Girls Surfing, Yoga and Free Diving retreat a huge success.
They say timing in life is everything. Well for one week this June they would be right! Five adventurous women joined me on a surfing, yoga and free diving retreat last month and the surf cooked pretty much everyday! Tracy-Lee, Carley, Jacqui, Lucy and Liz are all passionate and committed surfers. The Cape Town girls mostly surf Muizenberg and Milnerton and the DBN crew are into South Beach and Ushaka. They had all done some yoga before, but no real breath hold work. We had five different yoga teachers and were lucky enough to have Beth Neal from Iamwater do the breath hold instruction for us. Over the week they expanded their comfort zones exponentially and by using the free diving breath hold techniques in the surf they were able to push their limits considerably. While they surfed fun waves in town they took on some pretty serious waves on the coast. After a week of doing yoga everyday they looked like they had been doing it for years. Hanging out with these girls I realised just how committed and passionate they were about their surfing. When we were not surfing, diving or doing yoga we hung out, prepared meals together and just ’talked story’ the way all surfers do. What was special about these girls was that they were so willing to jump right out of their comfort zones in an effort to expand their capacity and experience of surfing. Frankly I was inspired by their behaviour and it left me thinking about how to up my own game. True adventure only really begins when you are out side of your comfort zone and I was stoked to see this spirit alive and well in every single one of these remarkable women.
In June a group of five intrepid girl surfers from Cape Town travelled to KZN for a surfing, free dive and yoga workshop.
Scenes like this greet the early riser both up and down the coast at that time of year.
The girls soon found a way to get in amongst it.
After surfing all morning it was time for yoga.
Free diving, yoga and surfing go really well together.
Under instruction from Beth Neal from Iamwater, pretty soon all the girls had significantly expanded their breath hold.
We mixed it up between the Durban City Beaches with a manditory jump off the pier to go bodysurfing.
In-wave-dolphin bodysurfing is the business!
Using expanded breath holds to explore underwater reefs was a treat.
Lucy setting her line on a lovely long warm water wall. .
Over a week we practiced three styles of yoga under the instruction of five different teachers and did yoga every day.
It was a priviledge to share the line up with these guys from time to time.
The girls exploring the city beaches.
Carley taking on a New Pier runner.
Jacqui finding a rare left in the land of rights.
When not in between the piers we explored the country side.
There is no question that the combination of surfing and yoga leaves one feeling amazing.
Breath, balance and poise relate as much to surfing as they do to yoga.
Imagine this was your daily walk to the beach?
The moment of contemplation.
Putting theory into practice and enjoying the ride!
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Breath Hold Training
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Hemp Cloth Surfboards
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The Beauty of The Alaia
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Crazier than Mad Max!
Blood on the beach, Sean and Josh
Swell no 1, Sunday.
Swell built through the day, 4-6ft on the point, the wave grew as it went down the point to the beachbreak where it maxed out at 8-10ft.
Thick sick hectic pits at the top of the point.
‘Mellow’ Supertubes section at the bottom of the point, before the closeout death section.
The stretch of action took place over around 2.4kms.
Crews fly in from all over the world (Hawaii, California, Australia, Spain and South Africa) to ride this wave. One of the Spanish surfers boards don’t arrive. One of the Saffas’s who has suffered the same predicament in the past takes pity on him and lends him a board.
Massive 10ft death sets move through the offshore oyster beds into the open beachbreak. Very scary if you got caught at the bottom – ask Chris Bertish who surely had one of the biggest wave ever seen ridden there. He rode it all the way through to the beach break, then got caught in the death zone. Couldn’t get in, couldn’t get out, heavy. Afterwards he said it reminded him of the Wiamea shorebreak. The tour operators cancelled their land rover trips in the desert as the waves were washing right over the sandspit into the lagoon. All 3 Bertish bros were there giggling maniacally and getting pitted off their heads.
Very heavy rip down the point.
Some unbelievable rides – Mark Mathews the standout, Wok charging, Chris B biggest wave I’ve ever seen ridden there... 8ft?
Too many tubes to mention.
Severe beatings had by all. Sean Holmes smashes his nose and leaves the water with blood streaming down his face as does Josh Redman. Josh gets back in the water, Sean goes to hospital to get his nose straightened and get a couple of stitches in his face. By evening he is out of hospital, back on his feet with two beautiful black eyes.
Multiple broken boards.
Lots of thousand yard stares over cold beer that evening as surfers contemplated what had just happened to them that day and the sea water flowed freely from their sinuses into their mussel soup.
The brothers Bertish
Lay day Monday.
There is still swell but it is onshore. The boys recover, sleep and barely get out of bed.
Lay day Tuesday.
No swell and the wind is onshore. Mad Max is currently being shot in Namibia starring Charlese Theron. Gigs somehow finds Charlese’s yoga instructor and gets her to give him and a mate a private lesson in between surfs. Was Charlese there? Gigs isn’t telling. Swell no 2 (Wed & Thurs)
1. Everyone is on the beach early, except for Gigs who wisely slept in as it was still onshore. Swell 3-4ft in the am, up to 6ft in the arvo. Swell grew as it moved down the point some 8 footers down at the beachie.
2. The boys watch a jackal eating a dead seal on the beach while trying to stay warm waiting for the wind to turn.
3. It seemed like the swell was magnified to the bottom half of the point but as the tide pushed the whole thing turned on.
4. Wind eventually swung offshore around 2:30pm and tube mayhem ensued.
5. ‘Mellow’ high performance Super Section persisted at the bottom of the point.
6. Some heavy hitters in the lineup including internationals Ian Walsh, Mark Healy, Dean Morison and Mark Matthews. Saffas representing included Josh Redman, Paul Daniels, Wok, Etienne, Jake Kolnick, Gigs, Golla, Donovan Zoetmulder, Max Armstrong, ‘Avo’ Avuile from Port St John’s/East London and some psychotic boogers.
7. Fixer Films were there working on a documentary, but even with 3 cameramen spread out along the point, there is no way they could capture all the action. The rides are simply too long and too fast to get it all on camera.
8. Heavy crazy barrels. Insane barrels, indescribable barrels. Everyone is getting severely beaten but they are also getting ridiculous pits. Golla narrowly escapes being decapitated by a guy who gets sucked over the falls in front of him while he is sitting in a monster drainpipe, Gigs gets so shacked it is silly and Josh is starting to look as at home in these tubes grabbing his rail as he does with that massive beard wandering around in the desert. But it is a booger who steals the show. Sampi Kamfer from Plett gets a 1km barrel.... WHAT!!! Ja, it’s true. After that wave he paddles in and sits in his car trying to process what just happened to him. All he can say is “I’m a little emotional right now”.
9. Ant Fox is the only photographer that braves the raging rip and ferocious tubes and jumps in to mix it up with the boys. It is no small task trying to get hook ups over a distance like that, but Foxy is all over it having a ball.
10. Multiple broken boards, Paul Daniels broke 2 in as many trips down the point, but his tube time ROI more than compensates for that.
