Surf’s up! Where to find South Africa’s best waves.
Life’s swell when you’re a surfer. Well, it is if you find yourself amid the technically superb logarithmic spiral of beaches, bays and points that make up South Africa’s 3000 kilometres of coastline. A unique combination of wind direction, swell size, 270-degree exposure, currents (both warm and cold) and the fact that the country is surrounded by ocean on three sides, means this place is pretty much a 360-degree, 365-days-a-year ride.
Famous for its sunshine, the Rainbow Nation offers the best surfing opportunities between March and September, with the Roaring Forties whipping up swells anywhere between the six and 15-foot range. The typically icy Cape Peninsula water temperatures also surprisingly rise during winter, meaning June, July and August are ideal for getting amongst it, particularly because winter storms generally mean bigger swells.
So whether you’re a gremmie looking to hone your skills amid the froth or a half-decent waxhead after a few cowabunga moments, it’s all epic here. Gurfers and dues … surf’s up!
The East Coast
Head east for wave chasing nirvana and Durban, known as the unofficial surf capital of South Africa. This spot is a wonderfully eclectic mosaic of cultures, where balmy waves pump year-round and everyone from groms to pros can cop a mullering (a wipe-out of the highest order) and live to tell the tale.
The six-kilometre stretch of oceanic paradise here also includes Dairy Beach, perfect for paddlers and beach bums and New Pier, where you’ll find some of the best man-made waves in Africa. Those with definitively larger cojones will find more chest-beating sets around Bluff Peninsula and Cave Rock, but beware … this is unquestionably Danger Town.
Around 250 kilometres south, lies tiny Coffee Bay, a hot spot for newbies with its chilled vibe and half-decent ankle busters (small, non-rideable waves) for those who need some time-out in between attempts.
Mdumbi offers an isolated adventure with a classic point break surf and waves running for almost a kilometre (when the sandbanks are working) and further down the coast, the Nahoon Reef in East London has been described by pros as having the closest waves to Sunset Beach outside of Hawaii. Big call, kahunas!
Supertube, anyone? As South Africa’s premier surf spot and home to the world’s most consistent tubes, Jeffreys Bay is definitely not for kooks. Surf xenophobia abounds here, so if you’re in amongst it, you’d better know what you’re doing. Renowned for the world’s best right hand point breaks and dizzyingly perfect, kilometre-long barrels, J Bay offers an endless wave of wax-smothered, green room fantasies.
And at the tip of it all, Cape St Francis is the incessantly celebrated scene for the series of hypnotic right-breaking waves that feature in Bruce Brown’s 1966 surfing classic, The Endless Summer. Crisp, hollow, fast and seemingly endless, these ‘perfect’ beasts are better known as ‘Bruce’s Beauties’ and require a powerful easterly or south-easterly swell which has to bend around the tip of the cape. With conditions hitting peak form only two or three times a year, conquering this challenge also involves dealing with hazardous, mussel-covered boulders and great white shark migrations, so catching a successful wave here really is the stuff of legends. They don’t call it the Wild Coast for nothing, peeps!
The Garden Route
Twenty kilometres of stunning coastline epitomises Plettenberg, which is magically dotted with a number of surf beaches offering consistent right hand breaks and up to 12-foot waves. Part of the 250-kilometre ‘Garden Route’, Plett is a divine combination of moderate temperatures and breathtaking natural beauty and also home to South Africa’s best-known ‘wedge waves’, which makes it on point for body boarders as well.
Victoria Bay, situated further along the coastline between George and Wilderness (cue inspiring visual) is a narrow, steep-sided bay producing consistent right point breaks for most of year that are suitable for all levels, however these are jealously guarded by young locals, so take note droppers-in.
Further west, Still Bay is one of several bays along the south coast that are constant producers, with those in the know waiting for a big south to south-east swell to get in the thick of a grinding right-hand point break.
If you’re a grom or a spongebob (body boarder) and amped for a few decent waves to practice your technique on, head straight for Muizenberg (otherwise known as Surfers’ Corner) where you’ll get more than your fair share of opportunities to paddle out to the line-up. With offshore north-westerly winds creating long, clean waves rather than flat, white water, winter is when it’s cranking most, although summertime’s still fine as long you’re in early before the south-easterlies ruin things.
And situated beside an old fishing harbour, Kalk Bay is renowned for its shallow reef and consistent left-breaking waves and is best surfed on a big south-easterly or a north west wind.
The West Coast
Those after calmer swells should partake in a picturesque 30-minute drive north of Cape Town to Big Bay, a popular spot for surfers of all levels, and for those after a gnarly left point break, another three or so hours will have you in the ‘wild west’ of Elands Bay (or E-bay). Often described as ‘J Bay in reverse’ because of its south-easterly winds and westerly swells, with the right conditions The Point produces a hollow take-off and a tube that runs for over 150 metres. Sweet!
If you’re a top-notch surfer wanting to take the challenge factor up a notch, stop in at Sea Point (a stone’s throw from the city centre), where you’ll find the aptly named Off the Wall (the surf breaks of Mouille Point’s promenade wall), a fickle spot battered by south easterlies, where you’ll need a pro’s combination of patience and timing. Take-offs are short and sharp with a steep drop, leaving little room for error, however a constant onslaught of hollow waves ensures a heap of barrelling opportunities.
Llandudno’s also close by and well liked among surfers and body boarders, although be wary of hollow waves that highlight the massive granite boulders near the right-hand wedge.
Dunes is also an option for the advanced. After a 40-minute drive and 30-minute mega-trek on the beach, you’ll be rewarded with solid six to eight foot waves and world-class tubes when the south-easterly’s right.
Further south near Kommetjie, Long Beach offers both left and right breaking waves (goofy footers unite!) and if you’re after bigger fish, head to the Outer Kom, which kicks up massive curlers with the westerly swells.
And last, but certainly not least, we have the crème de la crème of some of the planet’s biggest waves. When conditions are right (normally in winter storm surf), you can witness (from far, far away) the Dungeon’s 15 to 30 foot swell breaking over an impossibly shallow reef on the sea-side section of Hout Bay. Accessible only by watercraft, this natural phenomenon produces the biggest, rideable waves on the coast of Africa, where ’giant two-storey snarling beasts are known to swallow and spit out’ the world’s best big-wave surfers.
Home to one of the world’s most famous big-wave surfing competitions, this right-handed monster is seldom ridden by paddle surfers, but tow-surfers get their rocks off here in mind-numbingly nervy, crazy-arse style. Oh, and another tiny factor that ups their bodacious level? There are heaps of ‘men in grey suits’ (sharks people, sharks) keeping them company while they do it. Gnarly!