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Wavescape - Surfing in South Africa
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Wed, 3 October 2018

In this rollicking yarn, Jason Hayes wipes out on this wave - the biggest he has ever ridden - for a brutal beating by a vindictive ocean beast the Saturday before last. Photos Alan van Gysen.


jason-hayes-before-and-after

BEFORE AND AFTER: Jason looks a bit bemused after the beat-down on this wave. Photo AVG


Warming up

The adventure started on the Thursday really. We scored some good waves. Friday was cleaner at Sunset and I decided to surf the 'Golden Hour' with Darty Louw. We were the only guys out on a jet ski. We wanted to be around if the expected giant swell arrived. We surfed until sunset, and motored back to Kommetjie. It was quite big, but the main grunt had not arrived.

Klak Klak Klak

As we approached the slipway through the rock-fringed channel, we noticed a super shallow low tide. It was nothing major - been there, done that – but as I was about to drive the ski onto the trailer, there was horrible klak-klak-klak sound as a stone got sucked in towards the impeller.

Shitballs! Not good at all. I switched off, and we winched the ski onto the trailer. We gave it a quick nip-start. Klak-klak-klak! Damn. I switched off. We parked the ski in my garage because Darty was going to Franschoek for a dinner and was coming back the next morning for our tow date, although whether we would be able to was debatable.

We have an older ski, which offered way less muscle. We did not want to go that route. I am a bit of a petrol-head, coming from Durbanville. My step-father was a diesel mechanic. We used to race go-carts. When it comes to tools and mechanical stuff, I have it all, and a good knowledge thereof. My friend, Sammy Leith calls my garage Northern Customs.

So there I was, me and the ski, and a giant swell that had for days been coming for us.

Sunset Bromdog-on-the-Dragons-Back-AVG

DRAGON'S LAIR: Bromdog has a little look into the maw of the monstrous beast. Photo AVG


Super Saturday

I sit on the toilet at 3.35am, Saturday morning. I can’t sleep. Images of thundering waves and how to fix a jetski go through my head over and over again. I look for Youtube videos on "how to remove stone from jet ski impeller". I find one on my make of ski and model, with good tips. I send it to Darty. “We are in luck brruu!”

I try to go back to bed, but the thunder and rumble of gigantic waves shakes the earth and drowns me out. Just after 6.30am, I make the wakeup call. Time to dance. I try to make a cup of coffee stronger than the one Andrew Marr gave me earlier in the week when we were discussing this swell, but fail. However, I am buzzing and amped. There’s enough nervous energy without caffeine.

Just after 6.30am, I make the wakeup call. Time to dance.In my garage, the tunes are on as I get into the rhythm, setting out the tools I need to fix the ski. I start dismantling parts, sending a rolling video commentary to Darty to indicate progress towards a clean launch. I am getting more and more excited. Eventually, with all the moving parts lying apart, I find the stone. It’s the size of a flattened golf ball.

I want to reassemble, but it needs to be 100 percent. I call Darty to get marine grease, and gasket sealant for where the flanges connect. My tow partner is still far away - not close enough for to me to even start. Meanwhile, Andrew and Simon, Slang and Bromdog, with AvG, are out there already. I need to kill time. I grab my drone, and skateboard to Long Beach on the Carver to get into the flow.

I launch the drone and got some sick footage of the chargers out there, enjoying the waves 'with them' so to speak. Flying time is 28 minutes. I return home. Now, I am really frothing to get out there. The emotional intensity is just too much. Darty pulls in soon after that, and we piece her together and start the bad girl up. Sweet-az, she purrs like a kitten. Next stop Sunset, go go go!

Sunset Matt-Bromley-AlanvanGysen

BROMDOG BEAST: Alan van Gysen captures the most iconic moment from Super Saturday.


Is there anybody … out there?

The waves are bigger than anything we have towed before. Once at Dungeon we saw bigger waves, but it was too wild for us. Andrew and Simon are stoked to the brim. They’ve caught some monsters, and the ski is 'packed up' to head in. We are stoked for them, but hey hey not so fast. I ask them to help Darty and I catch the waves of our lives (pretty please). They give us the thumbs up. Yeah man! I partner with Simon. Andrew skippers my repaired ski with Darty on the rope. It's on!

From there, it’s a brief escalator of waves, going on a two sets no matter how big. We are pumped with adrenaline. We have the best of the best towing us, placing us on the spot. What more could we ask for? We surf the best we can, putting all our experience into each moment.

'Are you guys ready for the biggest wave of your lives?'On my third go, the tow rope breaks and the handle pulls apart. I have only rope to hold. You have to grip tight when you Tug-o-War with physics, not least the drag as you pull yourself up. My forearms are on fire. My hands are burning. I scream from the pain.

One of the bigger sets of the day darkens the horizon. Andrew looks at me with a glint in his eyes: "Are you guys ready for the biggest wave of your lives?"