11. Action took place over around 2kms.
12. Etienne and Paul share the iron man award for doing more laps of the point and runs up the beach than anyone else.
13. Everyone surfs till dark.
14. A certain magazine owner whose name rhymes with BOMB nearly gets his crew and vehicle stuck in an inshore lagoon trying to navigate out of the desert after they get lost in the dark. This happens twice in 20 minutes. Apparently he is quite talented at getting stuck in this particular part of the world as he’s been stuck there before... By the time they get out of the desert even the hell-men Healy and Walsh’s nerves could do with a stiff drink.
15. Lots of thousand yard stares over cold beer that evening as surfers contemplated what had just happened to them that day and the sea water flowed freely from their sinuses into their mussel soup.
A week in the desert is thirsty work, Jake, Healy, Walsh, JM, Josh, Dingo and Julian quenching their thirsts
1. Everyone out there super early in the dark, same crew as the day before.
2. Supermodel pretty with SE offshore.
3. Waves 3-5ft and coooooooking!!
4. Action took place over about 1km towards the bottom of the point.
5. Mark Healy is pulling into heavy barrels with a go-pro held.... In his teeth. Ja he’s not normal, but wait till you see some of the shots he got!
6. ‘Supers’ section was like a high performance race track with barrels, but you could do turns. Seriously top of the point like Kirra/New Pier on steroids, bottom of the point like Supers but a left.
7. The wind increased as the day wore on, the tide came in and the swell backed off leaving the boys broken, stoked and dizzy by about 1pm with a very horrible looking ocean and a looming sand storm. Everyone was happy to leave the desert when it was finally over.
8. A certain group of surfers ran out of petrol in the desert and had to wait for 3 hours in that gnarly sandstorm before they were rescued.
9. Another surfer flew all the way from Fiji and arrived just as the swell died and the wind turned gale force sideshore.
10. Dean ‘Dingo’ Morrison who’d been scouting the bars of Swakop, rounded up a significant portion of the crew and introduced them to the Brauhaus and the house speciality of The Boot (2L of beer in a glass boot). The crew have a considerable thirst on them which is not surprising as they’ve just spent a week in the desert getting shacked off their heads and have also just survived a mother of a sandstorm. Many, many, many boots are consumed. A small while later the director of Mad Max walks in with the head of his production crew. He looks at the motley crew, high on barrels and beer and the mayhem that surrounds them and secretly wonders who the hell all these psychos are and how come they are not in his film, as every single one of them looks more crazy than Mad Max himself.
Its over, like a dream that never happened. The desert reverts to its usual cycle. The jackal has free run of the point again and everyone else evaporates back into the real world.
All images and video from an iphone courtesy of digicape.
The 6-8 hr sessions were fuelled by FutureLife.
The desert sun was kept at bay thanks to Island Tribe.
Special thanks to Naude Dreyer for logistical support, advice and backup.
Special thanks also to Brendon Ratcliff for the use of your vehicle and generosity with your time.
So you wanna surf Skeleton Bay, read this first>>
They come from all over the world now to ride this wave, the ‘common law’ name itself is a clever deception and accurate indicator of what lies in wait for the eager pilgrim. The digital dream clip safely packaged onto YouTube or some such similar narcissistic social networking platform is largely to blame as are the rags that call themselves journals and surfing publications - ourselves included. An edited clip or the deception of a moment in time captured by the click of a digital shutter cannot hope to do justice to the experience of going out into the sun-baked, wind-blasted desert wastelands and attempting to ride that freight train.
The first thing that newcomers and returning devotees alike need to deal with is the scale of the experience. I suppose for rugby players it would be like trying to play a game on a field the size of 20 normal rugby fields all stacked together, or for golfers playing 180 instead of 18 holes. The result is predictably bewildering.
Like rock climbers talk about exposure, the exposure of surfing at Skeleton Bay is intense. Words like long, fast and unbelievably powerful seem so innocuous while walking two kilometers back up the point. Why would anyone even write them down when the hypnotic squint into the afternoon sun burns your eyes right through to your brain as you absorb vortex after vortex of spitting hissing energy and the wind cuts and lashes you like only a desert wind can? It’s not a warm wind. It is not friendly. It tears the flesh off dead seals lying washed up on the beach leaving only white bones for the sun to admire as a macabre form of sculpture. The bones remind the walking surfers of their own mortality. Time is measured by the sun and the wind and how many circuits of the point are made before the body collapses into a stupor of exhaustion.
Jackals flicker along the dune line keeping their distance, like ghosts that only appear in dreams but are real to you when you wake up.
The water is hard. It is frigid and brown with a scum line that increases as the wind strength intensifies. The rip is unbelievable, there is no way you can paddle against it. If you get unlucky you can do an entire lap of the point without catching a decent wave. A lap takes between 15 and 20 minutes. 2 or 3 bad runs and you’ve gone for an hour without catching a decent wave and that is if you have someone ferrying you back up the point in a car. If you are walking you can double that time, not to mention the energy expenditure.
The waves themselves are a magnification of a boat wake on the gentle beach of an endless calm river. Except there is nothing gentle or calm about them. This is perhaps because Skeleton Bay is not really a surf spot, but rather a very long beach where the wave just doesn’t close out. The wave hugs the shoreline as it warps at an incredible speed of ecstatic self-destructive energy. It is not uncommon to see waves at the top of the point imploding as the power and period of the swell overpower the height of the wave. This is where deceptively the word scale comes in to play again, but this time it is sneakily reversed. Imagine packing the speed, power and strength of a 15-foot open ocean wave into a 6-foot bolt of lightning and your mind will begin to grasp the forces you are dealing with. Then consider that the average wave there runs at around 50km/h. To catch it you need to be able to go from 0-50km/h in a few frantic strokes. How many people do you know who can do that?
All of these elements combine for a few days a year to create the illusion through the internet videos and surf magazine ramblings that Skeleton Bay is in fact a real wave and a legitimate surf spot. Ha ha. World-class surfers consistently crumble when faced with the scale and magnitude of the playing field and the elements on it. Yet there are a few surfers, you could count them on one hand, who for some reason are able to expand their game and improvise their acts, who can absorb the intensity of the experience and not be cowed and humbled by it.
To watch those guys ride this place is an otherworldly experience and true to the human condition it keeps the rest of us hoping and dreaming impossible dreams.
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A Perfect Transkei Point by Super Cub
Words and Photos by John McCarthy
The smell of avgas wafted through the cockpit as we banked steeply. My stomach lurched as the view below me changed from a sweeping beach littered with cows to a grass covered headland with white lines of surf cascading mechanically towards the beach. Even from my height and through the Plexiglas window I could see the waves were huge. After thousands of miles of travelling through the south Indian Ocean, their moment of landfall was spectacular. Huge lines of swell stretched out towards the horizon. As they felt the pull of the land beneath them, so they reared up gallantly before pitching outwards in their beautifully savage and ultimately final dance. The long plumes of spray followed the cascading crest as it arched downwards in slow motion. The white explosion of foam and water stood out in stark contrast to the black, rock-encrusted point. Like an ordered army of Chinese Dragons they followed each other, hissing and spitting as they uncoiled down the entire length of the long point before closing out along the beach break in one final almighty act of defiance. Despite the fear and adrenaline coursing through my system, I had to admire the magnificence of what I was watching.
