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Wavescape - Surfing in South Africa

Tue, 12 June 2018

In what is becoming an annual ritual, the long lost bros of the kneelos join for the mystically entitled, "The Gathering", writes Sean Thompson, with Mike De Heer.


KNEEL OUS: The Gathering is going to be an annual event for the kneelos. Photo Sean Thompson

After an early morning alarm, quick shower and the making of a flask of coffee to keep me company for the four hour journey ahead, I climbed behind my steering wheel and set off towards what I believe is one of the most beautiful little bays in our country, set in the verdant hills of the Garden Route in the Southern Cape.

The journey was broken by a stop over at The Blue Crane Restaurant just before Heidelberg where I met up with a few of the guys for a bite to eat. We arrived in the quaint Bay just after 11am and it wasn’t long before the first two guys were suited up and raring to go.

But as we walked down the road to the jump-off point I saw something breach about 100m from the rocks. First instinct was a dolphin but by the third breach it was definitely a non-friendly fin.


LIPCRACKER SUITE: Gigs Cilliers has lost little of his former skills. Photo Sean Thompson

This was to follow with a whale breach the following day and dolphins the next. Fins had taken siege of the bay but luckily, the only ones we saw in the lineup were on the feet of 30 plus kneeboarders who had descended for The Gathering. So Vic Bay was unofficially renamed The Bay of Fins for the weekend.

Kneeboarding, the understated surfing discipline is still alive and well. The members are a mature, friendly and mature bunch of guys who love to surf. This is the second Gathering I have attended as a photographer and both have been a lot of fun. The glue that keeps the group together comprises a few high achievers. Gigs Celliers is a Springbok, multiple world champion, former big wave charger, surf shop owner, WSL commentator and current US Open Kneeboarding champion.

Lawrence Atkinson, also a former Springbok who now resides inland, was injured in a paragliding outing, and was unable to make the trip. He was still active in helping to plan the weekend with Mike de Heer - the man behind the scenes connecting social media and arranging the get togethers.


BETWEEN THE STICKS: Vic Bay was renamed Bay of Fins for the weekend. Photo Sean Thompson

Mike relates: “We arrived on the Friday, and were met with a messy 5ft east swell. There were some very confused looks from the locals. Many said they had never seen so many kneeboarders at one time."

But the vibes were mellow in the water, with waves exchanged and photograph taken. "That evening at the opening ceremony saw all those gathered honouring South Africa’s biggest kneeboarding ambassador, Gig Celliers. The award was in recognition to all Gigs has done for kneeboarding locally and internationally," says Mike.

"This year saw the introduction of a competitive element to the weekend with a three-heat mini contest, which was run in ideal conditions. The final was broadcast live on Facebook, a first for kneeboarding in South Africa and it was great having friends from around the world dial in to watch."

"The pulling on of vests fanned competitive flames not seen for many years, with future star Jedd McNeilage taking the honours on a bomb in the dying minutes of the final and pipping former Springbok, Stephen Cruikshank, into 2nd place."


LAYING BRICKS: The hollow section of Vic sits right on a shallow boil. Photo Sean Thompson

Mike said that the get-together "bodes well for the sport as conversation that evening turned to planning a team for the Kneeboard World Champs in New Zealand in 2020. While Kneeboarding still remains small compared to other surfing codes what this years’ gathering confirmed is the desire for South African riders to reclaim a seat on the international stage.

"A great weekend of surfing ending with a dying swell on Sunday with everyone getting a last wave before hitting the road. Until next year.”

Mike also wanted thanks "the locals down at Vic Bay for their pleasant, friendly demeanour in the line-up with not one unsavoury comment or incident". Good times.

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