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Wavescape - Surfing in South Africa

Sun, 4 June 2017

Dungeons has seen her fair share of near-disaster as distracted boat skippers come close to watery wipeouts, with the most recent vying for honours of most scary, writes Spike.


EVERYONE OK? Yes, a bit wet and terrified out of my wits, but all good! Photo Facebook

They're still talking about it. Photographers on the skiboat Devocean - skippered by fellow photog Grant Scholtz on Tuesday - looked up to see the lip of a big wideswinging wave curling overhead.

As Scholtz gunned up the face towards the breaking wave, a R30,000 lens went flying overboard. Veteran news photographers Nic Bothma and Brenton Geach have seen the horrors of man's inhumanity to man - from the sulphorous trench-pits of war to the grimy hell of gang warfare - but this moment will hold pride of place near the top of the old-age highlights reel. "You don't understand," said Geach, "It was going to break right on us. We were going to be history."

Luckily, the skipper skills of Scholtz averted the drama, with centimetres or whiskers to spare.Dungeons-Tues-30-May-Grant-Scholtz-2017-002-th

ON THE RIGHT: Everyone looks at the wave. Anything coming up on the left? Photo Scholtz

Now, everyone who has ridden on boats and jetskis at Dungeons know what happens when those shooting, or holding onto their guns, suddenly become the prey. They move into the cross-hairs when a wave at the big wave spot licks its thick curling lip at the thought of thrashing the impudent ants that crawl all over its back.

Ask many skippers who've been out, like Bruce Tedder, Grant Spooner, Steve Benjamin and Sean Todd, among others. They've seen it all, and been in the thick of it themselves. They've ramped off lips, sliced across buckled shoulders, and often pulled off big nautical airs to escape the nastiness of the impact zone. If it gets to that, the show is over, so extreme measures kick in.

Passengers of the Nauticat and the Calypso - sightseeing boats commandeered for the Red Bull Big Wave Africa - will recall white-knuckle moments. Remember that day back in the 2000s - was it when John Whittle won it in 2006 or perhaps Twiggy in 2008?


BUSY DAY: Some days at Dungeons are a bit of a circus ... another distraction. Photo Tedder

The Calypso - from Hout Bay-based Circe Launches - got caught out by a sneaky wideswinger hunting a host of cosily clad spectators. Over to the right, the wave's inner barrelling eye had lit up in seductive mode, as the hay-making arm sneakily swung out, to sweep in from your unsighted side.

That's the thing, the impact zone lures you in. That detonating violence of the inside mesmerises you. Skittles fall about the deck like people "Look into my barrelling eye. You're feeeeling disssstracted," the foam-beast hisses in your head before it explodes with the thrill of more than a Hollywood thunderflash or squib. Many have belatedly shaken this hypnosis free only to see looming danger. They all have. Ask them.

I recall that snapshot moment, watching from the Nauticat. Calypso, a mono-hull unlike the Nauticat, is mostly out of the water, the stern stuck to the top of the wave. Calypso has been propelled by panic and fuelled by hubris. But what goes up, must come down. The bow plummets back into the sea with a loud crack and a whoosh of displaced water. Skittles fall about the deck like people.


RIGHT RIBBING: Bruce Tedder takes to the sky to avoid a wide-swinger. Photo Geach

Bruce Tedder punched through a wide set wave at Dungeons on 22 August 2011. He remembers it like it was yesterday. Boards bouncing. People yelling. Engines squealing. Conn Bertish was not stoked to find the dings his rhino chaser incurred when landing on the deck. Neither would he have been too stoked to add to the dings already in his head.

There's another moment a while back when Spooner had to take evasive action. In the photo by Die Burger photographer Mouton Van Zyl (below), the people on board are frozen in time, seemingly oblivious to the fact that they're suspended in mid-air.

You can see Geach closest to the bow, with others, all still fixed on the fury of the wave to the right. That's Gigs Cilliers on the jetski by the way, eons from his cosy spot in the commentary box at the Outerknown Fiji Pro at the moment. As Geach says, "It happens so fast. You don't have time to react."


SUSPENDED: It helps a lot to have some horsepower to avoid trouble. Photo Van Zyl

And so back to last Tuesday at Dungeons. As Geach says, unlike most of the other near-misses, this time the boat did not make it over the wave. "We went through the lip, right through."

Skipper Scholtz is of the view that they managed a bit more, that they went through part of the wall of the wave, "we were submerged for a bit in green water before we came out". After it punched through the lip and shuddered through the green water, Devocean popped out of the back of the wave like a surfacing surfer after a duckdive. Everyone was drenched. People were smeared into crevices. There was a numbed silence.

Geach's cameras were dead. That's R75,000 in camera gear. And no insurance. When I spoke to him, he was waiting to see if they could be resuscitated.

Be careful out there. Nature will not be trifled with, especially when we get a bit blase.

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