Beautiful Bays and Coves are everywhere.
Like sirens luring hapless sailors towards the rocks, so too had the promise of these waves drawn me to my current predicament. I was about to land on a deserted beach on a part of the ancient African coast in a light aircraft with the sole intention of going surfing.
This was not a crash landing or a mechanical failure. We had chosen our day. We had plotted our course and we had flown out into the wilderness wondering if it was actually possible to do what we wanted to do. We had engineered this with intent. At every opportunity I could have avoided it but now the moment of truth was approaching.
Having chased the cows off the runway, we flew wide out over the point and circled back towards the beach to make our approach for the landing. The cockpit was cramped and once again I fought off that lingering feeling of claustrophobia as the pins and needles tingled in my legs and arms and my jacket and camera and two surfboards and pilot had the Super Cub cockpit filled to overflowing. Somehow I managed to extract my phone from my pocket while fighting off what felt like an impending panic attack.
Tom had gone curiously silent, his full attention now on piloting the small craft into the approach.
“One hour before low tide and one hour after low tide, that is our window before the runway gets flooded.”
Tom’s words echoed through my mind as I watched white tongues of surf licking the beach clean in front of us. The cows that had previously crowded our runway stood to one side with bovine indifference. After all what was one more buzzing insect in the sky to them on a deserted Transkei beach.
I readied my cell phone camera. A wry thought crossed my mind even as the tentacles of fear wrapped themselves around my heart. Was I about to become a narcissistic spectator in my own disaster? A mess of mangled bodies, broken struts and bent steel or a gentle touchdown? Either way I knew it would look good on film. The thing was, I’d just realized with absolute certainty I really didn’t want to die today.
Selfie on the beach with Tom changing in the background.
Our flyby to chase the cows off the beach and clear the runway had shown me how big the surf was. If we survived the landing then the next obstacle we faced was the surf itself, well that was if we survived the sharks. This Point is the most perfect wave in the whole of the Transkei, but it is also without doubt the spookiest. For how few people have surfed there and how many fatal attacks there have been there the odds actually defy rational contemplation. If we survived the sharks, we’d have to deal with the surf and it was much bigger - much, much bigger - than we thought it would be.
We’d waited for the perfect day to do this but unbelievably it was, dare we say it, too perfect? We’d wanted a solid swell to do this and by god we’d gotten one.
Tom’s initial idea had been to attach the boards to the outside of the aircraft with a curious sucker device. From the start I’d been skeptical of this plan, but I couldn’t argue.
“Fishing rods will stay fixed to the roof of a car at 120kmph with those things!” He said.
“We’ll easily be able to stick a couple of boards onto the fuselage of the plane with some of those bad boys…” He enthused.
Despite the fact that a Super Cub presents a modest amount of cockpit space, in aviation terms if you are planning on landing a plane on the beach according to Tom it was the ideal tool for the job.
The idea was that we’d be able to attach a suitable quiver of assorted wave riding vehicles to the exterior of our aircraft. We’d fly below the radar of anyone who might be interested in thwarting our unauthorized and unlawful endeavor and head south to find wave riding nirvana on the lost coast of the Transkei.
Tom had organized the aircraft.
“It’s the ultimate bush plane, it will work perfectly on the beach!”
The least I could do was source the correct sucker devices. While I trawled the fishing shops of downtown Durban for suitable said sucker devices my doubt on this theory only grew. Thankfully when I had arrived at Virginia airport armed with sucker devices up the yin yang I also came armed with my plan B, along with a carload of surfboard options.
In a discreet area of the airport, tucked away behind a hanger and prying eyes, Tom and I tried desperately to make the surfboards stick to the exterior of the plane with the sucker devices. The pressure was on. If we didn’t get there for the tidal window around low tide, the surf would flood the ‘runway.’
Finally Tom threw his hands up in defeat. I could see the frustration and disappointment on his face. This was his baby, an idea that he had hatched several years ago while hiking along a deserted Transkei beach. Tom was not a cowboy weekend pilot. Flying was what he did for a living and like me he was a lifelong and passionate surfer. Walking slowly along that beach his pilot’s eye told him that the long, straight stretch of uninterrupted and compacted sand would make the perfect runway at low tide. The fact that this runway was situated right next to the most perfect wave in the Transkei was a co-incidence that he could not ignore. When he’d presented his idea to me over a year before I’d jumped at the idea mainly because of the novelty but also because accessing this Point conventionally was a two-day drive along some of the worst roads in South Africa. The idea of flying in and out on a surgical strike with the prospect of scoring some epic surf was hugely appealing. Also the opportunity of surveying the coast from the air was too good for me to miss.
The Wild Coast - so pretty.
For over 20 years I’d explored the Transkei. Slowly and painstakingly and with many, many wrong turns I’d discovered some of her secrets. The beauty of the Transkei lies in its wildness and inaccessibility. Mostly it is referred to as ‘The Wild Coast’ for good reason. Covering short distances can take days because of the rough terrain. If it rains the roads can get so bad that you get stuck in bogged down mud ruts even in a 4X4. The rivers can flood the crossings leaving you trapped until the water subsides. The flipside to the wildness is natural beauty in abundance. On land there are bush-covered hillsides, stunning river valleys and estuaries, pristine beaches, coves and bays, headlands, dramatic cliffs and waterfalls plunging directly into the sea. In the water the surf potential of this area is staggering. In fact often they get too much swell! It is precisely at this point on the East African Coast where the continental shelf is at its narrowest. The strong and warm Mozambican current runs close to the shore and the powerful long period winter swells, born in the Roaring Forties, march up against that current. These opposing forces are ingredients to a freak wave phenomenon, one that strikes fear into the heart of even the biggest of ships captains. Below the surface the ocean is teaming with sea life of every kind. Whales, dolphins, turtles, fish, and of course, the sharks… Aside from the remote location, difficult access and fickle conditions, it is the deadly reputation for fatal Shark attacks that keeps surfers away in droves. Statistically, Second Beach at Port St Johns holds the dubious distinction of being the most dangerous beach to go swimming anywhere in the world. They have had six fatal attacks in as many years. If you consider how few people actually enter the water along The Wild Coast every year, this is a terrifying record.
Amazingly our landing was as smooth as any I’ve ever had on tarmac. One moment we were in that curious state of suspension that is flight, the next we were skimming along the beach, waves not six feet from the wheels. As Tom taxied to the far end of the beach I looked at the surf in earnest. It was huge, six to ten feet easily. There was not a soul in sight, not that we’d expected to see one.
When we’d planned this mission we knew we wouldn’t pull the trigger unless there was a decent swell running, so we’d been thinking about bringing step up boards in the 6’5”- 6’8” range. That had all gone out of the window when I’d put plan B into effect. With Tom’s sucker theory debunked I presented my alternative. Initially we’d discounted the idea of getting boards into the cockpit because the inside of a Super Cub is not long enough to fit even a board as short as 5’10” and it is not wide enough to accommodate the depth of surfboard fins. These days with removable fins the width was not as much an issue as the length. For several months before, I’d been working closely with Spider Murphy on a hybrid surfboard design called the Hydro-X. The basic principle was to make a shorter surfboard with a longer rail line and a wider nose, but with the same volume as a regular board. They were designed to be ridden around six inches shorter than your normal board. These boards were easy to ride well and performed amazingly in the tube. Spider and I had been experimenting with a 5’6” and a 5’ 8”, both of which went really well in waves up to around six feet. Beggars can’t be choosers and when I suggested we try to take the Hydro’s and put them in the plane rather than attached to the exterior we realized we could just squeeze them into the cockpit, but once in we could barely move the fit was so tight.
