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Wavescape - Surfing in South Africa

The scenic Garden Route, starting at Cape Infanta and ending at the forest-lined Tsitsikamma River, is cool and wet in the winter and warm and dry in the summer. Mountains form a spine that sweeps towards the Eastern Cape. The surf is best in mild north or northwest winds and a clean groundswell, particularly in autumn and spring. In winter, the surf can be often wild, especially when big cold fronts blast through.


CAPE INFANTA TO THE TSITSIKAMMA RIVER

The coastal terrain of the Garden Route is rugged, with steep cliffs and thickly wooded ravines that snake up into the mountains. There is an abundance of wildlife in the many nature reserves of the area, including leopards in the more remote kloofs, baboons, lynx, porcupines, buck, tortoises, rock rabbits, mongooses, honey badgers and even elephants, although the once prolific herd of Knysna forest elephants – once numbering thousands – can now be counted on one hand. During winter, countless rivers and streams cascade towards the sea, filling up lakes and lagoons. The river water is rich in minerals, and runs the colour of cola – a translucent rust-red over the shallows, but black where the water runs deep. This creates interesting colours at many river-mouth surf breaks.


Cape Infanta

Right point on the east side of Cape Infanta. Generally lacks form and needs solid, deep-energy rollers with a long interval coming through from the south and light west to northwest winds.


St Sebastian Bay

The Breede River widens into a beautiful estuary as it flows into the sea at the western end of St Sebastian Bay. On the southern flank of the Breede is Infanta, and to the north, a vast sandy beach called Witsand (White Sand). The beach break gets good in summer during a small to moderate south to southeast swell. Doesn’t like big swell. Needs light west to northwest breezes.


Jongensfontein

When you’re headed to Stilbaai in the mistaken belief that it will be firing, Jongens might appease you. Jongens prefers a two- to five-foot southwest to south swell, and breaks off a reef running right. The northwest to west wind is offshore, but it needs to be light.


Kakgat

Triangular-shaped reef with right-handers peeling off the top of the reef, sometimes running up to a shore-break close-out. Prefers light west to northwest wind and clean three- to five-foot groundswell. Careful when pulling off the floater at the end. You might get a sand enema you won’t forget. On the scatological theme, Kakgat was named in the 1980s when former Springbok rugby player Rob Louw took a dump into an underground municipal sewage tank at the break.


Ramyatoolies

A fast, powerful left-hander off some rocks further down the beach. It was first surfed in 1984 but the locals did not have a name for it. Then someone told a derogatory joke: ‘What do you call a gay man from the Himalayan region? Ramyatool Upmabut.’ The name Ramyatoolies or ‘Toolies’ stuck. That’s the story anyway.


Dolfines Point

A gnarly, ledging right-hand point reef with some seriously hollow sections deep in wild fynbos. Needs a solid 10-foot-plus south swell before the swell wraps into the bay, or southeast swell of course. Needs light northwest to northeast wind. Only good surfers need apply.


Skulpiesbaai

In the middle of the bay across from Dolfines Point lies a small triangular reef with good right-handers in clean groundswell and light winds. On the eastern side of the bay, which is in effect the reverse side of Stilbaai Point, some good lefts break off the rocks. Best when a powerful five- to eight-foot southeast swell is running.


Stilbaai

Another grinding right-hand point break with a classic mid-break section, and sometimes a deep, thick outside section for the stout of heart. When big, a strong rip pushes you down the rocks. Like many points along the east coast, Stilbaai likes a lined-up south to southeast swell. A huge west or southwest swell bends around the outside point and reforms a lot smaller on the inside, with much of its energy broken up. As the swell angle moves to southeast, the swell comes in straighter, avoiding the outside reform. Best in glassy seas or light westerlies on a pushing mid tide in clean four- to eight-foot swell.


Gouritsmond

A right-hand point break running into the mouth of the Gourits River. A seldom-surfed spot that breaks on sand built up over the rocks. It works in large southwest groundswells and moderate west winds. Hard to find.