Simon is ready. I am ready. Everyone is ready. Simon gives the green light for us to catch the second wave. The rest of the teams will follow. As he opens the throttle, I cannot grip the rope tight enough. It slips through my hands and, again, I yelp in pain. Andrew and Darty are next up and pull into the wave. It is the biggest wave Darty has caught. He gets mowed down after riding towards the inside. Jeremy Johnson and Murray Wilcocks step up on safety and fish him out, outgunning the whitewater of the next wave by the skin of their teeth. Well, the “next wave” was of course my wave.

Simon turns around to get me back on the rope. I manage to get up this time, and we head out to catch what will be my last wave.

Jason-Hayes-before-his-wipeout-AlanvanGysen

HERE WE GO: The full view of the beast that Simon towed Jason into. Photo AVG


False Dawn

Andrew was right. This set is massive. Simon steers me into a monster. I let go. I am so ready to charge this wave, but my balls are larger than my brain. I am over-focused. Perhaps I lack the experience to realise that the previous wave’s white-washed turbulence lies at the bottom. I don’t really want to cut through that on a tow board, but there’s no turning back now.

Through sheer velocity, I fly through some of the white water, but ugliness lies ahead - a swirling maelstrom of white chop and a small white water wave. Eish! My board loses traction as I try to steer away to hopefully bounce over. But I feel like I’m riding a skimboard with no fins at speed while trying to turn. I lay back into it anyway.

I lose it. I fall back, bum first, and on to my back. I prepare for the worst. I have never been in this position on a wave of such magnitude. I mean, sitting from the side watching, you don't want to imagine anything like this (this is the worst, realising how big it is when forced to watch as you paddle out – ed). My feet disengage from the straps as I penetrate the water. It’s weird. After preparing for the worst, everything is totally calm. I am thinking "Hey, I think I might have lucked out. I might pop out at the back!"

On rare occasions this does happen (ha ha). For about three to four seconds, I am in this lovely relaxed mode, waiting to pop out the back.

front-DartyLouw-Jason-Hayes-back-Murray-Wilcocks-Jem-Johnson-by-AVG

SURVIVORS 2: Darty Louw and Jason Hayes are thankful. Murray Wilcox and Jem Johnson look on.


Massive Attack

Boom! There is an intense crash, like I have been hurled against a wall, pulverised from every angle. Within this swirling explosion, the ocean tries to rip my limbs off my body. Later, photographer Alan van Gysen will tell me that I got sucked over the falls. For 3-4 seconds, I was embedded in the lip heading for a collision with Davey Jones’ locker door.

My impact vest is blown apart. The zip is shredded. My wetsuit hood is twisted around my face. I can’t see.There is an immense sensation as the angry grunt of the ocean rag dolls me like a .. doll. The inflation vest that Chris Bertish blessed me with gets blown over my head, strapping my arms in the upright position. I cannot reach down to pull any cord to inflate the CO2 canisters. My impact vest is blown apart. The zip is shredded. My wetsuit hood is twisted around my face. I can’t see. I have been pushed into a deep and dark place. I do not hit the reef but I begin to panic when you should not panic due to the rapid failure of my equipment in a critical situation. Not even as a Navy diver did I ever panic so much, so fast, and so hard.

I am pulling at the inflation vest with all my power to get it off. I fail. I give up. I pull my arms in, and tuck them closer to my body and manage to pull my wetsuit hood straight, so that if I surface, I can hopefully grab a breath of air. Or is that more wishful thinking?

Will this be a two-wave hold-down? Right. Refocus. I must relax. Although it’s dark, my eyes are open. But I can't go much longer. After I pass out, my mates will find me. I will wake up in an ambulance, staring at them with a smile. That state of mind is a very dark place. A glimmer of hazy white light appears. Relaxed and floating, I hope to surface before the next wave hits. Don’t get excited. Don’t waste air. Prepare for the two-wave hold down.

I break surface, numb. I get one gasp of air before an 18 foot wall of white water mows me down driving me back underwater. But I am now convinced that I will survive this beating.

Darty-Louw-Looking-Good-so-far-AlanvanGysen

THE LOUW DOWN: This was Darty's wipeout wave, when he cut back too far. Photo AVG


Redemption Song

I come up and see Simon on the ski. More hope. Then the third wave rolls over me. I come up one last time and Simon comes blazing in and fishes me from the soup. Jeremy has rescued Darty, and we live to tell the tale.

After clambering onto the sled, I hear AVG’s voice: "Are you OK, Jay? You ok?" I cannot answer. I just signal Thumbs Up. I have a huge headache. I cough up blood. A tooth has speared my lip on impact. Right now, am trying to 'screw my head back on', assessing damage. I am very worried about my neck. I hurt it last year. It’s been a long road to recovery. Thankfully, it’s okay. I survived. Thank You God.

A huge shoutout to the boys for charging out there. Mind-blowing waves were ridden.

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