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Between the Tsitsikamma River and Cintsa, just past East London, lies the warmer waters of an aloe-strewn coastline dominated by two huge bays – St Francis Bay and Algoa Bay. Falling within the Eastern Cape, the Sunshine Coast is flanked by mountains to the northwest and the Indian Ocean to the southeast. Good surf breaks all year round at a varied mixture of point, reef and beach breaks.


TSITSIKAMMA RIVER TO CINTSA

{mosimage} ALOE GOLD: The aloe ferox is to J-Bay what the Eiffel Tower is to Paris.

The Sunshine Coast marks a steady but slow transition from the fynbos of the Western Cape to the increasingly sub-tropical flora of the Wild Coast. At the end of Algoa Bay, which is lined by the city of Port Elizabeth, the coast heads northeast, rather than travelling due east, making it harder for the dominant southwest swells to make landfall. The landscape between the mountain spine running parallel to the coast towards the Drakensberg and the shoreline is mostly flat and, in summer, dry. Vegetation is characterised by aloes, fleshy sour figs (good for jellyfish stings), fynbos and shrubland. Distant views of steely blue crags and vast, sweeping bays make for beautiful landscapes. A glassy afternoon at Jeffreys Bay can be a divine experience, especially when the dolphins appear, shadow-surfing the wave beneath you, showing us how to share.

Seal Point wild side

This rugged stretch of exposed coast includes Slangbaai, Oyster Bay and Thysbaai. Surfed in summer in small swell and northeast winds (offshore here). Mostly rock slabs offering short, powerful waves with sketchy access. Locals know.

Boulders

Fickle reef point running into a small rocky bay in front of the car park above Oyster Row. Requires huge swell similar to Bruce’s Beauties, but Boulders is a left-breaking wave. To get it good, buy a local lots of beer.

Seal Point

Seals, with its landmark lighthouse, is a rocky point break divided into two sections by a fullstop rock that marks the take-off zone for the mid break. The outside gets classic, especially on a medium to big south to southeast swell. Prevailing southwest swell must refract around the outside point and reform at Seals. You can ride waves all the way past the fullstop rock down the point – about a 150-metre ride. Beware the fullstop. It can take you from hero to zero in a millisecond as you pull in to the barrel, then pull in to a rock. Also, mind the urchins.

Seals beach

Depending on banks and tides, pick your spot from the caravan park to the bottom of the point. Consistent wave in the corner. The beach at Seals gets plenty of swell. It is a good summer spot. However, the sand banks tend to close out during big winter swell. Needs west winds.

Ducks

Sandbar and reef combination on the other side of the bay. Sheltered from the northeast by the northern rim of the bay. Again, usually a summer spot. Gets good. Sharky.

Killers

Around Cape St Francis and into St Francis Bay at the top lies Killers, a sketchy spot that breaks viciously hard along evil-looking rocks. Needs east swell and west winds.

Bruce’s

A clean, green jewel. Forget the gentle tubing hotdog waves you saw in Endless Summer. When the east swell is grinding, this wave churns down the point at Cape St Francis like a runaway steam train, growling and spitting. The drop at big Bruce’s is a stomach churner. And slotting into the gaping barrel is to dice with a juddering lip cracking along a jagged line of rocks. The reef lies at the same depth and angle to the swell, creating a perfect curling consistency. To feast your eyes on these grinding green room tubes is to see one of the surfing wonders of the world, even though the sand does not cover the point like it used to. Best two hours on either side of low tide, unless dik.

Huletts Left

Same as Bruce’s. Needs huge south swell or big east swell and a low to mid tide. Nice beefy left with a mellow take-off that improves down the line. Easy access through slipway.

Huletts Right

Right-hand reef point that also suffered from sand redistribution. Not as good as before. Mellow wave, ideal for longboarders. Incoming to high tide. Good protection from strong westerlies.

Main Beach

Bad development has ruined it like Anne’s. Sand is gone, no beach at high tide. Suffers from back wash. Occasionally gets good if sand builds up. Needs west winds.

