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Giant surf near Cape Town on Thursday 11 February saw an amazing session by Sean Holmes and David Smith, part of the local crew of Cape Town chargers and team riders for Billabong Adventure Division. Brendon Kegel from Billabong asked them some questions. All Pics by Ant Fox.


Mon, 22 February 2010



Sean Holmes and Dave Smith were ready and waiting out in the line-up when the swell began to peak. After paddling into some bombs, Sean and Dave jumped on the ski in an attempt to luck into some of the set waves that had otherwise been too heavy to paddle. We had a chat to Sean and Dave to gain some insight into what many are calling the biggest and cleanest Sunset ever!

Guys, firstly big up for charging what looks to be all-time macking Sunset! Is this the biggest you've had it out there?

Sean: It was way bigger than expected. From the beach no one was catching waves and it was only once we got out there that we realized why. Definitely one of the biggest sessions I have ever had out there!

Dave: Ja, definitely the biggest & cleanest I have paddled Sunset at that size! I have had a few bigger and way wilder tow sessions over the years.

In terms of tracking this swell, we'd seen it on the charts a few days before and it looked gnarly, but were you expecting it to be so big and clean?

Sean: I had no idea about the swell until the night before when Smith said I should pull in for a session. I rescheduled a few meetings, took my ‘Spirulina’ and waited for the morning sunrise. Woke up to super clean swell in Sea Point but not huge. Swell really only pushed from about 11am. It was super clean!

Dave: Ja, the charts pointed to a clean session although you never know with Cape Town! You also cannot always believe the charts when they predict such a nice long swell period so I was pleasantly surprised with what we got.

There seems to be this perception amongst the general public that Sunset has forged itself, over the years, into a kind of stepping stone to big wave surfing in this country? One almost feels that Sunset has become the big wave baby-brother to Dungeons, in a way. But when you become privy to images of 30ft Sunset, how can these statements become justified?  Isn't Sunset equally as gnarly and subsequently deserves more credibility?

Sean: To be honest, I think I have been scared more at Sunset than at Dungeons. It all apexes on one spot with brute force. Dungeons is hard work with a lot of luck involved with regards to positioning. Both waves get huge and require tons of respect. Call it whatever you like but when it's really big, the name or location of the spot you are surfing becomes immaterial.

Dave: Yes, in a way Sunset at 10-12 feet is as user friendly as you will get in Cape Town, especially when the sun is shining and there is no wind. I have ALWAYS felt more comfortable at Sunset than Dungeons. Although over the years and countless sessions at both waves, when Sunset gets over 15 feet, the consequences of a wipe out are way heavier than Dungeons. This is beacuse the wave energy of Dungeons dissipates relatively quickly as you near the inside channel as opposed to Sunset's v-shaped reef which just does not let up with the constant abuse. The power of each wave is channelled straight down the vortex and once you get a few more on the head you can find yourself floating on the inside reef thinking it’s all over, when a smaller insider doubles up to unload on your head and take you back down for good measure! Another problem is that once you find yourself here it's also up to you to swim out of the kelp if a ski has found you!

Which begs the question then, if there was ever a toss-up to surf Dungeons or Sunset on a particular day, which one would you choose? (Or is this not possible with the contrasting conditions required for each spot to really work?)

Sean: Each spot has its day and both are amazing waves. Funny enough, on this particular day, Dungeons looked all time as well but we were already geared for Sunset.

Dave: Dungeons looked frikken perfect on Thursday morning but with the impending south winds we settled on a session at Sunset. In a big west swell, both spots will offer you the longest, biggest ride of your life! On a rare windless day you can choose but the decision will probably be born out of choosing the lesser crowded spot.

Focusing then on this latest session (11 Feb), how heavy was it out there?

Sean:  It was heavy but overshadowed by the perfect conditions; Beautiful day and warm water. Everything just seemed easy and super exciting. We were playing with the waves towards the end and just pushing each other deeper and deeper. Unfortunately there wasn't a photographer for the latter half of the session when we started getting barrelled. It was unreal though with just four of us out and sharing every set.