Boards squeezed into the cockpit of the Super Cub.
Now landing on the beach and looking at the waves we were going to try and ride I felt well and truly under-gunned. For conditions like this I would normally go to a solid 7’0”, but at least we had boards. Besides, the adrenaline from the landing was still coursing through our veins.
We had timed our landing perfectly with the tide and even the refuel we’d been forced to make at Margate on the way down (so we’d have enough fuel to make it back to Durban in one jump before nightfall) hadn’t slowed us down too much. That said we quickly realized that the 2 hr window we’d initially budgeted on had been reduced to an hour and a half max, due to the size of the surf and the consequent surge rushing up the beach. We fixed fins and donned wetsuits in a frenzy of adrenaline-fuelled activity while constantly looking up to gauge the rhythm of the ocean. I offered Tom the 5’8” and I took the 5’6”. I’d never surfed anywhere in The Transkei at this size before, let alone on boards this small. As we ran up the point to the jump off spot we passed Alex Macun's memorial plaque. Erected by his family after he suffered a fatal attack by a Great White Shark in 1989 while surfing here, it was a sobering reminder of who the real locals at this spot are.
The normal jump off spot was overwhelmed by volleys of white water tearing up the muscle-clad rocks and cascading into the little gullies and fissures that lend the point its unique character. Instead we headed a little further up the point to more of a ledge. Normally this would have been a no-go zone but because of the size of the surge if you timed it right you could enter the water there. Then you’d have to paddle for your life to avoid being washed backwards over the razor sharp rocks. Literally as I got to the ledge I saw a little gap. Maybe it was all the adrenaline in my system or perhaps just the knowledge that we were racing the clock, but I didn’t hesitate. I jumped in and paddled that little 5’6” as if my life depended on it. Tom was right behind me and he too launched straight in.
I was amazed at the power in the ocean. On a bigger board you can float over the foam and cut through the chop as you paddle. On a small board every push under is critical, every whirlpool or eddy an obstacle that needs to be overcome. Thankfully I was very surfing fit. Tom had been doing more flying than surfing recently with his commercial aviation job cutting into his water time. I could tell out of the corner of my eye that I was steadily pulling away from him. I didn’t paddle straight out; face on, into the swell, but rather at 45 degrees to the rocks as sometimes the wash down the point can actually help you get out. In any paddle out of consequence you run through a seesaw of emotions. Determined, hopeful, fearful, discouraged, hopeful once again, elated. Terrified. With my lungs on fire and my arms dead at my sides I had to dig deep and deeper still. After at least 20 push unders I thought I was out, but when I looked up I saw that there was a mammoth wave bearing down on us. It was at least 50 percent bigger than anything else I’d seen that day, a full on Wild Coast rouge wave come to exact its toll.
I stopped paddling.
One of many points cooking on the day.
It was clear that we’d both be caught inside by this wave. I knew that if I bailed the chances of the board and leash surviving were remote. I was already far out to sea by normal standards and I didn’t relish the prospect of a long swim back to the beach through this thundering surf without a board. Equally attempting to push under this wave seemed like a ludicrous proposition. I have surfed Waimea, Avalanche, Himalayas, Mavericks, Dungeons and Sunset (SA). I’ve seen and surfed and been beaten by my share of decent sized waves. In recent years I’ve found yoga and breathold training have made a huge difference. In only 10 seconds you can prepare your body for a remarkable beating if you breathe correctly. I watched with sick fascination as the lip of the wave detonated 20 feet in front of me. The only benefit to surfing a 5’6” I thought would be how easy it would be to push under, but there was something else I hadn’t counted on. The reduced surface area of the small board in the turbulence of a wave that large actually made it easier to control than a bigger board. I pushed under as deep as I could before wrapping my legs and arms around the board and hugging my cheek to the deck. I braced myself for impact as the wall of water rolled over me expecting to be mauled. Instead after a brief and fierce downward impact I was shot out of the back like a cork unscathed. I looked back over the whitewash that stretched towards the beach. Tom was nowhere in sight.
Catching waves that size on a 5’6” was going to be a new experience. I was determined to at least catch one. I’d barely recovered my breath when a set of waves started peeling down the point. Substantially smaller than the wave that had just caught me, they were still a good 10ft. Initially I thought I’d paddle over the first set to get a feel for it, but as the first wave approached I realized I was in the perfect place to have a go. I swung around and paddled. To add to my lucky positioning there was a bit of chop at the top of the wave that gave me a little chip shot into the wave and a convenient and game-saving early entry to the long wall of water.
Riding such a big wave on a small board was actually a really cool feeling. I crouched low in a functional utility squat (read: not pretty on the eye) and drew out my turns. I was amazed at the speed and control of the little Hydro. I kicked out before the wave closed out at the end and paddled back up the point very slowly enjoying my newfound sense of confidence. My second wave was a lot more critical as I didn’t have the benefit of the chip shot to get me in early. I nearly blew it coming off the bottom, stalled and just managed to kick out over the top before the wave ran away from me. My third wave I got comprehensively thrashed after getting pitched on the takeoff. The little board just didn’t have the momentum or speed to break free of the lip and I went down the mineshaft feet first. How the leash held and the board didn’t break I don’t know. Gasping I paddled out for my final attempt.
Surfing like a seagull on the way home.
The day had been characterised by an ethereal light caused by lots of low soft cloud. It seemed the further south we headed the lighter the wind and the more luminous the light. I sat out there drinking it all in wondering at the day I was having. I thought about the sharks that were almost certainly below me but strangely I was more concerned about catching another wave and somehow getting the plane safely back off the beach and back in to the air than I was about the sharks. If anything the surf was cleaning up and getting better all the time. I was absolutely stoked. I knew I didn’t have the luxury of time to choose a perfect last wave so I decided to just try the first one that came my way. As it turned out it was a bomb. I got in really late as I was expecting to do, but instead of trying to make the drop I angled down the face and pulled straight into the tube. Wow! What a sight. The whole bay was framed in a liquid archway, moving but stationary in my mind forever. I felt the tube breathe in before it spat me out in a rainbow of spray onto a long glassy wall. This time I rode all the way through to the beachbreak and straitened out as the wave closed out behind me. I got smashed again and this time I hit the bottom headfirst. Thankfully the most I got was a small graze on my bald head, a mere scratch in retrospect. I washed up on the beach to find Tom waiting for me. He was gutted he hadn’t gotten out. That rogue wave had mowed him down completely and washed him right down the point.