Anne Avenue

Used to have excellent sandbars, but poor development has killed the beach and ruined this spot. Gets good sometimes, but not as consistent.

Soweto’s

Also called Rushmere’s, the quality of this sand and reef combination depends on sand distribution. Breaks left and right. Wind must blow from the west. S AND PITS: The point break that gave South Africa a good name.

S UPER TUBE: What more do you want?

JEFFREY’S BAY

J-Bay is a giant surf shop. Named after a store owner who provided victuals to seafarers in 1849, Jeffreys Bay was a quiet, undiscovered fishing village for many years. In the 1960s, Afrikaner farmers used it as a rustic holiday spot. Then a small band of surfers found tubular nirvana at the Point, a few stops down from Supertubes, which was too fast to surf. During the 1970s and 1980s, the surfing scene grew in tandem with places like Torquay in Oz. Both were hippie hangouts from whence came surf dynasties like Rip Curl, Billabong and Country Feeling.

Apart from surfing, J-Bay subsists on chokka (squid) fishing, property development and tourism. A strong Afrikaner core brings a conservative element to society here. In the off-season, there isn’t much to do. Some might even consider it boring. However, the locals wouldn’t have it any other way. When swell arrives out of season, the locals get their reward. Like nearby St Francis, J-Bay is a holiday town riddled with caravan parks, campsites, chalets, hotels and backpackers. During summer, it bursts with holidaymakers. In winter, hordes of surfers descend, giving estate agents and property owners an all- round boom in occupancy. Visitors will notice how surfing and tourism are in a perpetual state of conflict. The mood oscillates between warm South African hospitality and hostile surf localism. Residents who surf and work in tourism struggle to reconcile the two. On land it’s all warm smiles. In the water, it can be unbridled aggro. A sad consequence of the housing boom and the selfishness of property owners are the crude buildings that have mushroomed everywhere – block after block of ugly concrete and brick. The Supers car park has shrunk. The famous aloes that lined the pristine bush along the point have been herded into an artificial plantation as part of a dune reclamation project. Yet hordes of foreign surfers, clutching strong currency, descend on J-Bay to enjoy cheap surf holidays. They don’t care. They often stay for months on end, getting into the stoke of surfing one of the best waves on our planet.

Please treat the wave and other surfers with respect, otherwise you will come off second best. Moving on from all the human nonsense, there is a side to Jeffreys that makes it special, apart from the perfect cylinders of swell that sweep in from the south. Dolphins are regulars. So are whales and seals. When the sun rises, casting its golden hue over the sea and lighting up the misty Elandsberg in the distance, schools of dolphins stop by on their feeding route. They turn on an exhibition of free surfing, like no human could ever hope to emulate. Streaking beneath and above the waves, these grey torpedoes are an exhilarating combination of grace and power. Good wave selection too. If you are lucky to be sitting in the line-up at dawn when the waves are a perfect four to six foot, a light offshore is blowing and the dolphins are on song, you experience one of nature’s most exquisite moments. Bear it in mind when screaming blue murder at the guy who ruined your perfect wall during the weekend bun fight.

{mosimage} MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE: The Kelly Slater of marine mammals.

Kitchen Windows

As you enter Jeffreys Bay, there are spots that are surfed mostly by locals and rarely by anyone else. Unless you spend a fair amount of time in J-Bay, Kitchen Windows won’t be on your itinerary. You’ll probably spend most of your time salivating over the prospect of surfing Supertubes. In fact, you will surf mushy, two-foot slop at Supers, oblivious to cooking two- to four-foot waves here. Not as powerful as other spots.

Magna Tubes

The reef slightly around the corner from Supers in front of the Beach Hotel. Fast and hard-breaking off an exposed reef, left and right. Closes out often, but best when the swell is small. Picks up more swell than Supers.

Boneyards

Occy in his former heyday ruled this spot for extended periods of the surf season. To go right is to negotiate a hectically fast wall that barrels in varying sections towards the main take-off zone at Supertubes. To make it through these sections, especially backhand, is a noble feat. It’s even possible to take off outside Boneyards, fly through some heart-stopping barrels and exit right at Supertubes, then scream obscenities at the numerous jealous surfers trying to drop in on you. Boneyards works differently at different sizes. When it’s generally flat, and there’s hardly a ripple at Supers, Boneyards can be three foot. In these, and slightly bigger conditions, you can go left and right.

