Big Wave Warmup
Last week on Friday 5 May, sublime conditions descended on Sunset Reef near Cape Town to usher in the Southern Hemisphere winter. Alan van Gysen was there to shoot this video.
The local big-wave crew would no doubt classify this a "fun" day to clear the cobwebs, but there were a few waves of consequence and even the odd barrel or two.
According to lensman Alan van Gysen, the swell snuck under the radar and it was only himself and Matt Bromely in the water for a couple of hours before being joined by Dougal Patterson, Barry Futter, James Lowe, Frank Solomon and other regulars.
“It was just big enough to start breaking properly,” says van Gysen. “The swell was coming in at the perfect angle to wedge on the reef and allow the double-ups to stay open. The wind was also from the perfect south-east direction and pretty light. The problem with Sunset is that it’s located almost a mile out to sea, so any substantial wind creates massive ribs up the face and a torrential current that makes it near-impossible to paddle in to, especially when it gets bigger.”
The past few seasons have not been kind to South Africa’s big-wave contingent, says van Gysen. “We’ve had very few good swells and the ones we have had were mostly with funky winds, so everyone is really hoping that this year is going to be different with the end of the La Nina cycle. At least we’re off to a good start. Now we just need Dungeons to kick into gear.”
While Dungeons (located directly across the bay) undoubtedly holds more size, Sunset has yet to be ridden to its full potential, according to Matt Bromley.
“Everybody knows about Dungeons, and how big and heavy it can get but Sunset is probably the better wave. It’s definitely more perfect.”
Despite their geographic proximity and ability to hold size, the two waves offer an entirely different experience, explains Bromley. “The take-off area at Dungeons is literally the size of two rugby fields. You’ve got two outside reefs at Dungeons and when it’s big, the sets cap out there. I’ve actually seen the entire horizon close out on those indicator reefs.”
The result, says Bromley, is that Dungeons is essentially a reform, especially when it’s big: “The energy refracts so much coming in, which makes the wave really unpredictable. Every single wave is totally different. Whereas Sunset is this giant, beautiful A-frame that’s fairly predictable.”
The key to Sunset’s symmetry lies in the structure of its V-shaped reef, which starts off the eastern tip of Long Beach and runs for close to a mile out to sea.
“It comes out of really deep water and hits this finger of reef,” says Bromley. “And because it’s a peak, all the energy converges towards the centre. If you get caught in the middle of that V though, it can be a lot worse than Dungeons. A lot of the Cape Town crew have had near death experiences out there. I’ve been caught inside and compressed on the reef. I felt like I was stuck in a vacuum: I was trying to swim but I couldn’t move, and my vest wouldn’t inflate. You don’t usually hit the bottom on those outer reefs, let alone get pinned to the bottom. When it’s bigger, there is so much water moving around, which makes it really difficult. But there’s also the potential to get the backdoor barrel of your life out there. You can’t really do that at Dungeons.”
Bromley has made it his mission to try to ride Sunset like a slab: knife the drop and pull in under the hood. No easy feat when you’re riding a 9’6”, but he reckons he’s on his way to figuring it out.
“Smaller days like this really allow you to figure it out. It is just about having the nerve to paddle in behind the peak, set your line, and ride through the barrel. There’s potential to do this on a 20-foot day. We just need to pluck up the courage, and send it.”