As we repacked the plane I could see that several parts of our runway had already been subjected to flooding by the combination of the big sets and the now incoming tide. We were cutting our exit fine and we knew it. Tom lined the aircraft up, gunned the engine and waited. Precious time ticked by while we waited for a gap, then suddenly Tom released the breaks and opened up the throttle and we were off bouncing down the beach with the water lapping at our wheels. I thought the landing was wild, but the takeoff was just incredible. In a few hundred meters we broke free of the beach and soared above the beautiful bay. As I looked back down onto the point I could hardly believe that only moments before I’d been standing in a massive barrel in amongst all that energy. My wet beard reminded me of just how recently that was.
A sense of contentment and companionable silence filled the cockpit on the way back to Durban. We scouted all the secret bays, reefs and headlands and marveled at some new discoveries. These would no doubt require a closer and more thorough investigation in the future. On one long point Tom dropped down to almost sea level and timed it perfectly to surf along the displaced air of the swell line as it raced down the point, the way a sea gull does. All the time we marveled at the absolute sublime beauty of The Wild Coast. The dramatic visuals provided an incredible dessert to the experiential feast we’d just shared.
As we rounded the Bluff to make our approach into Durban the sun was nearing the horizon and the City lay bathed in a glow of golden light. The swell lines continued to pour into the bay. As we touched down I had the feeling I’d experienced a miracle of sorts, perhaps several in fact, on this truly special day.
Swell lines wrapping into the Durban Bay. Notice the waves breaking on the mound.
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Having fun with your breath hold!
After five weeks of training on average three times a week in the pool, this crew of surfers and breath holders were able to cut loose in one of SA’s most amazing marine wilderness areas. Uncrowded point breaks in the bush, pristine coral reefs, amazing sea life and a really cool crew, all made for a memorable adventure. If you live in SA and you don’t do this kind of stuff you are seriously missing out on some of the most amazing adventures you’ll ever have anywhere.
Digger is the man! He uses his dive boat as a platform for surf and underwater exploration.
Apart from the twin 100's that get you up and down the coast in a hurry the special board racks make the surf option so much easier.
After the serious training in the pool, Sodwana is just about having fun with your breath hold in a beautiful place.
Team breath up on the surface before a dive.
Always practice safe diving. What you see here is surface 'buddies' watching out for their mates far below.
Sarah dissapearing into the depths.
You cannot possibly imagine how much diverse sea life is crammed into one square meter of reef in Sodwana.
This is me doing safety for Sarah after a deep dive. The last few meters are the most dangerouse so I swam down to make she was ok.
There are some weird and wonderful sea cratures to be found if you can dive deep enough to find them.
Plenty of wide ope spaces to explore underwater.
How can you ever take the priviledge of swimming with dolphins for granted?
Nothing better than hanging with the locals.
Siraj, colourful rebreath inbetween cave dives.
Siraj putting his pool training to work in the sea.
The thing about having an expanded breath hold is you can spend time with the sea creatures underwater.
Sodwana is home to some of the most beautiful coral in the world.
Happy engaging their mamalian dive responses, happy chilling on the boat between dives, Eliska and Caron, just two happy campers.
Peter, Elisk and Caron all on their way back from a deep dive.
Peter, two dives, one surf in... one surf, two dives still to go! Good thing these guys trained for this mission.
Outside of swimming really long diostances in the ocean, Sarah is also prone to a bit of bodysurfing when she finds herself on a decent pointbreak.
The moment of anticipation, when you are looking at a deserted pointbreak, with your engagement imminent.
Go! Go! Go! Time to sample some uncrowded perfection.
Old dog sharing tradecsecrets with the young gun about where to sit in the lineup.
Nothing better than getting stuck into a right hand point break with just your mates in the lineup and you've already banked 3 crazy free dives on some of the most pristine coral reefs on planet earth.
"Cheers buddy, good to share the ride..." The Dolphin goes on his way after sharing a wave.
This is Eliska at The Green Tree, an ancient coral head at around 20m, the sea bed is around 25m.
Eliska is seriously comfortable underwater. This portrait was shot after she had been hanging around a coral head at around 20m for a while.
After a long day of surfing and free diving believe me you are worn out, but what a jol!
I just got back from the greatest surf trip of my life. Warm water, empty spot after empty spot, just surfing with the crew on the trip. Some amazing surfing discoveries. Awesome fishing and unbelievable diving. This is so much more than just a surf trip. This is an opportunity to explore a magnificent part of the African Marine Wilderness and the best part is that it is just you and seven other guys/girls. Where in the world can you go and surf a crazy selection of waves ranging from 1.5km right point breaks to crazy reef slabs to untouched beach breaks to super fun sand spit wrap arounds, where you get cold beers handed to you with freshly baked bread and Tuna Sashimi caught before you paddled in for your last session of the day? This is a game changer in terms of surf exploration and discovery and the best part is that for South African surfers it is right on your doorstep. Forget about crazy, two day commutes, on day one you are in the water, and that is where you stay until it is over. ROI, in terms of waves caught is unparalleled.
The surf season in this part of the world is short lived and very specific. There is one more charter this year with only 5 slots available. R14K is the price ex DBN. This includes transport to Ponta Do’ Oura, 3 nights accommodation ashore and 4 nights onboard. All food and drink aboard (excluding sprits), but excluding all food, drink, border transfers, and visas for non SA citizens while on land. The dates are the 27-3 July. A 50% deposit secures you a slot, the balance is payable on 27 June.
The absolute delicious moment of jumping into a crystal clear warm ocean with perfect uncrowded surf in your immediate future.
There are real waves on offer if you have the balls...
Just you, your crew and waves like this.
It is difficult to describe the feeling of jumping off a boat to sample uncrowded waves like this.
We found this wave by fluke, it works when the surf is flat in a howling onshore and peels for 150m down a perfect sandpit point.
The boys going to town on the sandpit left.
Spike and Ross team wave on the sandspit left point.
This is why we go here, no peeps, just you your crew and uncrowded perfection.
Cobus rode this wave for over a kilometer.
Mick laying into a fun arvo session at one of the many points.
It is not all serious points, the beach breaks are magnificent.
The waves ranged from serious to super fun and rippable.
You haven't surfed in CLEAN, WARM water untill you have surfed here. Bruce a long way from the North Beach Bowl.
We spent quite a bit of time figuring out the charts and marrying them to reality on this trip. Jean, the owner and skipper of Angra Pequna and her crew were absolute legends!
You want to swim from Inhaca to Portuguese Island and back, are you crazy? Mark Taylor and I managed to do that on the slack tide, a distance of about 5-6km
The Angra Pequena, what an awesome base from which to operate.
The tender is an integral part to accessing some of the breaks.
No condos, no lifeguards, just point break after point break and the magnificent African bush as a backdrop.
Raising the sail to add a few knots to the cruising speed.
No surfing expedition is complete without some great bodysurfing.
Alaia's, handslides, Paipo's the boys rode them all.
Cobus took any opportunity to get slotted.
If you are not surfing you are snorkeling, if you are not snorkeling you are SUPing, if neither of the above then you are fishing, diving or chilling.
Spike two sessions in and no one to hassel for his next wave.
Wandering around inhaca Island on a Sunday afternoon this man saw us and beckoned me to join him in a sample of his coconut home brew. I was swerving after one glass.
We free dived a reef about 10km out to sea from Inhaca, the vis and reef were next level.
Micky not intimidated by the juice.