Dave: The waves were very powerful but it does help when the sun shines and there is a good bunch of guys paddling with you as it evens out your odds on getting drilled. There where waves that we ALL wanted NO part of; just too much energy & swell period to catch on the paddle. Listening to your gut is a good thing!

What was the feeling like out in the water? Most of the local guys were on it, it seems; All smiles and handshakes or a few sketchy moments?

Sean: The vibe was unreal. In the end, it was only Smith, Simon Lowe, Mickey Duffus and I sharing waves for 3 hours. One of those epic sessions!

Dave: Ja, just a lekker session with just the local CT guys sharing the stoke together. It is also good to see the younger guys starting to charge as we have such a good training ground for anyone wanting to go big in Hawaii. Dave Richards, Matt Bromley and young James Lowe are all impressing lately. It was also pretty special having just 2 skis in the water. I personally prefer those quieter sessions and soI  really enjoyed towing alongside Simon & Mickey in the afternoon.

Sean, that wave of yours was huge. You towed that one obviously. Yet a few of the guys were paddling into some. Did you go straight out on the ski, or did you look to paddle into a few? 

Sean:  We started to paddle first but no one could get into the set waves. They were just too heavy and big to get into. I watched Smith paddle into the bomb of the day and then once all the guys made their way in we decided to throw a tow rope and get into the sets.

You two seem to have developed a sound tow partnership in recent times. Has this been a planned strategy or something that has just developed through time spent out in heavy surf together?

Sean: It has simply just developed. Smith is an excellent partner and continually teaches me things. I'm useless and tend to get us into precarious situations but Smith has patience and guides me through my mistakes. He is amazing at getting me into the spot, even if it is about 20m deeper than anyone else. I tend to make him work harder on the rope but it’s all good though, we're always having a bunch of fun.

Dave: I am really excited with our partnership as I think we share the same vision.  I have always wanted to surf the best big waves on any given day and that sometimes means leaving behind a big gnarly session in Cape Town and setting out on an adventure in search of new and exciting waves.  I am especially keen to learn from Sean how to surf properly and look forward to him carving up these huge waves as if it was 6 foot J-Bay.  I think we are in such exciting times for Big Wave surfing in general and the level of both tow & paddle is on a sharp upward curve!

Sean, focusing specifically on that one monster bomb you snagged, did Dave call you into it from the ski, did you make the call or was it a case of simply being in the right spot when the wave of the day rolls through?

Sean: I had just grabbed the tow rope for the first time and we were heading out into the line-up when we saw this set wave. From there it was just a quick U-Turn whip into the face and I was on it. What a way to start our tow session. Being my first wave, I surfed it very safe but it was still pretty intense.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but that session has got to be some of largest Sunset you've surfed, if not the biggest?

Sean: Yes for sure.

Dave: Largest paddle session for me, however we have had bigger, wilder tow days in the past.

Dave, word has it you scored a few barrels yourself towards the end, even after the photogs had disappeared? What's your call on that session?

Dave: Just a super fun, clean, uncrowded session. But more importantly, another step in the two of us developing our understanding and learning from each other. With only 2 skis in the water it also allowed us to play with towing in from behind the peak which is not normally possible when there are more skis.

With Chris winning the Mavericks contest, and now you two and the rest of the crew scoring big, clean hollow Sunset, it seems South African Big Wave surfing is the healthiest it's ever been?

Sean: Chris deserves that win more than any big wave surfer I know. He has been putting in the effort for more than 12 years and his reward could not have come at a better time. He should have been Red Bull Big Wave Africa Champion at some point as well. I guess we all scored!

Dave: ‘Crispy maak my so trots om n Suid Afrikaner te wees.’ We have all known that Crazy Chris Bertish can handle pretty much anything and thankfully he held his nerve for an historic win. I knew with 30 minutes to go that he would win, it was finally his time. Everyone is just so stoked for Chris and rightly so, he deserves it more than anyone else!

Nice one boys, big up once again. Keep charging!

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