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Wavescape - Surfing in South Africa
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Thu, 31 May 2018

A packed audience at the Two Oceans Aquarium in Cape Town last night were treated to an evening of comedy and crazy surf rescue tales by a crew of kelpy big wave chargers.


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OCEANS ALIVE: Maryke Musson of the Aquarium introduces the panel. Photo Jeff Ayliffe


Oceans Alive - a collaboration between Wavescape, the NSIR and Two Oceans Aquarium - took place on a cold winter's evening flanked on one side by a large fish tank to keep the ocean theme ebbing and flowing.

Maryke Musson, curator of the Aquarium, welcomed the guests and panel of six big wave surfers - Mike Schlebach (recovering from a full ACL/MCL knee reconstruction), Mickey Duffus, James Taylor, Greg Bertish, Dave Smith and Ross Lindsay - as well as Spike from Wavescape and comedian/surfer Nik Rabinowitz.

The evening kicked off with surf photographer Sean Thompson's anecdote about a rescue he and a passing body surfer, Harry Elcock, performed using one of the pink torpedo rescue buoys that the NSRI has been rolling out since November last year. NSRI Drowning Prevention Manager Andrew Ingram explained the potential of the buoys to save lives. Already seven lives have been saved during 11 rescues involving the buoys.

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GNARLY RESCUES: Banter and bad jokes abound as the panellists get into it. Photo Spike


Part of the idea of the evening, as it evolved amongst the event partners Maryke, Spike and Andrew, was to have a surfing party to raise awareness of the pink torpedo buoys, particularly from the perspective of giving publicity to the buoys so surfers would recognise them and even take custodianship (many are at unsecured locations away from people), thus helping to protect them.

By the end of the evening about six more buoys had been paid for (at R2,500 a pop), including two bouys paid for by the pocket money of two kids Hanno and Moritz in the audience (with help from dad Nicholas). They scored a printed perspex big wave photo by Ken Findlay for their troubles.

A slideshow featuring big wave images by Grant Scholtz, Sean Thompson, Nic Bothma, Brenton Geach, Sean Timoney, Simone Robb, and Sean Todd was on show. There were a few props about, including a big wave rhino chaser surfboard (Greg) and a rescue sled (Ross) used to fish surfers out of the soup when in need.

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SHOULDER HOPPING: Doc Duncan shows the right way to put a shoulder back in. Photo NSRI


The main act, however, was an evening of mostly unscripted and completely unrehearsed banter about gnarly tales of surf rescue, anchored by Nik and Spike, interspersed with highlight videos of some of the most hectic big wave wipeouts you could see. There were individual moments of carnage that the surfers were individually or jointly involved in, featuring Dungeons, Sunset Reef and Jaws.

There was some fact, much laughter and some serious moments of quiet introspection, which made for an authentic atmosphere, almost like an informal fireside chat.

After the break, Spike introduced two ballies who were surfing South Beach in Durban before most people in the audience were born. Tony Heard, 80, was in attendance with his friend Derek Jardine, who at the sprightly age of 86, had an anecdote to share about swimming out to past the backline with a baited hook for two and six, which was the going rate shark fishermen would pay back in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

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CROCKED NOT CROAKED: Derek Jardine, Spike, Mike Schlebach, Dave Smith and Greg Bertish.


Jardine, who was one of the first lifeguards on the beach, remembers when a ship wrecked at South Beach in 1940 called the Ovington Court. At the age of nine he watched the rescue operation taking place, a key moment in his quest to become a lifeguard. He joined the surfers on stage for the rest of the evening.

Various comments on social media ranged from: "To see these horrendous wipeouts on camera is one thing, to hear the gory details from within the chaos is even more sobering. A special breed for sure." to "What an Awesome evening at The Oceans Alive project. Met all the SA Big Wave surfers and learned alot about safety in the ocean swell."

Thanks to everyone who made this possible.


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