, otherwise can be hectic.


Baby Pipe
 

Hard-breaking right-hander off a rock slab into the channel where you paddle to the Outer Kom. On a huge day, this channel is deceptively dangerous. Big wide-swingers turn it into one giant close-out.


Inner Kom
 

On the inside at Outer Kom lies a mini-point. You have to sit virtually in the kelp to catch the waves that bend from the Outer, travel through the kelp and reform near the rocks. Soft, fun walling lefts up to about three foot. Popular grom and longboard spot.


The Ledge
  

The inside ledge between the Outer and the Inner. Fun at high tide in glassy seas on a three- to five-foot west swell.


Outer Kom
    

Left-hand point. Thick peaks break on an outer reef, before running onto the inside ledge. On a big day, getting caught inside can set you back a good 15 minutes as you get pummelled in the impact zone. Best in clean six-to ten-foot west swell and any light east wind.


The Boiler
   

Towards the lighthouse, a juicy right-hander works on glassy four- to six-foot days when the swell is a bit intermittent at the Kom. Sometimes hard to paddle into but once you catch one, a freight train speed line across a long wall that often closes out at the end.


Battery
  

Just to the left of the lighthouse, another hollow, grinding right-hander. Like the Boiler, needs a clean west swell of around five to seven feet, but not bigger, otherwise interlocking reefs merge, and the wave becomes a bone-crunching closeout.


365
   

Kelpy reef best in a clean four- to ten-foot west swell and light north to northwest winds. When big, the kelp on the inside ledge can be a nightmare, especially when you get hammered by a 10-wave set. Smaller swell skips the outside reef, but rears into a heart-stopping double-up on a super shallow inside ledge. They say 365 is named after the barrel, which is so round it is 360 degrees plus five.


364
  

The gnarly left that breaks towards 365 on the other side of the channel is called 364. Popular with bodyboarders, it breaks on a focused ledge that can cause problems if you’ve just kicked out of a long wave at 365.


I&J’s
 

A reform wave on an inside reef in the Soetwater Reserve. Looks fun in glassy conditions and clean west swell.


Mysto Freight Trains
  

On a six- to twelve-foot swell, an epic line-up can be seen from above Soetwater. Big grinding waves reel off from the back of a series of kelp-covered slabs. Then one will close out across an evil-looking slab. Some have surfed it. Most haven’t.


Conveyor Belts
   

What? Where? Some guys paddle out here when The Factory is crowded. But it’s rarely surfed. This wave has similarities with Gericke’s Right on the Garden Route – a chunky ledge with shifty right peaks. Needs high tide and clean west swell that wraps from the right, which makes it peel more, enabling life-saving gaps between sets. Some say it’s better than the factory.


Crayfish Factory
     

Scary big-wave right-hander that pitches on to an outside reef, then sucks for 100 metres across an inside ledge, before bending into a channel. The factory is one of Cape Town’s heaviest, but most exhilarating waves. During big west swell, the Kom can be eight foot, but the Factory flat. During a 10- to 15-foot southwest to south swell, this regal right-hander is a walling, sucking, spitting glass monster that heaves tons of liquidised innards onto a jagged, boiling ledge. Most surfers have a tale of terror and anguish here: bone dislocation, bust boards, gashes and star-spangled visions of speckled death by drowning. If you get pounded on take-off, you can get pegged down deep in a dark, roiling tomb, the distant roar of 12-foot monsters overhead. When you surface, spat into the channel like a foul piece of human detritus coughed up by a sea monster, expect to be floating without a board, dazed and confused. But don’t dally. Shift back into survival mode. Swim towards the inside like a mutant salmon up a waterfall. You don’t want the rip to suck you towards Misty Cliffs.


Witsands

This spot is everything Crayfish Factory is not, even though it’s only a few hundred metres away. Featuring boring and shifty sand-bottomed peaks, with rips and channels, Witsands is the last resort. A sandbar appears from time to time called Barclays Bank.


