Summer, 2011

“Don’t talk to me about fucking sharks!”

We were quick to shut our mouths. Local legend Ryan Ribbink knows what it takes to get in the water most days of the year and surf to his ability. But in the six weeks we spent dipping our sticks in the notoriously sharky waters of South Africa, his advice, not to think or talk about sharks, was at times impossible to follow. 

Our first stop was Capetown. It would have been a shock after the bikini-and-boardies barrels of Mozambique, only we’d had a couple of weeks to ease ourselves in to the blisteringly cold South Atlantic in Namibia. A couple of long weeks, camping in an ashtray on the edge of the desert, waiting for waves. We couldn’t afford a room. 

In this sense, Capetown was still a shock because not only did we land in a whitewashed double on an organic farm (fresh flowers! cream sheets! mosaic tiles in the toilet!) but the night we pulled in, after a 23 hour bus ride, the swell lines were stacked to the horizon. Indo style.

Tom, my partner, zipped into suit, hood and boots and was out the door. I promised I’d make dinner but instead, poured myself a glass of wine and collapsed onto the couch. I fell asleep before I’d finished it. 

The next morning he was calling it a cold-water Indo. 

“Yeah, right!”

“Suit up Mads.”

I suited up. 

We were about a thirty minute walk from Noordhoek Beach. The walk took us through tree-tunnels, past farms and white-gabled houses. 

“We’re in Africa,” said Tom.

It was hard to believe.

Almost as hard as the empty 3ft barrels. The champagne-white sand. And Dungeons, the infamous big-wave spot, swathed distant in black mist. 

We hit the sand at a run. We’d heard about a spot halfway down the beach called Dunes but didn’t make it that far. On finding the first, spitting bank, we looked at each other, shrugged and were onto it. The water was 12 degrees. Cold enough to punch the breath out of you. I didn’t have boots or hood but managed an hour and fifteen in my 3’2 before I was forced in. I did a couple of 100m sprints, envying the locals in their 4’3s, then paddled back out.

After that first day, sunburnt, surfsore, slightly dizzy on a honey-tasting Chardonnay from Stellenbosch, I said to my man, “Love, we’re making the move. You can get a job in the Cape Point nasho, I’ll work on a paper in the city and we’ll both buy 4’3s.”

That was before we’d stayed with the Germans.

Whatever you’ve heard about violence in South Africa, it’s probably true.