Sunset surfing videos

Racing down the wave
Racing down the wave

On Saturday 23 August a long (21 second) period swell rolled in from a favourable direction, and some waves stood up quite tall at Sunset Reef, a wedge shaped reef about a kilometre off Long Beach, Kommetjie, that starts breaking when the swell is 3-4 metres in size. There were about 25 surfers in the water, and a few spectators in boats and jet skis. The wave I filmed in this video was too small (I think) to ride, so it just rolled through the group of surfers untouched. But it gives you a sense of how these bulges of water were appearing, seemingly from nowhere, on an otherwise flat piece of ocean, and then storming beachward.

The air temperature was on the nippy side, and the water was on the very nippy side, so the surfers must have been quite chilled lying on their boards waiting for something to happen. This second video shows some surfers actually catching one of the bigger waves.  Look how fast they are moving! You can also get an idea of the number of boats and jet skis in attendance.

When conditions are this good for surfing it’s rarely good enough to dive, which is why we’re very happy to take the boat out for an adventure like this when the opportunity arises. Please get in touch if you’d like to be informed of future expeditions!

Interested in a more sedate introduction to big wave surfing? I just read Ghost Wave, which is pretty awesome.

Bookshelf: Ghost Wave

Ghost Wave: The Discovery of Cortes Bank and the Biggest Wave on Earth – Chris Dixon

Ghost Wave
Ghost Wave

Chris Dixon is a surf journalist and author, with strong connections to the big wave surfing community. Nominally concerned with Cortes Bank, a submerged mountain in the deep Pacific ocean that rises nearly to the surface and generates massive waves under the right conditions, Ghost Wave is also a cultural history of big wave surfing.

Cortes Bank is located nearly 170 kilometres west of San Diego, California. It is a seamount that rises from nearly two kilometres’ depth, with a flattish top about 30 kilometres long. Its shallowest point is called Bishop Rock and is very close (1-2 metres at times) to the surface. When swells arrive from the right direction, with a long period, they are pushed up by the sudden depth change, creating waves up to 30 metres high. The wave moves so fast that surfers sometimes need to be towed into it on jet skis (igniting a whole other debate), and being held down on the reef is a potentially fatal experienceThis video purports to explain how the wave works, but may require more than one viewing as the graphics whizz by a bit fast. Dixon says that the waves at Cortes Bank may have no theoretical upper limit.

Dixon also describes the known history of Cortes Bank, which has long been known as a navigational hazard to shipping – because of its shallowness at Bishop Rock, and also because sometimes a wave tens of metres high is standing up  unexpectedly in the middle of the ocean! The first attempt to surf the wave may have been in the 1960s, but Dixon describes the first “recent” attempts, beginning in 1995.

Big wave surfers are a closed, almost secretive group, privy to experiences more terrifying and incredible than most ordinary people will ever face. Part of this secrecy, I suspect, is a deliberate and unnecessary attempt to add mystique to the sport. Dixon’s insight into one part of the developing big wave culture, and his descriptions of other big waves (Jaws, Mavericks, etc) add welcome colour to this – to me at least – mysterious pastime. It is entirely different to ordinary surfing. For some other perspectives on big wave surfing, from characters mentioned only in passing in Ghost Wave, check out The Wave (all about Laird Hamilton), and this article about Ken Bradshaw.

Here’s what Cortes Bank looks like:

Cortes Bank, 2001 from ENCYCLOPEDIA of SURFING videos on Vimeo

You can get the book here if you’re in South Africa, otherwise here or here.

Friday photo: Dungeons in action

Dungeons seen from the top of Chapmans Peak
Dungeons seen from the top of Chapmans Peak

Here’s the wave at Dungeons in action, seen from the top of Chapmans Peak drive. You can see the mess of white water just to the left of the Sentinel; this is where Dungeons is.

The wave comes to life under particular conditions that usually arise during the Cape Town winter: a long period, massive swell from the correct direction, along with favourable winds. It’s a very popular big wave surfing spot that mostly requires support from a jet ski, but not for the faint hearted. The wave breaks just out to sea from Duiker Island, and the white water washes over the island after the wave breaks. I don’t know where the seals go!

A Day on the Bay: Dungeons delivers

Date: 18 September 2013

Surfers on the face of the wave
Surfers on the face of the wave

Yesterday I described the spectacle of Dungeons, a truly enormous wave that breaks just outside Hout Bay when conditions are right. We had one such day in mid September, and the boat was chartered to take a boat load of photographers out to see the surfers in action. The swell was due to peak at 5.30pm, which is around when it was starting to get dark at that time of year. However in the two or three hours preceding sunset it was still amazing to watch.

A surfer returns to shore with his broken board
A surfer returns to shore with his broken board

Some surfers came out on jet skis, towing boards behind them. When it was time to go back to the slipway, we were confronted by a small group of surfers whose jet ski drivers had simply left them out at sea! I couldn’t believe it. The surfers didn’t seem too worried though! We loaded them and their boards onto Seahorse, but it was a tight squeeze. The boat was very full.

I had my hands full keeping everyone safe while we were out there, so not much photography was done by me. You really have to be on your toes as a skipper when so much water is moving around. However, here is a small gallery of some of the shots I took. If you’d like to join us next time Dungeons delivers, get in touch!

Big wave surfing at Dungeons

Surfers looking like ants on the face of Dungeons
Surfers looking like ants on the face of Dungeons

Big wave surfing is hugely popular worldwide and Cape Town has its own special place in the record books for awesome waves. Dungeons and Sunset Reef off Kommetjie, two local sites, will deliver the goods when the conditions are right. A massive, long period swell, the right amount of wind and favourable tides at either of these locations will deliver exhilarating surfing for a few really hardcore local and international surfers.

A recent trip out to the break at Dungeons off Hout Bay with a few photographers on board (and more than a few surfers on the way back) delivered some of the most exciting big wave surfing I have seen in a while. The thunderous roar of the waves and the speed at which the surfers fly down the face will deliver more than one “awesome” comment  a minute, and “ooh that is gonna hurt!” when someone falls is almost as frequently voiced.

If you have not been out at least once to watch this spectacle you must make the time do it. There is very little time to relax as a boat skipper whilst those huge rollers roll towards you. The ocean has power beyond your imagination and you can see just how easily a board can get snapped in half.

The guys that go there often to surf take a jet ski out towing a sled with spare boards, anchor the skis, and surf for hours in the cold Atlantic water. When evening starts to fall they mount the skis and head for home.

If you’re interested in a trip out to Dungeons for photography, or just to watch, it’s best to like our facebook page, or contact me to let me know you’re keen to get on the boat next time we go out. That’s where I’ll advertise future expeditions when the conditions are right.

I’ll share some more photos from an afternoon out at Dungeons tomorrow…

Flyboard: I want one of these

This is like a deleted scene from Waterworld. Keep watching – it gets better and better!

The modified jet ski is called a Flyboard. Read more about them here. Please move this to the top of the list of potential Christmas presents you were going to get for me.