Misty Cliffs
 

Further down lies a fickle spot that only works when the swell is clean, usually when other spots are too small. Sandbar-dependent.


Scarborough
  

The ledge in front of the car park is best in three- to five-foot west swell on clean, glassy days. Gets good when right-handers hit the rock, and reel across the sandbar. A peak in the middle of the beach breaks in two to four foot, and sometimes connects with the shore break. The most consistent wave is the small right-hander in the far corner at the base of the point. Reforming lefts become rights as they bend down the point and swing wide, hitting a sandbar and breaking into a channel that runs up the point. The rip keeps the sand on the sandbar. Waves have perfect form here. Best at two to four foot, not much bigger.


Scarborough Point
   

Left-hander that gets good in specific conditions. A thumping, evenly spaced west swell is the first requirement. A light southeast to northeast wind is the second. A pushing tide is the third. These don’t converge often. When they do, it’s a proper point break, a rarity in Cape Town.


Underwater Point
   

This right-hander works off a rocky reef. Watch out for the rocks about halfway down that shorten the ride, otherwise it would carry on for another 30 metres or so. Best in glassy seas and smooth, deep west six- to eight-foot groundswell.


Extensions
  

A rocketing right-hander that’s a bit mushy in everyday conditions. Waves reform from big outside reefs, then zip down a rock shelf sandbank, before refracting around a corner into an outgoing rip. When good, you can take off further around the corner, extracting more juice from a barrelling take-off zone. Best in east winds, or light northerly.


Paranoia
  

Needs a super-high spring tide and clean west groundswell of six to 10 foot. The swells expend a lot of energy on the outside, then reform and refract into a small bay, chunky sectioning waves rolling rapidly along shallow rocks. Not for the faint-hearted.


Olifantsbos
   

Rocky right reef best on southeast wind and large west swell. Best on the incoming to high tide. Very kelpy. Gets super-hollow. Watch out for vicious baboons, especially the ones with surfboards on the roof.


Platboom
   

Breaks in the kelp, but gets good. This left-hander screams down a rocky ledge. Best in light northerlies and clean six- to eight-foot west swell. Dangerously shallow and sharky. Psychotic locals live in the bush – the result of a special inbreeding program to lessen the impact of foreign visitors by terrifying them with their bloodcurdling screeching. Popular windsurfing spot because the southeast and northwest winds blow cross-shore.


Dias Beach
  

Bodyboarders speak in awe of the day Mike Stewart blew the place apart. It was mostly regarded as a non-spot until the late nineties. Just around the corner from the sheer cliffs of Cape Point, it’s an imposing venue. Entails a steep walk up and down. There’s not much beach, mostly rock, cliffs and a crunchy right-hander that closes out a lot. Best suited for bodyboarders, but ridden by stand-ups too.


Southwest Reef
   

Giant walling wedge-shaped A-frame that absorbs the sheer might of Atlantic deep-ocean swells. Breaks off Cape Point several hundred metres out. Has never been ridden at its potential, which is allegedly 40 to 60 feet and perfect.

 

{mosimage} SUCKER PUNCH: Dungeons offloads with brute force.

{mosimage} WALLING UP: John Whittle goes abseiling.

{mosimage} AZURE DREAM: A tow surfer’s wake streaks the shoulder of a Sunset beast.

{mosimage} WAVE WALK: Surfers look for surf in the Long Beach area.

{mosimage} DUNE PERFECTION: A superlative tube curls over a Noordhoek sandbar. 

{mosimage} Grumpy local

{mosimage} SECRET SLAB: Locals proving their point. 

{mosimage} EMPTY PROMISE: Dias Beach perfection. No-one out.

{mosimage} DOUBLE WHAMMY: A lurching right-hander near Kommetjie.

{mosimage} DISTANT ROAR: The regal reef break, Sunset, in full cry.

{mosimage} DODGING BULLETS: Photographers avoid a wide-swinger at Dungeons, during the Red Bull Big Wave Africa. 

 

 

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