Out On Parole
The date, 11 June 2020, and South Africa has just been moved from level 4 lockdown (house-arrest style) to level 3 which allows some room for movement within provincial borders. This seemed like a good enough reason for us to pack our cars and head up to the desert.
The trip began when Graham Howes contacted me to ask what I knew about the kiting potential of the northern parts of the Cape West Coast. This area is well known among the surf fraternity produce some of the best surf in the world, and each winter there is a pilgrimage of wave hunters that head up when the conditions are on. As far as I know, nobody has chartered this coastline with kites.
Fast forward two days and the convoy is ready to get moving. Myself and Oswald Smith travelled in my car, while Jason Colborne and Darryl Parrington travelled with Graham. Packing for a trip like this is an interesting experiment, and with no shops or gas stations around for hundreds of kilometres once you get there, you've got to plan and pack carefully. All provisions from fire wood through to foods and comforts needed to be stocked up. Let's see how this goes!
Our day started before the crack of dawn. The first rendezvous was about 100 kilometres out of the city and the boys were all frothing to see each other again after a long sabbatical, and also to be back out there doing what we love. It has been a while since we've been able to embark on a quest and the excitement was mutually shared among the crew. The drive continued for about 3 hours through the beautiful winding mountains of the Cederberg Mountain Range eventually arriving at our final refuel point before we leave the grid. From here on out we lose signal so we also used this point to do our last contacts before heading out.
The roads that run along the coastline are mixture of sandy straights with some hard clay bits in between, but after the winter rains these had collected into puddles of mud. We got quite carried away blasting through the puddles and my cars motor got soaked wetting the plugs and causing it to loose all power over 2000 rpm, making the road ahead a lot scarier. It took a while to diagnose the issue so we cracked a beer while waiting for the car to slowly idle away and hopefully dry. Luckily it was self-remedied and we continued the journey north, this time with me avoiding the puddles while we bumped our way across the desert plains.
With the sun dropping lower and the days travel slowly coming to an end we arrived at our destination at about 16h00. Our friends Jason Baker and Kyle Bell were already at the spot in their old VW Combi, who knows how they managed to get this legendary surf van over those water logged coastal roads! It was great to arrive. While unpacking our rigs a deep fog bank started to appear from the south and it seemed to have come bearing wind! Ozzie got amped to test the water and wind up here and even though he was underpowered on his 9m kite in the 15 knot puff, it was epic to have actually achieved some success, literally upon arrival. The session was short-lived with the wind dying off as soon as the fog bank left us. We started the evening fire while the dusk set in and the dry desert hues were slowly replaced by pastel blues and stars in a density us city-slickers know nothing about. The temperature must have dropped to around 5 degrees © that first evening. It was freezing! We kept warm by the evening fire sharing stories of stoke and scandal before eventually retiring for the evening, looking forward to the week ahead.
The morning started off with a bang. After a cold first evening, the start of day was welcomed with light offshore winds grooming the open ocean swells. The waves were firing! First to the water was a group of bodyboarders camping on the hill next to us, revealing the true size of the waves. It was big, but so perfect so one-by-one we each gave it a bash before getting washed in or denied entry by the set wave. I guess the lockdown has had its negative affects on all of our fitness levels but it was treat to be out there in some of the cleanest and biggest surf I have ever witnessed.
Time in the desert rolled on as the days and nights all kind of morphed together into one. It must have been 4 days by now that the straight offshore winds were blowing. We were white-washed and crispy with many surfs under the belt, although the kiting that we had hoped possible had not happened. With provisions for the week starting to show areas of weakness, the outcome of the trip as far as our kite-dream went was at question.
On the fourth evening of the trip we went all in deciding to burn the last of our fire wood, making a massive fire for the final evenings campsite feast. On the menu was a dish traditional to the area and the Afrikaans culture called a “potjie”, which translates to pot in English, and is essentially a big slow pot of meat and vegetables cooked over the heat from a fire. The night was perfect and we shared stories while polishing the beer stocks and slowly preparing our meal. By this point of the trip there were more campers on the hillside next to us. There was talk of a big swell hitting the coast the following day and we were all quite excited to see how it would play out.
