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Wavescape - Surfing in South Africa

Thu, 8 November 2018

This odyssey involves a surfboard belonging to a young man called Odd that was lost at sea south of Cape Town, only to be found three months later ... in Namibia. Dougal Paterson tells the story.


WHAT CHANCE? Two Namibians found Odd's board in the Namib desert. Photo Supplied

The odyssey is an apt word to illustrate this story. The word originates from Homer's epic mythological poem The Odyssey, which recounts a gruelling 10 year journey by Greek hero Odysseus to get home from war in Troy.

This odyssey started one day off Cape Town when the waves were big, raw and sketchy. Odd Grimm Persson, Matthew Bromley and I were the only guys out. Odd went down, hitting his head hard, bursting an eardrum. Concussed and disorientated, the blonde Swede was pushed down deep, where he activated his inflation vest.

Lying limply in his dazed state the next wall of water hit hard, bending him the wrong way (scorpion style.) By the time we got to him, he was floating on his back in the white water. "I can’t feel my legs!" he sobbed. I was sure the guy I’d been mentoring for three years was permanently paralyzed. It was a moment I’ll remember for the rest of my life.


PEAS ON A POD: Odd Persson and Dougal Paterson out on the water. Photo Supplied

WhatsApp Image_2018-08-30_at_12.17.41With our 10ft boards smashing against us, I quickly elected to ditch them so that Matt could loop his leash under my arm and drag us shoreward. I lay under Odd’s limp body kicking furiously attempting to support what I thought was a snapped spinal column.

I fully expected our boards to wash ashore in the next hour or two. Back on the beach, we were met by the NSRI and paramedics and rushed to hospital in an ambulance. Meanwhile, our boards were dragged out to sea on an epic journey.

Over the following weeks, the wind blew them steadily north. I had written my name and number on my board so I figured I’d get a call eventually. I did. Two hikers in a remote part of the West Coast National Park found it on rocks along the shore.


DOUGAL PATERSON: A golden hue holds court on a 'small' fun day at Sunset. Photo Supplied

namibia-map“It looked valuable, so we picked it up and carried it between us for a few hours, until we got reception so that we could call you. We thought there might be a good story behind it ?” said Chris, who found my board near a place called Hondeklip Baai 450km (as the crow flies) from Kommetjie.

Another six weeks passed and then we got the astonishing news of Odd’s board. It came by email. It read simply; “Do you know anything about this surfboard?”

The guy who found it had sent an email to one of Odd’s Swedish sponsors after googling the information he got from a sticker on the board. They had come across it on an uninhabited stretch of coastline 140km south of Walvis Bay in Namibia in the Namib-Naukluft Park, which encompasses part of the Namib Desert. With an overall area of 49,768 km², the Namib-Naukluft is the largest game park in Africa and the fourth largest in the world.

Like a needle in a haystack. Odd’s board had been lost for 11 weeks and drifted 1650km (as the crow flies).


MODELLED PATHS: Dougal's board (left) and Odd's path as per Michael Hart's model. Photo Supplied

dougal-boardOceanography student Michael Hart-Davis has built a "Particle Trajectory Model", which he used to estimate the path of the two surfboards, came up with interesting results. (Dougal's board right)

"I deployed 1000 virtual particles and used the ‘mean’ to predict their pathway. I ran it for 21 days from Sunset, Kommetjie with the final estimated location extremely close to where Dougal’s board was eventually recovered.

"The capabilities of the model aren’t suitable yet for the length of period that Odd’s board was at sea, but we got one estimation that got close to where it was found. Looking at the wind data as well as the surface currents directly, we concluded that the main driver of the boards was infact, the winds.

"This is because they were floating on the surface. The currents role is still important though. The average current throughout this time was north-westerly, whilst the average wind was southwesterly."


ODD'S ODYSSEY: The young Swede becomes one with a big wave landscape. Photo Supplied

"These boards were lost at the same time and yet were found more than a thousand kilometers apart, which shows us just how many small-scale processes were in action."

Today marks the three month anniversary of Odd’s accident and through a miraculous series of events, he has been able to make a full recovery. His accident has served as a sobering reminder, that surfing big waves on your own can have fatal consequences.

Odd told me recently: "If you and Matthew hadn’t been there that day, it would have been me who was washed out to sea."

BigWaveNight-GrantScholtz-019Dougal’s board is a part of the exhibition of more than 50 big wave rhino chasers at Big Wave Night at this year's Wavescape Festival. Above is the core of the collection, 41 boards owned by Grant Scholtz (plus Dougal's board 5th from left in the second row from bottom). Big Wave Night will be the largest collection of big wave boards ever seen under one roof in South Africa. Odd’s board is still in Namibia. He plans a trip there to fetch it.

Michael Hart-Davis is a Masters student at Nelson Mandela University. His Particle Projector Model has been designed to be used in Search and Rescue applications to retrieve objects, people and crafts at sea. His model deploys 1000 virtual particles, using the "mean" to predict the pathway of the object.

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