Kanon

Tucked away around a point, this rock-shelf right-hander is the Cave Rock of the Garden Route. It’s an awesome barrel, but only breaks when a solid southeast swell pushes around the corner in similar fashion to Vlees. Keep a look out for great whites. You don’t really want to surf here. Named after three cannons mounted at one of the houses salvaged from the French man o’ war La Fortune, wrecked in 1763.


Mossel Bay

Like many east coast towns, including Plettenberg Bay, Jeffrey's Bay and Port Elizabeth, Mossel Bay lines the southern rim of a large, sweeping bay, tucked in the lee of a protruding point – Cape St Blaize. On the open-ocean side of the cape, jagged cliffs loom above thundering surf. The rock strata have been laid bare. Massive caverns have been ground out by the relentless force of the elements. The massive Mossgas oil-from-gas project – offshore rigs mine gas which is then converted to petroleum – as well as a property boom, saw the town grow rapidly in the 1990s and 2000s. Like most coastal towns, gets frantic in the holiday season. Bartholomeu Dias, the Portuguese explorer who ‘discovered’ South Africa, landed for the first time at Munro’s Bay, a calm little cove three kilometres around the corner from Cape St Blaize. There are numerous historic houses, including about 200 stone houses built by Cornish stonemasons in the early 1900s. In the distance, the jagged blue line of the Outeniqua Mountains keeps an eternal watch over the coast. The surf spots lie near the town itself, starting near the caravan park around the corner from Cape St Blaize.


Vleesbaai

Protected point that breaks like Bruce’s Beauties in Cape St Francis, but needs as much east in the swell as possible. It turns on when a big east to southeast swell or huge south swell pushes in, aided by an incoming tide and sometimes southeast winds. This break is not a great option. Firstly, it is fickle, and breaks rarely. Secondly, it is hard to find, and entails a sweaty walk fighting off alien wattle trees oozing poisonous sap and riddled with boomslang. If that doesn’t get you, the horny razor-toothed tortoise could. This hectic herbivore hates humans. Thirdly, a large colony of great white sharks breeds just off the take-off zone.


Inner Pool

Somewhat overrated, the Inner Pool is a small inlet where the waves break right off rocks to the right of the better break, Outer Pool. Tends to be a bit slow-moving and mushy, but popular. Walls up nicely sometimes, often when Outer Pool is flat.


Outer Pool

The main wave at Mossel Bay. ‘The Outer’ gets big and hairy, and sharky. Often entails a tough paddle against a rip that surges along the point and big walling waves that trick you into paddling too far on the inside. In a clean orderly south swell and light west winds, it fires.


Santos Reef

In front of a caravan park, Santos is a reef peak tucked into the south end of the bay. Needs giant southwest to south swell to register sporadic two- to four-foot sets. On a south to southeast swell, gets consistent and quite good in a fun, hotdog kind of way. Lacks raw power. Likes light west to southwest breezes.


Ding Dangs

A fun wave on the inside rim of Mossel Bay that needs a huge groundswell to wrap around the headland at Cape St Blaize, bending down past the town and eventually reaching Ding Dangs. Best in southwest to west winds and four- to six-foot general east swell. Needs a low tide. Otherwise, a little soft.


Dias Beach

A fickle beach break that depends on the sandbanks. Needs light offshore winds and a moderate swell.


Hartenbos

Weak, poorly formed sandbars can rearrange into semi-decent beach-break peaks. Light northwest to west wind and clean southeast to east swell.


Klein Brak River

As Mossel Bay sweeps eastwards and away from the shelter of Cape St Blaize, the surf gets bigger. The sandy rim of the bay stretches far into the distance, for more than 10 km, past Klein Brak and Groot Brak. Mostly beach breaks along this stretch, with the odd sand-covered rock reef. Quite fickle and a bit sharky. Can’t cope with big swell, when dredging rips come into play. Best in light north to northwest wind and a clean, nicely spaced four- to seven-foot southwest groundswell. A few secret spots deliver the goods for surfers in holiday houses along the top of a long dune parallel to the beach.


