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Wavescape - Surfing in South Africa

Tue, 6 February 2018

How inappropriate to call this planet Earth when it is clearly Ocean, marvels Spike during a recent demonstration by the NSRI aboard a RIB from Station 26 out of Kommetjie.


BRINY BLUE: All good and benign when it's flat, and a lovely summer's day. Photo Shani Judes

These words by Arthur C Clarke, written in the journal Nature in 1990, resonated with me after I set foot on terra firma following an enthralling morning in the briny blue off Kommetjie recently.

We had been met at the slipway by Station Commander Ian Klopper of of NSRI Kommetjie 26 and within minutes we blasted across the bay in Rescue 26, a 5.5 metre rubber duck. We had donned thick wind-cheaters, life jackets and helmets at the base, so it was with some relief to be on the move, cooled by icy Atlantic spray and a stiff southeaster.

We were with Kelly-Ann Irving, Kommetjie Base Manager; crewman Ian Wells; and colleague Shani Judes, who I work with on the Wavescape Surf and Ocean Festival. We raised R772,000 for ocean organisations such as the NSRI at our Artboard Project auction, and Klopper was keen to show us what they do.


SIDE ENTRY: Crew practise getting into Rescue 26A off Long Beach. Photo Shani Judes

"We don't see some of our funders enough. The door is always open!" he shouted above the din of a hull skipping through the ocean and the high pitched whine of two 60 hp motors. He cited the example of one sponsor who rocked up at the base with a shopping packet of meat and goodies, and simply said, "let's braai!" I made a mental note.

We started off by checking in with the training crew on Rescue 26A, a 4.7m Rib offshore just off Long Beach who were conducting drills, while group of trainees on the beach rotated to each boat for training exercises. Klopper later told me that the crew "were being secretly assessed to evaluate their progress on their training and development for consideration to moving to the next level".

Prior to the exercise "possible weak points had been mentioned by other coxswains" for an independent assessor to evaluate to even possibly find "a different approach to training them to enable them to improve".


OCEAN PUPPY: A seal plays in the shallows off Duiker Island seal colony. Photo Shani Judes

When we visited 26A, they were practising boat entries. Not only were the crew encumbered by the same gear we wore, but beneath the garb, add a red wetsuit. This made it rather difficult to get in the boat. They were practising the NSRI technique, which entails facing away from the RIB, and gripping the rope along the inflatated tube at the gunwhale. You swing legs over head backwards in one quick movement, to be grabbed by willing hands aboard. A much quicker and more seamless entry than the frommelling forward "stuck like a turtle on kelp" move some of us know well.

The water was an almost tropical azureThen it was past Sunset Reef and along the backline at Noordhoek Beach passing waving surfers, and Klopper surfing passing waves using Rescue 26 as our surfboard. As the wave was about to break, he would swing off the crest, just in time. The water was an almost tropical azure (only with frigid temperatues from upwelling, when days of strong southeaster pull deeper water to the surface).

We skirted the surf spot the Hoek, slowing down to exchange further greetings with surfers (not all were friendly but Klopper didn't care - one day a little sea rescue might change their minds), before crossing Hout Bay towards Duiker Island, a series of large granite boulders that lie at the bottom of the series of reef slabs that denote infamous big wave spot Dungeons.

It was one of those bright blue days. Clear skies. Blue ocean. Small swell. The ocean was alive with activity, with diving terns and gulls marking large shoals of bait fish. Common dolphin were around, ducking and diving around us.


PACING MOVE: Crewman Ian Wells steps aboard another vessel at speed. Photo Shani Judes

We bumped into the Animal Ocean boat, who had seal snorkelling clients in the water. Metaphorically bumped of course. Klopper is way too good a coxswain for that, unless bumping is part of a drill.

We briefly hooked up with Rescue 8A out of Hout Bay, skippered by Sven Gussenhoven, who followed us for a visit in the Kom area. On the way, Klopper spotted crayfishing vessel Newlands out of Hout Bay so decided to do some Pacing (maneuvering alongside a moving vessel), with crewman Wells moving to and from the Newlands at speed.

It's a long day for the NSRI duty crew and trainees deployed for training and exercises. Klopper says that their Sunday kicked off at 08h00 in the Kommetjie base (completed 18 months ago at a cost of R5.5 million) with a lecture on "How to take an emergency call (What to ask and what to say and who to activate)."


SPEED LINES: Opening the throttle across from Chapmans Peak. Photo Shani Judes

Then they moved on to a range of fun things like practising "procedures and handling of dead bodies recovered from sea", "beaching and returning to sea through waves", "high speed bail-off (rapid deployment from moving vessel)", "beaching / returning to sea through waves", "surf orientation and swimming in waves", "arm hook recovery (rapid extraction from water)", and "tying knots in (freezing) cold water".

Deputy coxswains and crew were also being given a chance to drive the boat under supervision. And of course, there's always the fiddling-about-with-ropes-on-deck exercise.

All in a day's work for a dedicated group of passionate seafarers who could one day save your life. Visit http://www.nsri.org.za/ and make a difference


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