Supertubes

One of the top right-hand points on earth. When on, Supers is superlative. Best in moderate westerlies and medium big south swell between four and eight feet but handles up to 12 feet on clean swells. On epic days you can ride all the way down if you pick a ‘sidewinder’ that wraps wide of Supers, the bulk of its energy bunching towards the reef further out. Even then, you still have to draw a fast speed line through the barrel section at Impossibles. Some guys raise both arms and point down the point – a signal that they are going for it. The idea is to draw speed lines near the top of the feathering wall, and when it looks like the entire section is about to close, you drop wide and deep and carve the longest bottom turn possible, then trim back up the face and wind it again before trimming the rail and pulling in. Deep in the pit, the sunlight recedes. The exit is an oval fleck of light at the end of a long blue cave. The pendulum swings back. The hole draws nearer. It hovers once or twice, flirting, before unfolding as it arches over your head and you bust back into the sunlight. The swell at Supers can come up within hours. On small two- to three-foot days, most waves break too fast, and it becomes sectiony. Supertubes is best in a southwest or west wind. The northwest, usually offshore for the east coast, is cross-shore here. Locals call it the devil’s wind because it creates sideways chop up the face of the wave.

Salad Bowls

At the end of Impossibles lies a short barrel section called Salad Bowls. Not really an official spot, but some people refer to it as such. If you’re freaked out by the 150 people scratching for occasional waves chaotically up at Supers, you can surf down here by yourself.

Tubes

Fast-breaking section on the other side of Salad Bowls and Impossibles. A classic wave that’s slightly more forgiving than Supers. Shows the same superlative form as Supers, but is not quite as fast.

Point

The Point lies about two thirds down from Supertubes – a mellow mirror of Supers, with fairly fast walls and a couple of short barrel sections. Laaities and longboarders love this spot. The atmosphere is more congenial than Supers.

Albatross

The last spot before you run out of ocean. If you have ridden all the way from Supers, you’ve surfed for 1 200 metres. A smaller and mellower version of the Point.

Maitlands

Beach break around the Maitland River Mouth. Best in small swell. Gets heavy, with hectic rips in bigger swell. Likes any north wind. Winds are onshore from west to southeast and offshore from northwest to northeast. Sharky.

Beachview

Sandbar in front of tidal pool. Gets really good depending on banks. Prefers low tide. Any wind from the north.

Sardinia Bay

Beach break that can be epic, or just a close-out, depending on the banks. Sharky. Needs any wind with a hint of northerly.

Noordhoek

Right-hand reef point. A fickle break that needs a clean southwest to south swell, an incoming tide, and mild north to northwest winds. Handles light west wind. The southwest must not be stronger than about 10 knots.

Rockies

On the other side of the bay from Noordhoek. A sketchy left-hander that breaks on a low to mid tide in light westerlies.

Main Rights

Right-hand reef point. Prefers mid tide and west wind. Easy paddle out in the gully in front of the break. Holds a decent-sized swell.


ALGOA BAY WILD SIDE

The coast west of Cape Recife, the southern promontory of Algoa Bay, where Port Elizabeth is situated, is exposed to the southern weather systems that bash up the coast. It picks up all the prevailing southwest swell, but spots are exposed and sensitive to any south wind and big swell. This coast prefers north winds or light westerlies, which makes it an ideal locale in summer, when northeast winds blow and the swell is small. Best conditions are light northeast to northwest winds and clean three- to six-foot groundswell. Some breaks get epic when the rest of the coast is blown out in mangling northeast winds. Some spots angle more to the east or northeast, and you revert to the traditional ‘west wind is offshore’ permutation. Many of the waves are located in the Maitland Mines Nature Reserve, Island Forest Reserve, Seaview Game Park or Cape Recife Nature Reserve.