I was sure to be up before first light to get a head start on the day, and to head up to the top of the hill behind the camp to capture some dawn landscapes as the night turns into day. As the morning went on the silhouettes revealed themselves as towering walls of water. The surf was huge! Slowly but surely the campsite woke up and came to life, everyone gathering on the edge of the hillside to watch these massive waves coming through in perfect form. Also to note was that the wind had now switched direction somewhat as to be slightly more cross-shore than the full-offshore from the days prior. The waves continued to power through while a handful of experienced watermen from the camp next door gave the paddle out a shot, one-by-one.
We stared at it for about 3 hours before deciding to head in and attempt the surf. Graham, Ozzie, Darryl and Jason were all keen to give the surf a bash while I opted to attempt the swim with my camera. The potential of scoring a one of a kind photograph in conditions like these had me convinced. The swim / paddle in was extreme to say the least. Myself and Ozzie were the first to be swept in by the surging set waves, but we put our heads down and got to work trying to head out again. Determined to make it out there after a humbling first paddle. We made it to the back, full survival mode by this point. With the waves in the 10ft range I found myself quite paranoid by the rogue wide ones so my position in the water made getting in the zone for the shot quite tricky, but it was an absolutely epic experience to be out there witnessing these giant waves detonating over the sandbanks on these lonely desert shores. It had me in a deep wonder. What else is out there if you take the road further along this coastline? Does it do this everyday, while we live our fast-paced city lives? A trip to a destination like this really broadens your perspective and leaves you with more questions than answers.
I had about 1 hour of glory before the ocean decided my time was over and I got washed ashore after taking a wide set to the head. Quite an ordeal but I was stoked to be back on land. Ozzie followed shortly after and the rest of the crew too. Watching the ocean from the hill we noticed how the waves were loosing perfect shape with the winds turning further cross-shore, almost starting to look kite-able. As we were packing our camp up getting ready to embark on the journey back to Cape Town, we decided to check one spot on the way down, a bay that we came across a few days before that seemed to have potential. With the morning berg winds swinging further towards an NE direction there was a chance that we might be able to get something ride-able.
Rocking up at the spot in the bay we quickly noticed how much bigger it was. Ozzie was instantly excited although myself and Graham weren't biting, the wind seemed too light to me. Ozzie insisted that we at least try so went on to rig over the rocks and bush that we had on offer and did a test launch of the kite. The kite stayed in the air, so I guess that means we are on? Graham wasn't going to let Ozzie do this stunt alone so while Ozzie took the lead and made his way down to the water, Graham followed suit and geared up.
The kites looked out of place as the sets rolled in over the slabbing west coast reef, almost photoshopped into a scene that was clearly lacking wind. Ozzie went straight into tube hunting mode and committed to the cause, getting caught on the inside a few times and having to eject on some that totally bottomed out. Graham was also getting more and more confident, moving further inside and closer to the rocky ledge. Both riders were impressive to watch out there navigating along the unpredictable slab but it was Ozzie who would claim the barrels before the wind died off even further, causing an abrupt end to the session. Ozzie managed to catch the final puff of wind while Graham got smeared on the inside section after his kite fell out of the air. Luckily Graham and his gear made it to shore unscathed.
The boys made the walk back up the point to us as the ocean glassed off even more. Just as well they came in when they had decided too! There is still much to learn about the conditions up here on this section of the coastline, and I am sure in due time we will learn more of its secrets that it holds.
With sunburn't faces, toasted hair and satisfied souls we packed it up and made our way down the coast and back towards the main road and from there on out the city. Leaving behind nothing but footprints but taking home an experience of a lifetime.
Words by Kyle Cabano.