Foiling Surf Safari: South Africa

By Zane Kekoa Schweitzer

Once I learned that I was headed to Cape Town, South Africa I was eager to get my first look and feel the vibe of a place that was absolutely foreign to me. After 30 hours of travel and arriving at 11pm in Cape Town I felt like I was in a daze, but my excitement had not diminished at all. That excitement ebbed into a gloomier mood as we drove through the township where I caught a glimpse of the economic diversity. Diversity is not a good description of the reality. We drove through what most people might call a poverty-stricken ghetto.

Table Mountain, Cape Town

As we continued our drive, we left the densely populated towns and approached what seemed to be a great white cloud or a storm cell. As we came closer, I had to rub my eyes to realize that just ahead were the steep cliffs of Cape Town’s mountain face, Table Mountain – a sandstone wonder.

Danger Reef, South Africa

The homestead I would be staying in was at the foot of this cliff, yet a stone’s throw from the ocean across from a surf spot locally known as “Dangers.” I watched the surf radiating from the moonlight reflecting on the ocean. I was actually “mind-surfing” with the help of the sounds from the crashing waves. Stirred up from travel and anxious for the day ahead I was restless till 3 am. This restlessness was also fueled from knowing I was set to meet the team tomorrow and hopefully see the bright side of this area. And the best part, I would get in the ocean for my first South African surf session.

All my energy generated by looking forward to the day ahead stole my ability to sleep so I allowed myself to simply reflect back on the events that had gotten me here. An invitation to South Africa while surfing in Bali a few months back had quickly turned into a reality. My friend and host, Clinton, had made good on his promise. With gratitude for my good fortune I finally fell asleep practically as dawn was breaking.

Muizenberg, South Africa

Clinton met me early that morning. We went straight to the birthplace of surfing in South Africa, Muizenburg, for a blessing session into South Africa’s ocean. Muizenburg is situated where the shore of the Cape Peninsula curves round to the east on the False Bay coast.  It is currently home to a surfing community, centered on the popular ‘Surfer’s Corner.’ After getting past the cold shock of slipping into my wetsuit still damp from the APP World Tour events in New York, I couldn’t help but reflect upon the past as I walked into the water with my hydrofoil and the new evolution of surfing it represents. I was thinking about the first surfers here in the 1920s and about scenes from “Endless Summer.” The then-unknown break off Cape St. Francis in South Africa became one of the world’s most famous surfing sites thanks to that film. Jumping into the ocean and being immersed by the water my daze from travel, anxiety and monkey-mind thoughts were cleansed and and I was solidly back to the present moment.

Honoring our connection with the environment and our community allow preparation and practice to align with purpose. Inspiration within nature and the people around us is everywhere. Special trips aren’t always those with the most airtime, or the best barrel. Most often I have found the most special moments are those shared with others. Here in South Africa I have already felt that I’m with the right mix of people to innovate and inspire. Today we are meeting with two of South Africa’s original pioneers of big wave surfing and the early adopters of the waterman lifestyle here in Cape Town.

As soon as I met James and Jacques, who today are 3rd generation South African surfing pioneers. They continue to charge and I knew they had never stopped being pioneers. They have taken on the foil bug pretty hard! We arrived to Melkbos at sunrise where we met with James and Jacques and started to set up the Jetski and foils. I was doing my best to manage with the bite of the morning’s chill as I experienced the temperature shift from one side of the Cape to the other.

Who hasn’t cringed at the feel of a damn cold and wet wetsuit on a dawn patrol session. I knew I’d be warm once I’ve had a few waves- so I slipped on the wetsuit and said, “Let’s go!” We had an epic surprise when one of my good buddies, Nathan and Ivan van Vuuren, from this area turned up to join for our foil session. I’ve met Nathan over the past years through pioneering and competing in some of the greatest channel crossing championships on Hydrofoil, such as the 32 mile channel crossing of Ka’iwi in-between Moloka’i and O’ahu.

I love that travels and adventures always hold some sort of surprise. My itineraries and plans usually don’t go too far beyond my airport arrival destination. Once at the destination, I’m open to flow and willing to adapt with the local motion and lifestyle. I believe that when stepping foot into a new environment it’s a privilege and an opportunity wasted if we don’t approach a new place humbly and be open to experience the culture and local swing of things. Taste the food, make unexpected friends, tread lightly yet learn and observe. Embrace humility as visitor in a new place, respect all that came before you and leave nothing but a positive footprint on the area – that’s my rule of thumb and recipe for a unique experience.