Loch Ness

Right reef running into a small bay. Nice take-off but fades quickly. Short ride. West winds. Low to incoming tide.

Secrets

Nudist beach with sandbar peaks. Likes the summer northeast. Works in all tides depending on banks. Surf naked.

Boilers

A beach break that entails a bit of a walk. Can be good. Depends on sandbanks. Works in all tides.

Noncom

Sometimes called Padi. Good left and right sand peaks break into a gully in front of the Cape Recife Nature Reserve car park. Northeast winds are best. All tides.

Virgin Bay

A 10-minute walk left of the Cape Recife Nature Reserve car park. Right sandbar, can be epic, but fickle. Very dependent on sand. Doesn’t like too much swell. Light west or northeast. All tides depending on banks, normally low to incoming.


Port Elizabeth

This sprawling city lines the southern rim of the vast Algoa Bay. As you head around from the southern tip of the bay, Cape Recife, the coastline becomes more built up after Cape Recife Nature Reserve. Like Robberg in Plett and many point breaks in South Africa, Cape Recife acts as a natural breakwater to the dominant southwest swells emanating from the roaring forties. South swell must also work hard to get into the bay. Unlike the wild side, most of the surf spots in PE like southerly winds, but are manky in northerlies. Even the northwest berg wind causes a ruffled ‘morning sickness’ in the bay.

Cobbles

Mellow right reef point ideal for longboarding. Cobbles is just on the bay side of Cape Recife and gets a wave when the bay is flat. Handles size if you can handle the paddle. Pushing tide best. Can be surfed on the low, but entails a long walk over dry reef. West winds.

Rincon

Moving towards PE from Cape Recife, you will come across this good-quality right-hand point, but it gets sectiony. Best on pushing tide. Prefers southwest to west wind. Needs decent swell.

Blackbottoms

Right reef that gets good, but depends on sand. Must have west winds.

Pipe

There is usually something to ride at the Pipe, which is the reason why it is infested with groms. Fun beach break that varies from good to crap, depending on how much sand there is and where it has been deposited. Picks up the most swell. Apartment blocks protect it from strong westerlies. Better on pushing or high tide.

{mosimage} RULER LINES: The underwater topography at J-Bay filters the swell.

Clubhouse

Right reef. Only breaks over six feet. Goes off in solid storm swell. Any southwest or west wind.

Avalanche

Right-hander breaks on a sandbank behind a rocky outcrop and runs into a small bay. Can get a weird bump on it from sidewash off the rock, which makes for interesting sections. Quality wave if sand is right. Low tides are best, although rideable through the high if the swell is big.

Millers

Long right-hand point. Breaks over rock shelf, but mellow. Picks up less swell than breaks closer to Cape Recife. Likes high tide. Holds big swell, but rips kick in and the paddle is challenging. Best in south or southwest winds.

Shark Rock Pier

Sandbar next to pier. Can be excellent depending on sand. Usually better after the summer easterlies have pushed the sand in. Low tide only. Backwash issues. One of the few places in Algoa Bay that likes east swell. Wants southwest or south winds.

Baked Beans

Right reef between Shark Rock and Humewood. Depends on sand covering. Rarely surfed, usually only by bodyboarders on bigger swells.

Humewood

Right sandbar next to the old pier. Gets excellent – one of the best waves in PE. You can hook insane barrels here. Handles east swell well. Handles south wind but likes southwest, with some protection from strong southwest.

Denvils

Sandbar off a rock at public pool. Depends on banks. Usually small. Closes out a lot. Many of the surf schools hang out here. Best on pushing tide and west winds.

Fence

Sand-bottomed left in a land of rights. Fence wedges off the harbour wall. Gets good on its day, but the sandbanks have been off for years. The ballies say that it was much better years ago, and that there is too much sand now. Likes east swell in west to southwest winds. Needs incoming to high tide.

Brighton Pier

Sand-bottomed right off the pier. Gets good (if you don’t mind getting robbed, carjacked and infected with waterborne diseases). Dodgy area.