Mangrove swamp Inhaca at Sunset.
We limited our fishing to late afternoons just before supper. Nothing like Tuna Sashimi, a sunset and a cold mozambican beer.
The Sunsets in this part of the world need to be seen to be believed.
A lovely way to wash down a thirst created by multiple adventure activities.
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The Roxy Girls Full Moon Surf Adventure Scores Big Time!
For one week, eight lucky ladies and two lucky guys enjoyed a dream adventure between Sodwana Bay in Northern KZN and Ponta Mamoli in Southern Mozambique. This was not your ordinary jump in the car and go up the coast kind of surf trip. Rather it was a quest to find isolated and perfect, warm water waves and surf them alone. It was a journey into the marine wilderness to interact with the local wildlife. It provided an opportunity to explore their inner limits of flexibility and breath hold with some structured yoga and breath hold sessions. It was a chance to learn how to drive a real 4 X 4 in seriously sandy conditions and to explore by boat one of the most remote sections of our coastline. It provided an insight into the hardships and poverty of life in rural Mozambique and KZN. It was an introduction to meet and party with some of the local legends who have made this incredible stretch of coastline their home and to experience their hospitality and generosity. It was about the discovery of new surf spots, craft to ride, foods, drinks and friendships. This was not just a surf trip, it was a full on adventure. It was made possible when the coolest group of people who came together at short notice all prepared to step into the unknown.
Early morning surf check on The Elephant Coast.
Launching a boat, heading out into the unknown with the prospect of scoring cooking surf is an amazing way to start any adventure.
This is Digger, he knows the surf spots, wildlife, dive and fishing spots like the back of his hand. In this part of the world he is your passport to surfing pleasure.
This is Digger's Cove, it has two distinct barrel sections that are linked by a long wall. It is an incredibly fun wave to surf. It is so well hidden you'll never find it unless Digger takes you there.
With the air and water temperature both around 27 degrees it was balmy to say the least. Nada breathing it all in.
Nada charging at Digger's Cove.
Charmaine spends a lot of her life in or on the sea either surfing or sailing. Note the deserted beach and pristine African Bush in the background. Not a bad place to catch a few waves with just mates cheering you on.
Debbie is a 52 year old nurse from Cape Town who normally surfs Muizenberg. Here she is paddling into a bomb at Digger's Cove. She is way out of her comfort zone, but charging none the less. Respect!
Charlie charged so hard we re-named this spot 'Charlies' in recognition for her go for broke approach.
Dougal infront of the lens for a change about to enjoy the fringe benefits of his job as a photographer.
After a day on the ocean surfing, swimming with dolphins and freediving the reefs of Sodwana, Digger took us for sundowners at Lake Sibaya. We had to pinch ourselves to make sure we were not dreaming.
Nada, late afternoon bodysurf.
Carmen was the youngest member of the trip. For a 20 year old she's already sailed half way around the world and been to more countries than most people do in a lifetime. She's also crazy good with a hula hoop.
Just walking along the beach with the prospect of a swim in one of the tidal pools is enough to remind you how special this part of the world is.
Simply put, the VW Amorok from Hoopers is in a league of it's own. The girls didn't hesitate to put it through it's paces in their quest to explore the surf potential of Southern Mozambique.
Any evening that starts at Fernando's is going to be BIG, but remember please only have one R&R.
Starting the day with a yoga class is a great way to losen up before a surf.
Eight chicks in an Amorok certainly attracted a fair amount of attention from the locals.
On the smaller days it was heaven for Alaia's and Longboards, here I am enjoying the slide.
Spiggles is most probably the longest standing local at Ponta. He knows this wave like no one else and could probably surf it in his sleep after 3 R&R's if he wanted to. Here he snags a gem from under the noses of eight wave hungry girls.
This is Michelle and Dario Centonze's surf obsessed son, Valentino. He is seven years old, lives in Ponta, is home schooled by his mum and surfs every day of his life. Who said we are all born equal?
This is Michelle and Dario's daughter Michela. She's a real water baby and not a bad blues singer either. She joined the trip and when we left she gave all the girls home made presents as a reminder of their time in Ponta.
We did some breath hold excercises. After just a couple of sessions the girls had all comfortably doubled their time under water.
We didn't just surf. The water there is so amazing and the reefs so beautiful that sometimes you just want to hang around under water.
This is Simau, he runs an orphange for 50 kids in the Bush near Mamoli. It is amazing how well he has done considering the challenges of operating in such a remote location.
This is taken from the lighthouse at Ponta, in the distance you can see the points of Molangane and Mamoli and the flatlands that stretch into the Elephant Reserve. Shortly after this shot was taken a huge electrical storm chased us off the hill.
From left JJ (Kaya-Kweru), Debbie, Charlie, Nada, Traci, Charmaine, Jacqui, Helena (Kaya-Kweru), Carly, John and Carmen. Dougal was taking the pic.
Roxy really did spoil the girls with all the gear they gave them. We were stoked to have them on board as the title sponsor of The Girls Full Moon Surf Adventure.
Traci, loving life. You would be too if it was just you and your mates out at a perfect right hand point.
Charlie sets up for a big bottom turn under the harsh mid day African Sun.
Carly chose her waves carefully, but when she got them she always made sure they were the bombs.
The thing about sand bottom points is that they are just so much fun to surf. Traci at the top of the point just about to ride all the way into the bay.
Debbie has the most gracefull style, it is a pleasure to watch her ride waves.
The Full Moon brings spring tides, great waves and good vibes. What an awesome adventure!
Grateful thanks must go to the following people for their role in making it happen.
Firstly all the girls, Charmaine, Charley, Debbie, Carly, Jacqui, Nada, Traci and Carmen for pulling the trigger and jumping on board.
Roxy Davis from The Surf Emporium in Muzenberg for helping to get the word out. surfemporium.co.za
The team at Roxy head office in Durban were amazing and spoiled the girls with incredible product hampers to make sure they had what they needed on the trip. We were stoked to have them as the headline sponsor of this trip. www.roxy.co.za
Clive, Carol and Doug at Hoopers VW in Durban who moved mountains to organize us a BRAND NEW Amorok to take across the border and use on our adventure. www.hoopers.co.za
Digger and Michelle at Da Blue Juice in Sodwana for hosting us and guiding us to those incredible waves. www.dabluejuice.co.za
Michelle Centonze for the Ponta clean up prior to our arrival and for organizing an incredible Full Moon Party at The Love Café in Ponta, complete with amazing food, a very talented female vocalist in the form of Cas, drums a DJ and plenty of Love and Light for everyone. www.facebook.com/pages/Love-Cafe/165098640304659
Helena and JJ from Kaya-Kweru for hosting us in style in Mozambique and making us feel at home all the time. www.kaya-kweru.co.za
The Surf HQ in Durban for the kind loan of a bag full of fins for bodysurfing. www.surfhq.co.za
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This takes big lungs and a cool head!
This takes big lungs and a cool head! The Final Winner of the Gotcha Waterproof watch competition is Eliska Redlinghuis.
Check out her amazing double cave swim through at Sodwana on only one breath.