At this point on day 2 of the mission, I’ve already started to get familiar with the Airush Kiteboarding (AK) team and my new friends, Kyle and Dale Staples, who have been champions behind the steering wheel on these long road trips. Kyle and Dale have been generously sharing their home with me while introducing me to their friends, family and community along the way – not to mention getting to surf and foil their local spots! With all the hours of driving and road tripping, there was plenty of time for them to share stories and legends from location to location. I felt super stoked to be hosted by a local pro like Dale. He has been a competitive surfer on the World Surf League Championship Tour (CT) and is one of South Africa’s top riders. In-between shooting the shit and telling stories with the boys, I start to get an idea of just how big this country is and how familiar and comfortable the locals are with moving around the coastline. They’ll drive for hours on end for a great ride and adventure.

After our morning Jet Ski foil session in Melkbos, about 35 km north of Cape Town, with James, Jacques, Ivan and Nathan, we went back to what was already feeling like home-base in Muizenburg. It was time to pack for our three-day mission up the coast. With J-Bay, Bruce’s Beauties and some other iconic South African waves on the way, we packed everything from shortboard and longboard surfboards, to hydrofoils and kites!

Our drive started late in the afternoon but that still gave us enough time to hit a novelty wave that Kyle has been thinking could be surf-able and super unique.

I was stoked for the idea of it and figured I could always pump some laps on the foil if the waves weren’t great. After a few hours of driving we pulled off the side of the highway and with barely enough space to walk along the shoulder of the traffic we started trekking in search of a safe place to hike down the sea cliff to the shoreline. We jumped over the guard rail where Kyle had spotted a potential trail. From there we made our way down the rough cliff side with our boards and foil to where Kyle promised a place to ride. Once we caught visual of the water we saw we were working with a crazy setup. Ahead was a long narrow bay that goes through the rocky point, under a bridge and ending at a river mouth. The bay/river mouth could not have been more than 30 meter wide. There was a wave breaking along the rocks, but tons of boiling and exposed obstacles were scattered through this small area. No complaints from me! It was a blast to foil there as it was perfect for rock starts and offered a rad course to pump through the narrow bay and navigate around rocks towards the waves breaking off the point. Finally out in the swells, it was  a great relief to bank a turn and glide with the swells funneling in and under the bridge.

Back to the caddy we continued with our road-trip through the beautiful mountains and rolling hills. Many sections were covered with flowers or agriculture crops for as far as the eye can see. In other parts of the drive we got glimpses of the coastline and ocean. Clinton and Julia got on the road shortly after we did from Muizenburg, but by this time after our Steenbras Bridge Foil session, they were well ahead and giving us a surf report from Buffalo Bay. We pulled the location up on the map and determined that we’d  be able to make it before dark and get one more session in.

Road tripping in the caddy

By this point it felt like the majority of the trip had been spent in the caddy driving across country. The stops for food at random shops off the highway helped to break up the time spent on the road, but we all really got much-needed relief with these surf and foil sessions up the coast. We had enough sunlight for a solid session at Buffalo Bay. But so far, the swell we were chasing to Jeffery’s Bay had not yet hit the coastline, so the surf was small, but looking perfect for hydrofoiling. Dale, Clinton and I shared some epic flight time ping-ponging waves from one peak to the next while Kyle was posted up on the beach capturing the action. As a surfer, you could see it was pretty tough for Kyle watching us enjoy so many rides and not getting in himself.

As evening rolled in after our full day of road tripping and adventuring, we finally arrived at our destination in Victoria Bay at the lovely family home of Dale and his family. First to welcome us was their dog barking a hyper greeting and another squawking pet which was hard to decider in the dark. But waddling around the corner behind the dog, Bondi the Duck came into view. I quickly made buddies with animals in the family and was baffled with how cool and affectionate Bondi the Duck was. Dale’s parents, Daryl and Ingrid, followed shortly after warmly inviting us from the driveway into the home. Walking into Dale’s house right away you can see the pride Daryl and Ingrid had for their son Dale’s accomplishments as a professional surfer. His best trophies and media were displayed around the living room and kitchen. Once again, I found myself pondering in the present moment about how fortunate I am to be able to not only travel and follow my passions, but to be warmly hosted with by local families like this. What a gift to be welcomed into a community with solid new friends. After talking story and getting to know each other better, it suddenly hit us that we were ready hit the bed for tomorrow’s day surfing around Victoria Bay.