Bluewater Bay mouth

Only spot in PE that handles the northwest berg wind, which is straight offshore here while the rest of the bay has morning sickness. Picks up a lot of swell. Excellent rights and lefts sometimes break off a sandbank into a river mouth. Beware currents and sharks.

Hougham Park

Beach breaks along this beach pick up more swell as you leave the swell shadow caused by Cape Recife. Likes northwest, but sketchy and sharky. Not surfed often.


Port Alfred

The Kowie River runs through the sleepy coastal town of Port Alfred (pictured left). The Royal Alfred Marina has slightly tainted the old-world charm of the town, but it remains quiet in the off-season. Students from Rhodes University in nearby Grahamstown bunk lectures to come surfing here. It only takes 45 minutes to drive down to ‘Kowie’.

Kelly’s Beach

Port Alfred surf rats cut their teeth here, gearing for their first session at East Pier. A reform low on juice, but high on fun- and sun-filled summer days. A jagged rock spit juts from the sand. A right peaks to the left. Further down are little left-hand peaks. Best when the overall swell is four to six feet, which is about two to three feet on the inside at Kelly’s. Sensitive to the wind, Kelly’s prefers light northwest or west winds.

West Pier

The solid concrete West Pier protects the entrance to the Kowie River Mouth. A left-hander breaks off the West Pier, wedging into a barrelling peak when swells bounce off the side of the pier. When bigger than four feet it is challenging, with vertical drops and gaping tubes. The five-metre-high pier shields it from north to northeast winds, making it one of few breaks that work in an onshore.

East Pier

If you want to wrap your grubby paws around this Eastern Cape jewel, be patient. This right-hander, which breaks on the east side of the Kowie River off the shorter of two piers that channel the river out to sea, is fickle. Kowie has many faces: rugged and uncompromising, oily and smooth, or pure barrelling filth. Best on a pushing low tide and a four- to seven-foot south swell. The swell wraps around the West Pier and breaks on a sandbar in the mouth. This peak gets so square, Pythagoras would be stoked. The top-to-bottom wedge then elongates into a long winding wall that runs across the East Pier sandbank before hitting a long freight-train section at the end. When the banks are aligned, the barrel sections merge and some waves tube a long way. During a small to medium east swell, or when the tide is high, the waves break off the east Pier. Ragged tooth sharks feed off the West Pier, but they’re not really into humans (much).

Riet River

Heading from Port Alfred towards East London, Riet River is a point with a good bowl section on the outside. However, it tends to back off down the point and can be frustrating. West winds and a

AERIAL KOWIE: Good swell running off the East Pier, with the West Pier on the left.


Kleinemonde

A sectiony right-hand point break with a mediocre beach break. Gets good occasionally during clean southeast groundswell and light berg winds. During predominant south to southwest swell, rips are strong and the waves are all over place.

Mtati

In sight of Mpekweni Casino, privately owned Mtati is tucked away on the east side of a vast beach. Some fun peaks heading from the hotel, especially near Mtati River mouth at the end – a two-kilometre walk. Hamburg

A series of reef slabs and a wide rock spit on the southern end. Looks like a great longboarder wave, with slow-moving chunks running over the reef. Potential in east swell. Light northwest to west wind and a medium southeast groundswell.

Kidd’s Beach

A beach break just south of East London that occasionally has barrelling lefts when the sandbanks are lined up. A small holiday town where families come to unwind from their hectic lives in the metropolis of East London.

Igoda

There have been some shark bites, bumps and scary moments here. But epic barrels too. The best wave breaks near the rocks. Picks up a lot of swell. Everyone heads here when East London is tiny or flat. Best in north winds, from northwest to northeast, and a medium south to east swell.

Eastern Beach

Fickle spot in East London along the promenade near the Holiday Inn. However, if the sandbanks build up properly off the boulders and pebbles along the shore, this wave gets epic. Easterns, as it is affectionately called, is best in clean three- to five-foot south swell and mild westerlies.


