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.