Life's a Swell
The South African coastline is defined by a series of points and bays, technically logarithmic spiral beaches because of their mathematically determined shapes. And, as any surfer worth his or her bar of Mr Zogg's Sex Wax knows, points and bays are the salt and water of surfing.
What they will also know is that the quality of the surf depends on the size of the swell and the direction of the wind. For that latter reason, the Cape Peninsula (with Cape Town at its northern end) is pretty much a 360 degrees, 365 days a year ride. But there are some other radical breaks too, so wax up and hit the water as we explore South Africa's 10 best surfing spots.
Elands is about three hours' drive up the West Coast from Cape Town. There's an “outback” style hotel, a few guest-houses, backpackers and a camp site, but otherwise it's pretty frontier. The wave here works best in summer, when a south-easter holds up a westerly swell to produce a cranking left point break (surfers will get it) as good as any. Think of it as J Bay (see below), reversed.
If you're up for it, Elands is a gateway to the wondrous attractions of the wild West Coast, where frigid ocean meets semi-desert flower wonderland. Oh yes, don't forget your wet-suit and a hoodie if you have one.
This Kommetjie spot, on the Atlantic side of the southern Cape Peninsula, offers the best and most consistent shore break in the Cape (maybe second after Durban). Works best on a southeaster, in small to medium swell. If you're after bigger fish, the Outer Kom kicks up massive curlers on a big westerly swell that are not for the faint hearted.
Long Boarders' paradise, this extremely popular swimming beach known as Surfer's Corner. In summer it's best to get there early, before the crowds and the pumping south-easter ruins things. Works best on a north-westerly in winter, but can be surfed most days of the year with a long board. Three surf schools hire out boards and wet-suits. Try the all-day breakfast pizza at Knead bakery-deli afterwards.
One of several bays long the Cape south coast, east of Cape Agulhas, that are constant producers (some of the others being Mossel, St Francis, Jeffrey's and Algoa-Port Elizabeth bays). Stil Bay has a pretty constant shore break in front of the village, but the hotties wait for a big south to south-east swell, when the right-hand point break really grinds.
A very narrow, steep-sided bay that is jealously guarded by young locals when its working well. Vic Bay works most of the year, due to the shape of the bay, and is suitable for all levels of surfer. If you're planning on hanging around for a while, try to get a booking at Land's End Guesthouse, one of the best located in the country.
Close to Knysna on the celebrated Garden Route, it's got a half-decent shore, point and reef break. Buffs is "only half-decent" because it is not a celebrated surfing venue. But what it lacks in dynamic surf it more than makes up for with consistency and easy conditions most of the time. Nice laid-back village atmosphere.
Supertubes, need I say more? This is South Africa's premiere surf spot and one of the world's most consistent tubes. J Bay is also the only place in the country where you could end up on the sharp end of local surf xenophobia. We suggest you don't try it unless you can hold your own on a wave, and never, ever, cut in on a local of go around one at the breaking point. On the down-side, voted (by this author) as the ugliest town in SA.
Cape St Francis
This is not to be confused with St Francis Bay, in the cusp of the bay, that was made famous in the 60s surf classic Endless Summer. Excepting when the reticent wave known as Bruce's Beauties is pumping down the arm of the bay and you get barrels rolling literally for kilometres. The Cape, or point of the bay, is a much nicer place all round, with a variety of point and shore breaks, best of which is Seal Point near the lighthouse.
Bay of Plenty
Or, for the less surf savvy, Durban. There is seldom a day when the wave is not working, and you can choose your spot according the size of the swell: it gets bigger from south (uShaka Beach) to north, at Blue Lagoon at the Umgeni River mouth. Look for the locals, who gather mostly at Diary or North Beach, near the north-most pier.
For more about surfing, as well as other things to do in Durban, click here.
We've left this one for last, because it works only on a winter storm surf, and is classed as one of the world's “big wave” venues. The 15-30 foot swell at Dungeons breaks over a shallow reef on the sea-side of Hout Bay and is accessible only by water craft. For the brave only (the new game in town is to body surf the monster).