East London

This busy little port is the last major city on the east coast before Durban. East London lies on perhaps the most consistent surfing coast in South Africa. In winter, swell comes from local cold fronts and distant storms in the westerly windbelt. In summer, swell pushes in from easterly trade winds and big groundswell marches in from cyclones off Madagascar. The temperate coastal climate is dominated by warm currents fl owing down the coast, driven by the Agulhas Current. Summers are hot and humid, but winters are mild and sunny, interspersed with cold snaps when storms sweep up the coast. Water temperatures are cool in winter – between 14 ° and 18 °C – and warm in summer, between 18 ° and 22°C although fresh northeast onshores upwell the deep, colder water. The best surf time is late summer to early winter, mid-March to early June, when it is still warm and sunny, and the onshores are easing. Days are calm, winds light variable. Swell is beginning to push from southern storms and cyclone east swells are still common up to mid April. As we move into June, winter exerts its prominence. There are more cold snaps. But the occasional storm – cold fronts that bring fierce southwest busters and scudding rain squalls – also brings big grinding groundswell. Between fronts, days are calm and warm.

Nahoon Reef

World-class right-hand reef that delivers all kinds of conditions. Has two sections. When glassy and six to eight feet, an outside bowl links with the middle slab and hits an inside reef, with three distinct sections. The type of ride you have depends on the angle the swell hits the reef. At its best, a spaced out south swell of six to eight feet is running, the wind is light west or glassy, and the tide is low, starting to push. Many people surf here, despite a few shark incidents. Too good to waste.

Corner

A beach break at the end of Nahoon Reef that works when the outside is out of control. Protected from the elements, Corner is popular when Reef is blown-out southwest. In a big southeast swell you can ride from Reef to Corner.

Bonza Bay

Mediocre beach break in front of the Quinera River Mouth.

Black Rock

In Gonubie, an average wave that breaks over fl at rocks fairly far out to sea. The lefts are usually better and longer than the rights. Works best on a two- to four-foot east swell in light northerlies. Can handle fresh northeast winds.

The Point

Hit it on the low tide and you will be hooked for life. A short point break on the western side of Gonubie that wedges into an A-frame peak that you can backdoor and get the barrel of your life. Works on a small to medium southeast swell. Handles strong west winds. Rock Wave

Fun right-hander that runs along a mini-point and ends in front of a tidal pool along the Gonubie beachfront. It’s easy to ride but gets nasty when the swell is large and the tide is high.

Gonubie River mouth

Works on any swell and wind direction. Best on a low tide. Offers long rights and easy-to-ride lefts. Strong rips can make it difficult to find the right take-off spot. Gonubie Reef

Works on a medium to big west to southwest swell and mild westerlies. Classic walling left that offers one of the longest rides around.

Rainbow Valley

Good wave for beginners and longboarders. A soft shoulder runs along a mellow point. A left-hander on the opposite side of the bay has major potential.

Kwelera Point (Yellowsands)

This exposed point runs out just south of the Kwelera River mouth. The beach break is more consistent, with hollow lefts and rights, depending on sand around the mouth. The beach also handles strong southwest winds. The point needs solid, long-period south or southeast groundswell, pushing high tide and glassy or light northwest winds, otherwise it can be fickle, and you end up chasing shadows. On a good day, wedgy take-offs and long tubing sections along the rocks. Getting caught on the inside is tricky.

Glen Garriff

Right-hand point break on the west side of the bay offers a long ride, when swell is big and wind light

northeast or west.

Glen Eden

Charging right-hander. One of few spots that work in northeast, a persistent summer onshore. Best in small to medium swell.

Queensberry Bay

Queensberry Bay is the ‘berries’ – one of the juiciest waves around. The relatively short ride is made up by its quality. The wave walls up along a shallow rock shelf, then bends around into deeper water and fades. In glassy conditions, it can be classic. The bigger the swell, the deeper you take off and the longer the ride. A south to southeast swell of six to eight feet in light land breezes is best. Sensitive to wind. There is an inside left on the far side of the bay that gets good in east swell. There is a caravan park, camping sites and bungalows. Quiet during the week.

{mosimage} GONUBIE REEF: One of many great spots near East London.

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