In Africa for the Tour, Matt Wilkinson and Owen Wright head Deep South and rubber up against all things Dark Continent. Words as told By Wilko to Dave Sparkes, Photos by Corey Wilson and Stu Gibson.
We’d been in J-Bay and since we were both out of the running for the WSL event we thought, well sweet; we’re in a good part of the world for wearing wetsuits and finding some space to ourselves so we thought: Let’s go searching.
We had a couple of South African friends, Paul and Caleb, who are very clued in to the coastline south of Jeffries, pretty much all the way to the Cape and beyond. It seems like they know every nook and cranny on that huge coastline. The forecast looked really good and it sounded like an adventure. I’m always keen to check out new places, so we just kind of packed up and drove down.
We left J-Bay to head south just before the final day of the contest, and stopped in to go for a cage dive with great whites along the dirty old road. That was intense enough, but after getting out of the water from the dive, we all turned on our phones to try to see what was happening in the final and the webcast was going mad: “Mick’s just been attacked by a massive shark!”
The waves were actually pretty good, but it was all a bit close to the cage diving business; and we were too freaked out to surf with Mick fresh in our minds. A beach that has 50 resident great whites cruising around a hundred metres away is not my first choice to surf … so we kept driving down the coast.
Holy shit, are we actually gonna go back in the water on this trip?
That night, Owen and me were sharing a room, just hanging there watching the Jeffries drama and everyone’s spooked interviews. We were texting the boys back and forth about the scene and in between discussing: “Holy shit, are we actually gonna go back in the water on this trip?” It was surreal. People say that a lot these days, “It was surreal,” but this genuinely was all a bit Salvador Dali…
We went and checked out the west coast, and somehow got our heads together enough to surf a big, open beach break. It was like a South Straddie (Oz) style, slabby wedges, but just really cold and there were seals swimming around the line up. It was a bit of a weird swell direction but we got a few and no one got eaten and so we sort of calmed down a bit.
A little way past that place we surfed a really fun left point. A crazy set up. The sets were only just clearing the kelp, but the smaller ones, which looked so perfect, didn’t break far enough away from the kelp – you’d just get bogged! At a little bit bigger size though I think it’d be an amazing wave. Still, we were wondering what was hiding in the kelp. Anything that touches you in the water in South Africa, you freak out! Even though it’s slimy and slippery it feels like a shark tooth.
We surfed another wave that day which shows how diverse the surf is over there. It was a big trek down, a sweeping; long beach and gale force winds were blowing our arses off. The weather was freezing cold, and the waves were about 8 foot; just big, open offshore pits breaking way outside. We were thinking we were going to freeze before we even got out to where it was breaking. It was hectic, but we got a few good ones eventually.
After the Mick incident, we were on such high alert, especially surfing so far out. Of course, we saw something big break the water outside of us, and thought “What’s going on?” Then it surfaced again, and we could see its outline clearly – a big whale. Never been so stoked!
Our photographer, Corey Wilson, purposely forgot his water housing for that session. So Stu Gibson, who is from Tassie and is totally crazed, swam out instead. He loves it; he swims around icebergs and kicks sharks in the teeth every day. Or so he says…
The food was insane on this trip, which is always one of the best things about searching. I think the food in South Africa is about my favourite of anywhere in the world. You can go out to a restaurant that would charge $150 for a meal back home, and pay $15. You just get this amazingly good quality food every day there.
One place we went to was really cool, it is set up literally right on the beach, with big open fires. They came out with like 30 lobsters and heaps of fish and other stuff, and cooked a braai, the South African version of a bbq. Apparently the place only opens when they get a booking, then they cruise out and get all of their produce for that night and braai it up for you. I love the braai! That night was one of the best meals I’ve ever had, just unbelievable.
One night we went out in town and saw Ben Howard play. The waves weren’t supposed to be that good next day, but of course after a pretty big night and waking up a bit under the weather, the waves were the best we saw on the whole trip. Owen actually had a couple of naps on the beach that day, curled up in the freezing cold. We thought he was joking but he was fast asleep – between surfs of course, and naturally he was still ripping.
You do a lot of driving down there, the roads just go around bay after bay; it feels endless. You put in the hours over and over and over, but the scenery is incredible. It is such a beautiful part of the world, so wild and big and treacherous. It sort of makes it hard to tell how big the waves are sometimes, as if the size is distorted by all the imposing mountains and massive bluffs. It is an awesome place, and it’s well worth putting in the time there.
And that’s about 2% of the entire Continent done!