Herolds Bay

When the sea is flat everywhere else, Herolds is likely to be a clean two- to three-foot if not four-foot. One of the most consistent breaks in South Africa, but only surfable in small to medium swell. Best in a clean three- to five-foot groundswell with a slight east to southeast angle to it. Breaks on a mixture of reef and sand. Classic shore break. When sand is properly arranged, you can get so slotted. Needs light north to northwest berg winds. Picks up lank swell.


Victoria Bay

Vic Bay is a classic set-up on a small scale. This bay between steep tree-covered hills is probably only 200 metres wide. The west side of the bay, an established holiday getaway for the fortunate few who have a house at the water’s edge, produces perfect point break walls. You take off near a rock that sticks out the water. The wave walls away from you and down a shallow line of rocks. The bigger waves angle further away from the rocks and into the middle of the beach. Best in a four- to six-foot south to southwest swell and glassy or offshore (northwest to southwest wind) conditions. Handles light south to southeast winds.


Wilderness

A long beach with sandbar set-ups interspersed with occasional clumps of rock and reef. Picks up a lot of swell, and is not surfed often, although there are good waves at times. Needs deep, spaced groundswell when bigger, otherwise it gets wild and woolly. Settled, smooth seas and light winds essential.


Wilderness

Heading from George and Vic Bay, you drive through the Kaaimans River Pass, which cuts through a forested gorge. Crossing the river, the road meanders back up and turns a corner at the edge of a mountain that overlooks many kilometres of beach and verdant wetland. There are beach breaks as far as the eye can see. You coast down to sea level into the aptly named town of Wilderness around the southern rim of the Touw River Lagoon, the first of a series of mostly interlocking lakes that continue all the way to Knysna. The wetland is bird-watching paradise. A long dune, like a sandy rib, separates the wetlands and the sea – a popular paragliding spot due to the gentle onshore breezes that create good ridge lift along the edge, keeping the paragliders drifting back and forth for hours. Inland lies a vast closed-canopy afro montane forest on the slopes of mountains that roughly follow the coast.


Gerickes

On the way to Sedgefield lies a shale headland to the right of the Swartvlei car park that becomes almost an island on high tide. You need to walk for 20 minutes along the beach to reach the tiny left-hand point break on the other side, preferably at low tide unless you want to rock climb or wade through the shorebreak. Picks up lank swell. One of the few spots that works in – actually needs – a northeast onshore wind. It gets out of control easily. Best at two- to four-foot. Provides zippy waves that reel for about 30-40 metres along a volcanic rock shelf. Short, sharp and sweet. On the other side of the channel, a right-hander breaks over a jagged reef. Picks up more swell, but can be tricky with interspersed rock slabs and protruding rocks. Sharky.


Swartvlei

Beach break in front of the car park at Swartvlei. Depends on sandbanks but gets quite good. Best in light northwest to northeast winds.


Goukamma

A long beach runs along the Goukamma Nature Reserve, with beach breaks galore. However, perhaps the best wave breaks at the Goukamma River Mouth. Can get epic when the sand is in the right place. The river runs from the majestic Outeniqua Mountains, passing through verdant forests. Humic acids leached from the organic leafy mulch of the forest floor make the river run a dark red, almost black. In light north winds, this spot fires on all cylinders.


Fish Boma

In the corner further down off a rocky outcrop is a low-tide peak that breaks along a rip. Best in a clean three- to five-foot swell and light north to northeast wind. Gets good here, but a shark attack in 2000 slowed the interest. As local Charles Smith said: ‘I never thought our sharks would do this to us. It was quite a shock.’


Buffalo Bay wild side

The exposed south side of Buffalo Bay gets messy easily and can’t handle too much swell because the open ocean swell comes directly on to the beach here, often breaking on outside banks and closing out. However, on small, glassy days or light northwest to north winds, a clean and powerful left-hander breaks off a sandbank in the middle of the beach. Gets rippy though. Occasionally, a wedge breaks in the corner on the right of the beach. Locals say that its epic days have been over for years, although there seems to be no reason why they shouldn’t come back again.