Congratulations to Gavin Roberts for his 75m underwater swim on one breath! He becomes the proud owner of a Gotcha Waterproof watch for his achievement.
Do you have what it takes? Send in your video, there is one more watch to give away this month.
Congratulations to Siraj Paruk on his 75m continuous swim, he becomes the next Gotcha waterproof watch winner!
Can you do better? Send in your video and stand the chance to win one of 3 more of these awesome waterproof Gotcha watches.
Presented by Gotcha Watches.
In the spirit of getting in shape for winter and those savage beatings and hold downs that are the price we have to pay for offshore lines, groomed groundswells and spitting pits, Gotcha is challenging you to get your breath hold in shape by giving away one waterproof Gotcha Watch every week to the person who can hold their breath the longest.
The top 4 weekly videos illustrating how long you can hold your breath win one of these tough but stylish Gotcha timepieces. There is a weekly winner, so if at first you don’t succeed, then challenge yourself and have another shot the following week. The idea is that by the end of April you are ready to rock n roll when those winter swells start filling in and you are rocking a cool new time piece in the process.
SAFETY NOTE: YOUR SUBMISSION MUST SHOW THAT YOU ARE NOT ALONE WHEN ATTEMPTING EXTREME BREATH HOLD!! So just make sure the camera flashes on your training partner before you submerge. PLEASE DO NOT ATTEMPT SERIOUS BREATH HOLD ALONE. The risk of blackout and drowning is simply not worth it. Expand your lungs safely and have fun.
This durable and stylish watch boasts the following features: Full 100m waterproof ; Analogue plus Digital face features; Dual time, heat countdown timer, stopwatch; light; Alarm and chime; stainless steel case; shock resistance; 12 month ‘’straight swap” quality warranty. Valued at R600 each.
#swim free! There is no excuse to keep these magnificent creatures in swimming pools. Sharing moments in the ocean with them is one of the most magnificent gifts you can give yourself.
Our legendary skipper, Digger, no GPS or compass and he always hits the spot.
Centering yourself before a dive.
That moment we all dream about.
In between dives Peter found time to throw a bit of spray.
Divers view of the crew resting on the surface.
Our legendary guide Clay, who is almost part of the wildlife down there he dives so often.
Wilhelm loving life.
Geoff Charging on his longboard.
Craig jamming on his own private pointbreak.
Mike and Wilma hanging out at minus 10ish.
The reefs of Sodwana are alive with interesting creatures.
The underwater world of Sodwana is a treasure drove of exploration delights. Clay shooting from within one of the caves, with the crew breathing up and getting ready to join him.
The colours down there are unbelievable.
Our swimming coach Wilma didn't hesitate to practice what she preaches.
Craig, no need for SCUBA boss, quite happy down here with my breath hold.
Diggers bush camp where somehow every night we went to bed earlier.
This is what we trained for, to be able to hang out in nature with the wildlife.
To understand the scale of this Whale Shark look at the size of the Dolphins in font of it.
It is difficult to express the joy you feel when sharing space with these big guys in the wild.
The Boys were getting pretty deep towards the end. If you consider that Clay was at least 10m deep when he shot this depths of over 20m on the last day were fairly common.
Coming back from a deep dive in the Big Blue.
The crew stoked to go and put their training into practice.
Sodwana Surf and Free Dive Eco Adventure 2014.
By John McCarthy, December 2014.
I was finning along quietly behind two dolphins when from the bottom of my vision a behemoth filled in the space below me. I nearly dropped my Go Pro I got such a fright. It was so close to me that I couldn’t tell what it was at first and there had been no warning. The distinctive speckled skin marks told my confused brain that what I was looking at was a massive whale shark. Stealthily it had surprised us, while we swam with a pod of dolphins in the warm water of the Indian Ocean, off Sodwana Bay.
None of us saw it coming and it could quite easily have swum around us if it wanted to avoid us. Instead it chose to swim right through the playful group. As anyone who has ever swum with dolphins will tell you, when they are in a playful mood it is a real treat to share space with them.
Not to be left out of the party this big old whale shark swam right through the middle of us sending dolphins and humans spinning and spiraling around it as we all swam along for a while. There we were three different species all enjoying each others company as we communed in nature. Magical. As we surfaced, laughing and whooping, eyes shining from the stoke and with the clicking of dolphin language ringing in our ears, we were all quite literally high as kites and so we should have been. We’d just experienced the real magic of the Sodwana Marine Wilderness first hand…
Rewind six weeks and I was pacing the onshore windblown piers along Durban’s beachfront contemplating the surf drought ahead of me. One I knew would last until the tropical cyclones started in February. I needed something to sink my teeth into and to keep me busy in the off-season. Endless lengths of the pool did not appeal.
I needed an objective and that is how the Sodwana Surf and Free Dive Eco Adventure came about.
While the surf all along the East Coast is typically not great at this time of year, the diving at Sodwana remains world class. I was looking for something that would challenge me physically, but also have a big payoff in terms of my relationship with the ocean.
The idea was to train really hard for a month on hypoxic breath hold and then go and put that training to good use free diving, surfing and spearfishing in Sodwana.
I chatted to Wilma Van Niekerk, (a great swimming coach, who I’ve worked with quite a bit in the past on other breath hold courses) about helping to put together an aggressive training schedule that would knock us into shape. She loved the idea. The course was to run three sessions a week for four weeks through November and then we’d hit Sodwana in the first week of December.
It was surprisingly easy to round up a willing crew of aspirant breath hold cohorts from the surfing community. Pretty soon we were lined up in our baggies on the side of the DGC swimming pool on a chilly November morning at 5:45am.
This course was as much a learning, as it was a teaching experience for me. Despite having been involved in four previous courses and having done a course with Hanli Prinsloo, once I started researching breath hold, I realized how little I knew about it.
As surfers it is amazing that for how much time we spend in water, we are really uncomfortable with the idea of being under water for any length of time. It is this fear that often limits us from enjoying the challenges of bigger waves. I wasn’t so interested in the classic free diving or competitive aspects of breath hold, what I was looking for was a way for us to expand our capacity under water so that we could translate that into exploration without SCUBA and lay a foundation of fitness and breath hold for the grinding barrels of cyclone season next year.
SCUBA has its place, make no mistake, but I find it so cumbersome. Typically each dive is on one stretch of reef where you hang out for an hour or so. I wanted to be able to explore lots of locations and be able to ascend and descend quickly multiple times. I wanted to have the freedom to pick and choose from the delights of the Sodwana Marine Wilderness with relative ease.
Before each session I’d try and share one bit of theory, which Wilma then translated into action in the pool. Wilma is used to training elite level athletes and she had no mercy on us. The pool sessions were hectic, but the results were almost immediate. Both Wilma and I were astonished at the radical progress everyone made. Because I was doing the sessions I could feel the improvement in my body week by week. Some of the more colorful and creative exercises Wilma devised for us included, an underwater obstacle course, swimming lengths of Kings Park, then running up to the 10m board and jumping off and going into a breath hold by swimming another length under water. Her old favorite had us passing a weighted ball along the bottom of the 5m deep end at Kings Park pool, rugby style. We even did one session where we swam out to the shark nets and did a series of dives to the ocean floor. By the time November drew to a close we were in incredible shape. Everyone could swim at least 45m under water, while some of the guys were swimming as far as 65-75m without fins. Curtis, Mike and Mark lead the charge, but I was seriously impressed with Geoff and Wilhelm who had been slow starters. Geoff could barely hold his breath for 30 seconds when he started and he couldn’t even swim one length of the 25m pool underwater. At the conclusion he could hold his breath for 2 minutes and 10 seconds and swim very close to 50m underwater without fins.