Bruce’s Beauties

The next morning Kyle woke up Dale and me before sunrise. We woke with the need for beans, coffee beans that is. We got our morning buzz on then started our surf check right in front the house looking over Hulot’s and Bruce’s Beauties. With the morning light barely breaking through the horizon I ungracefully slid into my wetsuit, still cold and damp from the day. I was definitely ready to start getting my blood pumping.

Now I had a decision to make, what to ride? With the small and clean waves peeling down the coast, and the vision of South Africa’s section from Endless Summer still in my head, I decided to trim and ride the nose on a log and pay my respects to this historical wave. There was no one around as far as my eye could see. Getting back to my roots on a longboard with some old school style right at the break of sunrise had me laughing to myself and grateful for the still, beautiful morning and graceful glides on a log.

As the morning continued on and dawn’s color turned to beaming light, I headed in to switch crafts. I always like to keep balance, and the ocean consistently reminds me of the importance of this. Learn from the past, live in the present and manifest your future is a tradition and value I try to live by. Honoring the past with that dreamy longboard session had me in the moment and as present as can be. But there was a tickle inside of me that was hungry for innovation and the urge to step it up a notch by drawing some lines not possible on a traditional board. Time to bust out the latest innovation of surfing today, the hydrofoil. Let’s see what this thing can do!

That day could have never ended, and I would have never noticed. Days like those on the ocean and at the beach are what it’s all about. I was starting feel that I was creating a genuine relationship with this environment and tapping into the energy of the area by not only experiencing the community and people, but also by appreciating and observing nature. Not many people that I have met in life outside of ocean sport has the privilege to see nature as we do and appreciate its beauty. There something unique in experiencing life in this natural environment. The more we are immersed in the ocean and the more time we spend in silence, reading the water and our surroundings in the present moment while observing this life around us, the more we learn to appreciate our relationship to nature. The more we pause and consider the role we play in nature, and whether we want to choose to be fish out of water, or another animal living life in the moment.

A stunning sunset marked the ending of the day and at the same time a fish pile had approached the lineup attracting hundreds of birds from all corners of the bay. Every minute more flocks of birds joined in on this feeding frenzy, and we witnessed fish boiling the surface of the water. Pumping back out to the next wave, I decided I wanted to have a closer look, and introduce another predator with wings to the pack. I pumped my hydrofoil straight into the middle of this bird and fish pile and immediately was shocked with the sound of indignant birds squawking loud and furiously. As I split the fish pile into two it felt as though I was starting to foil through peanut butter. There was so much fish in the water my hydrofoil was losing flight and losing speed. The birds’ vortex around me as I looped back around towards the coastline and lineup was like the cherry on top to finish the day.

That night we barbecued with the Staples family and two old school waterman legends.. They shared history and insight on the transforming culture and area that felt priceless. I shared my appreciation and gratitude for having experienced the natural beauty there in South Africa and to have had a chance to see the thriving life in the ocean.

They laughed and asked me, “Haven’t you seen that before?”

Of course, I have. But it’s encouraging to continue to see it in new places – to see it anywhere for that matter, with all the craziness that is negatively affecting our oceans and reefs. I shared that over the past decade with my travels to over 60 countries I’ve felt I’ve seen the best and the worst, but mostly signs for the worst. It’s refreshing to see wildlife thriving in a world of greedy humans. But I guess I hadn’t seen real wildlife yet, not until I ventured off to the grasslands.

For that reason, our schedule was quickly adapted.  The next day reeled us back into the Caddy and we drove towards the great grasslands of South Africa. There was a nearby wildlife land reserve where we could check out some “real” wildlife. Within the first hour of the drive into the reserve I was on the edge of my seat. I had a feeling of wariness, sort of uncomfortable on land with no familiar ocean to go to. Maybe this is the feeling how many experience when they immerse in the ocean.