Buffalo Bay

On the inside of Walker Point lies a series of overlapping reefs offering a consistent but generally slow-breaking right-hander that needs an easterly tinge to the swell for it to run properly. Swell from the southwest hits the outside point and has to work hard to wrap around and into the bay before reforming and breaking on the inner point. This is a common malaise afflicting South African points, making them B-grade set-ups. However, when the swell runs out of the southeast or east, they instantly become A-grade spots. Examples include Coffee Bay, Seal Point and Stilbaai. Buffalo Bay needs a west wind and four- to eight-foot southeast to east swell.


Murphys

A fun left and right peak can be found down the beach from the point at Buffalo Bay. A rip current tends to pull you towards the left, a churned up and reef-based sandbank. However, fun and hollow inside waves, as well as the occasional solid left on the outside, can make this spot worthwhile. Best in a low to pushing tide and light west winds.


The Knysna Heads

There is actually a surf spot just inside the Knysna Heads. The locals ride it now and then. On a low tide when big swell runs outside the cliffs, the sandbars gladly accept fun and hollow three- to four-foot waves. The fun is tempered with the knowledge that you have to paddle across the channel to the other side, often when the tide is pushing through the heads. Incidentally, the Knysna Heads is one of only two places in the world that Lloyds shipping agents will not insure.


Noetzie

Small bay with varying quality sandbars off a deep shelving beach where a dark red river meets the sea. Noetzie means ‘black’, referring to the almost black water coloured by humic acids leached from the carpet of leaves on the forest floor.


Robberg

The break along the northern shoreline of the Robberg headland faces into the calmer waters of Plettenberg Bay. Because the headland pushes into the sea in an easterly direction, its southern shores absorb the dominant southwest to south swell. It takes a huge southeast swell or medium to big east swell to inject some life into this spot, a combination of rocks and sand. Inconsistent, but gets good occasionally.


The Wreck

Not to be confused with the Wedge, the Wreck is also a wedge-shaped wave. However, it has a lot more going for it, when it breaks, that is. Not as consistent, but offers a longer ride and better form. Needs a monster swell to wrap into the bay around Robberg, or a lot of east in the swell. Waves bounce off the peninsula and peak off the wreck, forming wicked A-frame barrels.


The Wedge

In sight of the Beacon Isle Hotel built on an outcrop of rocks in Plettenberg Bay, the Wedge breaks on sand off the next rocky outcrop north of the hotel. It gets insanely hollow and powerful for its size. Swells bounce off the rocks and head parallel to the beach where they merge with oncoming swells, creating the wedge. Not all the waves wedge up in this way. However, if they don’t, it usually means a close-out because the wave breaks too close to shore. A short but zippy little barrel that provides lots of fun in the right conditions: low tide and a clean three- to four-foot swell.


Lookout Beach

The main beach break at Plett is traditionally a fickle break due to erratic sand movement. However, in August 2006, unprecedented flooding disgorged tons of sand and debris into the sea, creating some of the best surf locals had ever seen off the rocks at the southern end. Big-wave tow-in riders had a field day off the rocks at the western end, which became a super bank. It handled up to a solid 12-foot on some days. Then, in March 2007, a gigantic southeast swell and a big storm wiped out the beach, but there are still waves and the sand is slowly returning. There is also surf further down the beach near the river mouth, often just a small channel between the lagoon and the sea. Usually though, Lookout is not the most alluring of temptations. There are many other, better spots nearby to choose from.


Keurbooms

This glassy beach break, inhabited by a group of friendly bottlenosed dolphins, is a gem. However, you’ve got to polish it first. Patience pays off at Keurbooms, on the way out of Plett and heading towards J-Bay. It’s sensitive to wind, offshore or onshore. Best time is in glassy seas on a mid-tide pushing, with a clean three- to four-foot groundswell, or on the high tide itself. Can be a bit rippy between tides, with the surge pulling you on to sandbanks on the right, away from the left-hander. The left works on a lowish tide and the right needs a high tide. Keurbooms has similarities with KwaZulu-Natal beach breaks. When good, it has glassy tubes, water as clear as liquid glass and playful dolphins. It is quite fickle though, and has a slight shark reputation.