For us to enjoy what Sodwana has to offer it was vital to partner with guys up there who know what is going on. Fortunately my good mate Digger is very dialed in up there. He can take you to any part of reef you like navigating purely by sight and experience. No GPS, no map, it is all in his head like some crazy super computer. He also has an incredible understanding of the marine life of the area and a very good understanding of the various dolphin pods that frequent that part of the coast. His ability to find whale sharks is legendary as the bar at his home attests to. It is built entirely from empty Jack Daniels bottles. The story goes that each one is from a whale shark sighting. Digger is assisted by his wife Mish and his right hand man Clay Barnard. Clay must be close to having logged over a thousand dives up there and is practically part of the ocean wildlife himself. He knows every cave and creature and he was to be our underwater guide.
We got up there on Friday at lunch time and Digger wasted no time in whisking us out to Two Mile to ‘feel the water’ as he calls it. Oh my word what a treat! After the cold pool sessions and the chlorine, diving in the warm blue of Sodwana was like balm for the soul. We were all smiles on the boat back in. I surfed my Alaia at the Lighthouse that evening while Peter and Jonsey went spearfishing. That evening Digger braaied us a fresh fish and we crashed early.
The thing about waking up in the bush on the east coast in summer is the incredible sounds of the bird life. On Saturday we woke early to the cacophony of our feathered friends. A cup of coffee, a quick launch and we were off up the coast.
Our first stop was Whale Shark Point. A long right-hander with rocks at the top and a long, sloping sandbar running into a deep bay. The backdrop is pristine subtropical bush. The sand bar was amazing and the waves, while not cooking by any means, were enough to sate our thirst for some surf action. Besides that we were the only surfers in sight and it felt like our own private point break.
After a very satisfying surf we headed north to a spot known for Raggies. We jumped in and investigated their haunt but they were not home. Seeing as we were in the area we decided to catch a couple of waves at Diggers Cove which is another great surf spot in the area.
Two surf sessions and a couple of dives in we decided to meander back down the coast as we were about 40km north of Sodwana by that stage. The first stop on the way back was at a place called The Green Tree. This is a magnificent coral head display on a ledge located at about 16m. Below that the sandy ocean floor lies at around 24m.
This would be a great dive for us to test our training. Descending past the amazing coral reef I was conscious of the water pressure on my body. As I reached the ocean floor the pressure on my mask was increased. Despite the training the actual experience of the depth took some getting used to. That said, the earlier dives of around 15m now seemed incredibly easy. The whole time I was diving I could feel my ability and comfort expanding.
Before heading for home Digger took us to a place called Breaking Waters. This is a shallow stretch of reef with amazing coral formations, ledges and some pretty cool swim throughs. Clay showed us all these little treats. After the deeper dives earlier, this really was fun and we all made serious progress on our bottom times.
That evening while watching the birds come in to roost at lake Sibaya, cold beers in hand, our happy conversations mingled with the sounds of the Hippos getting ready for the night. We fell into bed exhausted and stoked.
I awoke the next morning to find that the swell had jacked up quite a bit. I decided on a quick surf at the Lighthouse before Digger and the crew picked me up with the boat. The plan was to head back up to The Green Tree and start from there. On the way we found a pod of dolphins and jumped in to play with them. They had lots of young with them and were not too social so we climbed back into the boat and headed north. Not too much later we spotted another pod and these guys were in a really playful mood.
They were swimming all around us darting in and out playfully flicking their tails and all the while chattering away in the busy clicking of dolphin-speak. It was right then, and without warning that the whale shark swam right through the middle of us. All those cold mornings and long hours in the pool were repaid back to us tenfold as we were able to swim along with this magnificent creature in it’s natural habitat.
Back on the boat I considered the gift I’d just given myself and came to the conclusion that the experience was priceless. When I looked into the faces of my fellow breath hold mates I could tell that the magic wand had swept over all of us. Clay and Digger were not immune and were just as stoked, if not more so than the rest of us.
Digger took us back to The Green Tree. Amazingly in just 24 hours I felt so at home there. Where the day before swimming down to the ocean bed had been a challenge the next day it was a pleasure. Instead of rushing my time under water, I savored it and treasured every moment. I drew out each dive for as long as I could.
Wilma and I discussed the radically increased capacity that we were all enjoying and decided that aside from the psychological aspects of breath hold, the intense training program must have boosted our red blood cell counts making us more effective under water for longer.
I felt such contentment, joy and peace down there that upon surfacing after one of my dives I asked Digger if it was possible to get narked at 16-18m on a simple breath hold.
The smile lines in his eyes just creased as he replied “ Na mate, that is just called happiness in its purest form.”
Boy was he right!
We did a drift dive of a couple of kilometers before ending up at Breaking Waters again, where we literally played for hours. Broken, but completely stoked we climbed back on the boat and headed for home.
Just off Seven Mile, Digger had one last treat in store for us. It was a ledge at around 20m, characterized by a big outcrop of coral. I was physically exhausted but flipped off the boat for one last dive. Craig and I descended together. Gone were the wild antics of yesterday, we were simply too tired. Instead we drifted downwards slowly and calmly through an infinite blue. It was exquisite. Despite my fatigue my breath hold seemed elastic. I could see in his body language that Craig felt the same way too.
Free diving is seductive because it makes you feel so good. The danger though, is that you ignore your body talking to you, and push yourself into a blackout and drown. The deal I’d made with myself, and the doctrine I’d advocated to the group, was to ascend as soon as breathing contractions started. On that last dive they didn’t come for ages. This allowed me the time and space, both inside my head, and within the beauty of the big blue all around me, to know what real peace feels like.
Driving back into the hustle and bustle of Durban later that evening my cell phone pinged. It was a message from Wilma and Mike who’d made a detour at Umfolozi. They were watching the sunset near a waterhole and a Rhino and Elephant had just walked past…
Where in the world can you swim with turtles, dolphins and whale sharks, dive pristine coral reefs, surf with just your mates and then watch Rhino and Elephant come down to drink in the evening?
Grateful thanks to Wilma for the amazing coaching, to Digger, Mish and Clay from Da Blue Juice for the epic hosting in Sodwana and to all the crew on this course who pushed me to explore my own limits.
If you enjoy nature, South Africa is paradise. If you like getting fit and challenging yourself, you can gift yourself a marine wilderness experience that translates into a sensation of pure freedom.
This is a course that I will almost certainly repeat next year in February with a more extended cross border, cyclone chasing surf mission and a more intense free diving component added to it designed to run over seven days. I’m currently looking at the week 2-8 March for the trip (the first full moon spring tide), with training three times a week through February.
There will only be 8 slots available for the trip, but we can accommodate a few extra to the training. If you are keen to grab a slot mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.