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Wavescape - Surfing in South Africa

Wed, 31 January 2018

The stylish wave sliding of women loggers in South Africa last year was a highlight for Melissa Volker, who chats exclusively for Wavescape to wave phenom Shannon Hughes.


RETRO QUIVER: Aaron and Shannon Hughes have most conditions covered. Photo Aaron Hughes

Among the ladysliders along our shores who are on fire is Shannon Hughes, who wracked up an impressive year in the surf. She won the Cobbles Classic in PE, she got a second at the La Muse Classic and Tiger’s Milk, and a third at the JBay Loggers Classic. Consider that at times she was up against a couple of world champs in the line-up. Yes, Rachael Tilly and Simone Robb. And of course Alexandra Florence (yes, John-John’s mom) is hard to beat on a log.

Hughes grew up in Huntington Beach, California, but has spent most of the last five years living and surfing J-Bay. She moved to South Africa in 2012 on a Christian Surfers Advanced Leadership Training (CSALT) internship through Christian Surfers SA. The plan was to stay for five months but between the perfect surf and the amazing community here, she just couldn't leave.

She does split her time between South Africa, Australia, California and New Zealand though. Her dream job would be a member of the webcast team on the WSL Longboard Championship Tour. Already, she does a few events on the WSL Qualifying Series, though for shortboarding. She now works for Christian Surfers, as does her husband, full-time.

I caught up with Shannon recently to got the low down on her surf history and her amazing 2017.


YOU MAY KISS: Shannon and Aaron Hughes got married in the water in Mexico. Photo Supplied

First, can we please talk about your beautiful ocean wedding?
At the end of a perfect surf trip (literally camped out at a right-hand point break in the middle of no-where with perfect head high, glassy surf for a week straight) Aaron and I got married in the ocean, deep in Mexico’s Baja peninsula, at sunset on New Year’s Eve - the best decision we’ve ever made.

Your husband commented on Instagram that you surf better than he does. Is that true?
Haha. Aaron is a much better surfer than I am. He shreds on a twin fin and, he’ll kill me for writing this, but he’s the next Derek Hynd when it comes to riding a finless board. He honestly is so good. Have another look at his IG account, for a video of him on the finless at 8ft Supers a while back.

How does his obvious support for you and your love of surfing impact you during events?
He really is the most supportive husband ever. He often tells me my only goal for the work week should be to get the best hang ten I’ve ever had. He is just so wonderful.


WALKING THE TALK: Guess where? You only have one chance. Photo Kody McGregor

Your 2017 win at Cobbles was your third win there. I read a comment that it is your favourite weekend of the year. What makes Cobbles the event to keep going back to?
I love Cobbles!! The wave is perfect for a slow, heavy log and the contest is so mellow and so fun! I love it because everyone there is passionate about logging and everyone is so good at it! Plus, it’s the perfect training ground for someone who wants to learn how to log, from the grommets who enter, to talented surfers of other disciplines - everyone is keen to learn. And if the conditions are right, Cobbles is one of the best logging waves in the world.

And of course it’s in PE! #favoriteplacehometown (the writer)

How did you start surfing?
My family is a total beach family. My dad has been surfing since high school, he taught my brother and I when were kids, and my mom hops on a bodyboard occasionally.

Oldest surfing memory?
My oldest surf memories are from camping trips that we would take each summer to San Elijo State Beach in Encinitas, California. That campground is my favorite place on earth.


OLD SCHOOL: Shannon has that stylish combination of the old and the new. Photo Kody McGregor

Which break would you call your home break?
Lower Point, J-Bay.

Where is your favourite wave?
Lower Point, Jbay. And The Wall in Baja, Mexico.

Where would you like to surf but have not yet had the opportunity?
EMPTY Tea Tree Bay, Noosa.

Who would you most like to paddle out with?
Bethany Hamilton

Tell us about the session that stands out as your best ever?
Pleasure Point, Santa Cruz, California last January. We were on honeymoon, road tripping through the Western U.S. and scored massive Pleasure Point, as good as it gets.


NOSE SLIDING: Peeling reef runners provide the perfect canvas for logging. Photo Aaron Hughes

Scariest moment in the surf?
Honestly, probably every time I’ve paddled out at Dunes. I recently vowed to never surf there again. Any combination of extreme cold, high shark risk factor, and big, heavy barrels is not really my thing.

Why logging and not a short board?
Way more fun, although I am a big advocate of riding the board that best suits the conditions. If it looks better for a shortboard, a mid-length or a high-performance longboard, I’ll ride one of those instead :)

Favourite board/shaper?
Des Sawyer. Favorite board from him is a double-ender single fin log. I had a solid hang-ten on my first wave on it, then begged its owner, Ryan Anderson, to sell it to me for months before he finally gave in. I got married on that board, then nearly snapped it in half a few months later in Papua New Guinea. It now weighs about 15kgs due to repairs but still rides like a dream!

Logging and longboard surfing appear very inclusive divisions. It doesn't seem to matter if you are male or female, young or old, and novice or style master, it looks fun for everyone. Is that the sense you get out in the water?
That’s definitely what it’s all about. However, there is a surprising amount of division between logging and high-performance longboarding. A log is a heavy, single fin board usually over 9’2” with round rails. A longboard is lightweight with a thruster fin set up, and sharp rails measuring in at the 9’ mark. The style of surfing varies greatly between the two types of surf craft. There a big division amongst the world’s best when it comes to what type of board they ride, and I have [seen] that division sink into national and grassroots level surfing. I prefer riding a log majority of the time, as I have the most fun on it, but I fully respect those who choose to ride a high-performance longboard as the first choice.


HANG ON: Nothing like getting your local spot so wired you can surf like this. Photo Aaron Hughes

Do you think there is the same opportunity for women loggers/longboarders in South Africa as there is in California? Or more opportunity here?
The longboard scene is growing drastically in South Africa, which is awesome! I would say there probably is more opportunity for girls to enter longboard / log events on a regular basis here, because the scene is small. We are growing, and learning, and our talent is definitely improving, which is so awesome.

I was blown away by Saskia Koerner’s Lightwaves exhibition (if you missed it, check her out on www.instagram/saskiakoerner), a photographic celebration of women loggers. I have also just come back from a few weeks in the Eastern Cape and saw incredible surfing from the loggers down at Huletts. While both men and women were riding those perfect runners with heaps of style, it was a real highlight to share the waves with some of the talented ladysliders.

With this kind of inspiration; whether it be journeys of growth like Shannon’s, photography like Saskia’s, or the aloha spirit in the water; 2018 is sure to be an even better year for women on logs. And what a beautiful thing to look forward to.

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