The Reserve captured me immediately. Like a child I was giggling and geeking out as we approached stealth zebras, enormous elephants, curious ostriches, muddy wart hogs, Dung Beetle partners rolling their egg in dung and much more. I didn’t really think that there were still animals like this around, living freely so close to human civilization. Off course, we don’t have animals like this in Hawaii. Swimming with Humpback whales and diving with Tiger Sharks in Hawaii have become my norm, and on land the most we get are the common chickens and an occasion boar, goat or deer. But this was a real change of environment like I have never seen in my life. It was eye opening, awe-inspiring and humbling.

 

 

 

 

 

After a few hours though I was like that fish out of water. It was time to get wet and time to get back to my natural environment. The diversity in South Africa’s wildlife inspired me to adopt diversity in my following sessions. We found some surf that fit the criteria for short boarding. Later in the day a sketchy slab that grinded along the rocks looked appealing for SUP Surfing, regardless of the locals around me advising me not to surf this spot simply because it’s just not a spot they surf because it was too rocky and close to the cliff. Not for me! This Maui Boy loves getting familiar with local rock stars! Haha!

Jeffrey’s Bay

As quickly as this trip started, it was coming to an end. With two days left in our trip, we still were awaiting patiently for that Jeffery’s Bay swell to arrive. It seemed to potentially be lining up well and we took the last chance we could to ride this iconic wave. Growing up watching Endless Summer and all the pro surf events at J-Bay, I’ve always dreamed of that green-light ride everyone desires at this spot. With my first look at it I thought, “damn, what a wave!”

There were some crowds but the wave stretched such a long ways that there a few zones to ride with no one out. I was thinking how perfect it would be for the longboard, but Dale was quick to suggest the foil. I felt it wasn’t the right place to ride the foil, mostly just because I normally like to ride the foil far from other ocean goers, while at the same time utilizing waves that are not great for other surf sports.

But my host was local to the area and he was pushing for me to give it a go. With the green light from him I made a game plan. Out front it was reeling down the coast with great hollow waves against the shore and bending out towards the bay. On the shoulder, the wave was not possible to catch on a shortboard. The shoulder was stretching down the coast and bending out the bay to the ocean, so that was a great area for the foil.

I ran as far up the beach as I could to the top of the point, past super tubes and up to the next sandy bay. There was a gnarly slab of reef and rock along the edge and coastline. Because of this, it was pretty sketchy to navigate my way through the shallow impact zone with the Hydrofoil. I jumped off at what I thought was a good enough break in the surf to make it out. Not quite!

I got pounded for 10 minutes pushed up against the slab, with my hydrofoil dragging on the bottom. I had to turn it over upside down and try to make it into deeper water then to flip it over and duck-dive under the next wave before it smashed me. Once I made it out I was relieved, but quickly realized the wave was a lot more hollow and a bit bigger than it looked from the cliff and beach! My first take off was a crazy one where the bottom dropped and the wave doubled up sending me intro a catapult from top to bottom while trying to avoid the foil that quickly sky rocketed. The Foils ain’t quite made for late air drops into the pocket. Hahaha.

Humbled from my first attempt, I gave it another go on a smaller one, and was able to paddle in and get it up before the foil had a chance to hit the bottom. That area was quickly getting shallow the longer I rode the wave. I kicked out with speed and pumped out and wide to the next one behind it where I found myself in a much sweeter zone, but still steep and deep. As I was speeding down the line towards super tubes I realize the one behind it was even bigger. So, I kicked out buzzing with speed once more and pumped to the one behind. It had enough area to slot myself into the sweet spot. With so much speed bobbing and weaving high and low lines, I quickly realized my need to shift my weight forward slightly to keep the nose down as I reached top speed down the line. Looks in the surfers’ faces at Super Tubes and the Point when I passed were baffled yet nervous. Everyone’s eyes were wide open trying to anticipate my next move.

The wave just kept screaming down the coast. When it got too close to the reef, I kicked out with speed but stayed heading in the same direction down the coast. At this point I angled back out a bit to bank a turn into the next wave that continued down the coast. I’m used to getting rides for miles and hours on end with my downwind and open ocean channel crossings on the foil, but riding a wave I’ve dreamed about on a journey through this unknown area was a dream. To top it off, many locals, including Dale, were calling it the longest wave ever ridden at J-Bay! My first wave ever at Jefferey’s and it was a screamer stretching the entire area of all the breaks. What a way to learn the lineup!

 

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