“Sharp rocks protrude from the sand, covered with mussels and barnacles. A small gap in the outcrop sucks out water, time it right and you are a few strokes away from being in the line-up. Miss-time it and you will be scraping your board off the rocks.”
I gasped for a breath, completely winded, lifting my head to see another flawless wave reeling down the Supertubes point in Jeffrey’s bay. The surf spot’s machine-like perfection draws surfers in from all corners of the planet. Normally during winter months, when raging cold fronts batter the southern coast of South Africa, raw gale winds generate large swells that sweep the coast’s numerous jagged point breaks. When five (plus) meter high swells moving up from a southerly direction appear on the charts, phone calls go out to bosses, school children complain of a sudden stomach bug, while surfboards are being shovelled into cars.
One Sunday morning, lazily lying in bed, I was awakened quickly when I saw the swell forecast had changed. Moderate light colours suddenly turned to bright reds and pinks later in the week. A swell was heading towards Jeffrey’s bay and I wanted to be there. With an open schedule, no obligations or phone call excuses, I packed my bags, loaded my wetsuits, boards and a couple of peanut butter sarmies. I climbed into my little Tazz (I call her Tazzarati) and took to the open road. With a few days to kill before the swell hit, I headed to Stillbaai.
About thirty minutes from the N2, and four hours away from Cape Town, the sleepy coastal holiday destination has a place in my heart. I’ve been going with my parents since I was born, and now I return on my own for its unique charm. Stillbaai caters to everybody’s holiday whim. There are great surf spots, an estuary for fishing, white sandy beaches for tanning and the pages in your favourite novel seem to turn themselves. I stayed at our family home for two nights, in which time, I surfed at Morris Point, went fishing on my uncle’s rubber duck and braaied fresh boerewors and lamb chops supplied from neighbouring farms. Life moves slowly in Stillbaai, there seems to be something in the air.
I might have stayed longer had I forgotten the real purpose for my journey. The wave bringing storm was moving closer towards the coast, from its birth in the south Atlantic. Back in the car, this time heading straight for Jeffrey’s bay, I drove. The towering wind turbines spun furiously as I approached the small surfing town. A good sign I was heading in the right direction. Off the N2, another four hours from Stillbaai, faded surf posters of world surfing championship tour competitions in the 90’s still hang along the main road.
I arrived to a friendly staff at Island Vibe backpackers, a two minutes’ walk from numerous surf brand factory shops and right in front of Kitchen Windows, a ‘mellow’ option for the less experienced surfer. Island Vibe’s location at the end of town allows for a more spacious beachfront experience, with busloads of foreign tourists being dropped off all through the year. A local, hearty meal is served every night after which the music is turned up and party at the beach bar begins (definitely the best party in J-Bay). Surf lessons, township tours and horse riding on the beach are offered to enhance the Jeffrey’s Bay experience.
After a delicious traditional South African Cape Malay bobotie, I escaped to bed before being offered a second beer. After all, I was there to surf. The squid fishing boats glinted in the distance as the skies started to lighten well before sunrise. I didn’t have to walk further than my balcony to see the swell had started to push, a dark bank of clouds from the south suggested there was more to come. There were three days of swell ahead so I had to pace myself. Allowing a slow morning, I drove 5 minutes across town, turned down the road that read Pepper Street, alongside a sticker covered stop sign. The parking lot looks over the aloe-covered sand dunes, onto the backlit reeling swells chasing down the point. Sluggish, shaggy looking surfers, still in their pyjamas and ugg boots sipped coffee admiring the perfection. There wasn’t a drop of water out of place as the first surfers on the dawn patrol enjoyed a short window with immaculate conditions before the masses appeared.
Six thirty am and there were forty plus surfers in the water already. It had been a slow season as Supertubes emerged from inertia to reveal its majesty. With haste I ran to my boot to fetch a wetsuit, wax my board and run to the key hole up the point. Sharp rocks protrude from the sand, covered with mussels and barnacles. A small gap in the outcrop sucks out water, time it right and you are a few strokes away from being in the line-up. Miss-time it and you will be scraping your board off the rocks. It might seem like a long drive just to go surfing, until you take off on your first wave. Easily sliding into the crescent face it’s full throttle ahead. A long wall lined up in front offering speed, power and flow: a surf judge’s text-book criteria for a faultless ride. And then when the wave eventually closes out or races off ahead you are faced with a long paddle back. And it was on that long paddle back, after at least seven hours of surfing for three straight days, I felt my deflated arms sluggishly squeezing out one paddle at a time, gasping for air and watching another wave reeling towards me.
That evening, there was nothing stopping me from entertaining a second or third beer at the Island Vibe bar. I was heading home the next day, still unimpeded by obligations, I planned a slow drive home to see what the garden route had to offer.
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO:
- Island Vibe Backpackers offers accommodation to suit your pocket from a site to pitch your tent, a bed in a dorm or a private room with a balcony overlooking the ocean. (jbay.islandvibe.co.za)
- Just a short walk from Supertubes car park is Nina’s Real Food (right next to the Spar supermarket), a wholesome menu or just a delicious coffee. To satisfy a surfer’s appetite, indulge in freshly caught fish and chips at Catch of the Day (catchofthedayjeffreysbay.com).
- Visit Storms River Mouth Rest Camp (sanparks.org/parks/garden_route/default.php) for swing bridges and waterfall hike, R45 entrance for adults (free for Wildcard holders). Must leave before park closes (times vary based sunset)
- Other recommended destinations on the road to Jeffrey’s Bay Airbnb Hideaway in Plettenberg Bay, just steps away from the magical Keurbooms River lagoon. Take a paddle, go fishing or take out your binoculars to admire the diverse birdlife the estuary supports. (airbnb.com/rooms/5461095?guests=1&s=75kmPvRV)
- To escape the hustle and bustle of modern living, you are bound to relax as you taking in the breath-taking scenery that surrounds Vleesbaai Farm House. (www.airbnb.com/rooms/9953696?guests=1&s=kSRF61js).