Fri, 14 June 2019

The rise of the kneelo was further boosted by a bumper turnout at the Kneelo Gathering 2019, which was held in a quiet corner of the Wild Coast recently. Sean Thompson reports.


RIVERSCAPE: If you haven't visited the Wild Coast, you haven't lived. Photo Sean Thompson

After two successful Kneelo Gatherings - at Elands Bay in 2017 and Vic Bay Last year - Mdumbi in the Eastern Cape was put forward as the next venue. Veteran kneelo and WSL commentator Gigs Celliers was confident we’d get takers. I had my reservations. Mdumbi isn’t around the corner for us Western Capers, where the kneelo community is at its strongest, and most resurgent.

But stalwarts Mike de Heer, Gigs and Lawrence Atkinson worked behind the scenes to up the ante and get the froth levels flowing, including little info teasers on social media crafted to boost FOMO levels.

The talented Stevo the Kneelo van der Watt of J-bay produced an amazing image for the official artwork of the gathering. It adorned our tees, while the original went under the hammer in the traditional annual kneelo auction.


TWIN TEES: Deryck and Adam unwittingly pose for an arty pic. Photo Lawrence Atkinson

Now, a kneelo “auction” is something to behold. Last year, the artwork was procured – for quite a whack – by a gentleman who shall not be named. With no memory of his purchase, he woke up confused, hungover and in possession of a framed puzzle (stealthily taken from the guesthouse décor and swapped with the original overnight).

In the surf the next day, he mustered up the courage to ask if he took part in the auction. How much did I pay, he asked, and did I win a puzzle? With deadpan suppressions of delight, the answer was yes. Left to pack up his new acquisition, we finally put him out of his misery, and a new chapter in kneelo folklore was made.

With a week to go before Mdumbi, the guys were amped. Spike raised the bar with positive surf forecasts. The charts did a bit of a downgrading belly dance just before, but the window remained. We boarded the early flight for East London just before 8am. After a quick stop at a local grocer, we hit the N2 for the four-hour drive. Reports were that the roads were bad, with craters and canyons (aka potholes) lying in wait.


STYWE LYNE: A kneelo draws a tight line while a local kid fishes for shad. Photo Sean Thompson

On hitting the gravel road to Mdumbi, time was lost as we took in the rolling hills scattered with rondawel clusters, and cleaved by winding rivers, and riddled with cattle and young kids: loads of young kids. They would spot our vehicle from afar and come running, yelling “Sweeets! Sweets!” As a first-time visitor, it took me back 30 years to when I remembered school mates describing it.

We were now in rural Southern Africa where cattle was currency, smiles the universal language and English a bonus.We were now in rural Southern Africa where cattle was currency, smiles the universal language and English a bonus. We took breaks to put the drone in the air, much to the amazement, amusement and caution of the local people. Close on 30 kneeboarders had booked accommodation at three venues. The Eastern Cape guys opted for Freedom o Clock, the Durban boys went with former Durban kneelos at the rustic Buffys, while the Capetonians stayed at Eco Swell Lodge.

All three spots were on the east side of the river, which entailed a walk and a swim to get to the point. Friday morning delivered with decent waves. In the afternoon, we split up. My crew headed to Llwandile. We found cooking waves, with three of our crew out. The other guys surfed the slab Secrets, which was firing. One local said it was the best he had surfed it.

Three main players could not make the trip but their input was huge. Mike De Heer emigrated to New Zealand, literally leaving on the Sunday of our trip. Mickey Kirsten had the T-shirts made but was in Europe on business. Lester Sweetman’s dad passed days before, but he still sent up a truck up with a marquee tent (raised on a viewpoint on our side of the river complete with generator, fridge, table, chairs and sponsored beanies).


KNEELOS GATHER: Froth levels are set on high as the crew take to the surf. Photo Sean Thompson

On Saturday, we all descended on Llwandile. The waves weren’t as epic but the guys got their share – leaving many a tale to retell round the fire in the evening. Free trade was the order of the day, with local people offering us oysters, crayfish and herbs at bargain prices. Some products were indeed purchased.

A howling wind and strange swell direction rendered Sunday unsurfable, so we headed to Hole in the Wall – a first visit for most of us. What the guys lost to a lack of surf was made up by the sheer beauty of this place.

Time went fast in a place that seems so timeless. Suddenly it was Monday. We packed up to set off on the long journey home, with many fond memories to take with us. Friendships were revived while immersed in the enriching Xhosa/ Pondo culture in a beautiful part of our country. In my case, of course, the trip also meant loads of photographs.

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