Nature’s Valley

A small residential area in the Tsitsikamma National Coastal Park, the scenery around this beautiful beach and lagoon is stunning. Offers a classic sand-bottomed right and left peak sensitive to currents, wind and swell. Needs a smooth and well-spaced two- to five-foot southwest to south groundswell and no wind, or light northeast to northwest breezes. Gets super-hollow and crunchy. Dangerous undertows when the swell is big. Very sharky.


Storms River Mouth

As the name suggests, the sea is often wild, with uneven wave action and strong rip currents make it a lottery. However, you get really good waves here on small to medium days and light north to northwest breezes.


 Knysna

On the eastern shore of the glistening Knysna lagoon sprawls this former logging town surrounded by large tracts of closed-canopy indigenous forest. A tiny outpost once, Knysna lay in the midst of a breathtaking paradise, but unrelenting development is slowly eroding it. In the waters of the lagoon, you might see the endangered Knysna seahorse. Off the foaming seas at the base of the mighty heads – two cliffs that guard the entrance to the lagoon – dolphins and whales are a common sight. Scattered on the beaches is a treasure chest of shells, including the pansy, while deep in the forest, lurk birds like the Knysna loerie, and the remnants of South Africa’s only forest elephants. The stately Outeniqua yellowwood – dripping with lichen or ‘old man’s beard’ – is the king of the trees. The town hosts flea markets, craft shops and cosy cafés that ooze a rustic, small-town charm. The locals are mellow and hospitable, with a high proportion of crafts people and artists. In outlying forests, communes of hippies chill out in cosmic union, a little like Nimbin, near Byron Bay in Australia. Knysna has access to a range of surf spots, and is within easy striking distance of the rich surfing area of Cape St Francis and Jeffreys Bay, two hours’ drive to the east.


Plettenberg Bay

This large bay is framed by the huge sandstone Robberg Peninsula in the south and the deep blue-green estuaries of the Bitou and Keurbooms rivers in the north. The over-sized holiday town that nestles in the southern half used to be an unspoilt village with acres of pristine coastal bush and endless beaches. The beaches are still there, but they are framed by acres and acres of concrete. Even the beaches have taken a knock, although not by humans (directly anyway). In March 2007, a huge storm annihilated Lookout Beach, ripping the sand out and bringing the sea almost to the car park. The sand slowly began to return later in 2007. Plett is the spiritual home of many holidaymakers who still make the pilgrimage from inland cities and other coastal towns, but the burgeoning shopping malls and other trappings of urbanisation have merely created a home away from home. There are a few surf spots in the bay, but they don’t pick up a lot of swell. Robberg acts as a buffer zone to the open ocean. A large southwest swell or south to east swell bends into the bay to produce the surf.


Tsitsikamma National Coastal Park

This verdant stretch of rugged coast runs for 75 km from Nature’s Valley in the west to Oubosstrand in the east. Coincidently, two rivers with the same name, Grootrivier, mark the park’s coastal boundaries. You will need permits to explore the park, which is pockmarked by steep cliffs, small rocky coves and river mouths. It’s a wild, untrammelled coastline that is inaccessible by road, except for the roads leading from the N2 highway to Storms River Mouth, which splits the park into two halves. The popular hiking route, the Otter Trail – from Storms River heading west to Nature’s Valley – yields several surf spots, but lugging a surfboard on a five-day hike will not be pleasant.


{mosimage} LIQUID PROPULSION: John Henry tow-surfs an outer reef near Plett.

{mosimage} SECRETS: Somewhere near Sedgefield.

Comments  

 
Monali
0 #1 Monali 2011-02-07 10:32
Very Nice Center
 

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