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Wavescape - Surfing in South Africa

Fri, 17 February 2017

The Cell C Goodwave has begun a one-year waiting period and we're starting to study the swell forecasts with emphasis on twirlies forming SE of Durban, writes official forecaster Spike.


RIDICULOUS: Doesn't get much better. Alternate surfer Matt Pallet on a bomb. Photo Dawn Rouse

The event traditionally requires a convergence of disparate factors, notably the right amount of sand and shape to the sand banks, the right size and direction to the swell, but also favourable tides and winds.

But for me, the critical component is the hardest to call. It's hard enough tying in all the above strands to compile a stellar day of surfing, but the toughest to predict is quality. It's not about quantity. Swell forecasting tools have been very accurate in terms of when swell arrives and how big the nearshore surf will be, but still fall short in calling quality, despite new technologies such as spectral analyses.


A perfect swell may pass through wind systems out to sea and become damaged. Sometimes you can have secondary swell components mixed with the groundswell that means less-than-perfect surf at New Pier. You also want a few gaps, or lulls, between the sets to smooth off the impact zone and improve the form of the next set when it looms from the deep.

Equating bigger waves with good waves at New Pier is not always the best idea. Sure you get epic days of eight foot surf when its clean and lined up. But the cyclone season is prone to upredictability with a certain random volatility in the way cyclones form, and move. They can slow to a crawl or barrel across the ocean too fast to create a meaningful swell. Sometimes the east swells come right off the conveyor belt - the wind fetch - and slam straight into the beach, with little to no lulls.

This creates a foaming maelstrom with strong rips and is not ideal, even with slightly smaller swells and jetski assist. Six foot closeouts with the odd cooker versus ruler-edged four foot lines with not a drop of water out of place? It's worthy of debate.


GOOD WAVE GOOD: This was the storm that created the 2008 event, won by Shane Thorne

Maybe there's an element of subjectivity to that, since some might see challenge as part of what you call 'good'. But in my experience, you want a little bit of period so that there is more deep water energy feeling the sea floor as the swell shoals to shore. Then you want a little bit of SE in the direction so the swells must work to bend around the Bluff to strip out any 'noise' or windswell caught up in the swell train.

Properly lined up sandbars are a must. Naturally, you want a light westerly wind or NW or a mild puffing SW that's not too strong. The piers are protected by stiff SW winds, but we're talking perfect here. A howling SW creates slightly feather-beaten waves. A nice low spring or close to spring low tide any time in the morning betweeen 9am and noon is nice to have so that the finals are run on pushing tide.

Properly lined up sandbars are a must.

Of course properly lined up sandbars are a must, but first, you need some big early swells of the season to churn up the deep water sand and push it closer to the nearshore. Longitudinal current - the process of longshore drift - is also needed to work to fine-tune the sand into a nicely shaped bank. To cap off the perfect scenario, you want a steady stream of consistent 4-6' surf for a day or two before - and a SW wind, maybe starting with a buster that gradually eases over this period - so you can pick and choose the day. In other words, you're looking at the right swell on one day, and the same swell looks likely for the next two, with improving wind. Easy peasy lemon squeezy.

The event, presented by South African Surfing Legends, invites 32 competitors and 32 alternates. When the call is made and the event has a Green Light, the surfers have 48 hours to get to New Pier for an early start to the one-day event. The winner walks away with R100k after paying an entry fee of one buck, payable on the day before the first heat.


BIG WAVE BIG: This beast was on the other end of the scale (early in September 2010). 

“It’s an all-out, hardcore surf event without all the unnecessary bells and whistles,’ said contest consultant and founder Barry Wolins. “We start early, and we surf until it is done. It’s a long and full on day at the beach and it’s all about the surfers, and at the end of the day one deserving surfer will walk away with R100k. The formula is simple, and with Cell C on board the event is guaranteed to be a huge success.”

When New Pier gets big and perfect it is very difficult to paddle out so surfers can use jetskis. This helps conserve energy for the last heats of the day. The finalists will surf four heats in pounding surf, enough to sap the energy of the fittest surfer.

World Surf League South Africa General Manager Colin Fitch said: "WSL Africa is excited to be involved with the Cell C Goodwave," said Fitch. "South Africa is blessed with some really great waves as well as some fantastic competitive surfers".

California Dreaming, overlooking New Pier on the beachfront, will host the competition on the day. Oakley is a supporting sponsor. Jason Ribbink the contest director.

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