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Surfing the Big Waves in South Africa

At a party last night I was told all about Sunset – the best of the best big waves in South Africa. I’ve written before about Dungeons:

Psycho drop, Dungeons, South Africa

… a beaut if ever there was one – as they’d say in South Africa, but now it’s time to turn our eyes briefly to Sunset, and then we’ll come back and check out Red Bull’s Big Wave competition in this beautiful country.

Big wave surfers are known as mullets and mullets have been around since time immemorial. They’re nothing new, but there are not many of them – hard core big wave surfers.

Which brings me back to Sunset. If you didn’t know better you’d doubt that this mythical wave existed. There are times when the sea is peaceful, but sometimes, and mainly in the Summer when the south-east blows, it produces an unbelievable world-class wave – a wave only for fearless big wave mullets.

Map of the Cape Peninsula. Western Cape. Cape Town. South Africa.

Sunset Reef is the most famous wave on this jagged Cape Peninsula coastline from Kommetjie to Cape Point including around the Point to Muizenburg and False Bay which also have excellent waves to offer surfers. The shape of the peninsula means that regardless of wind direction there is always a beach somewhere close by with an on-shore wind. Long Beach Kommetjie, Outer Kom, Washing Machine, Dunes and The Hoek are all close by and Diaz Beach, Kalk Bay and Llandudno are there if Kommetjie is not working.

Sunset itself is a world class wave with a sometime break. It is hollow, fast and powerful with a righthand direction. The bottom has flat rocks and sand. The wave starts working at over 3.5m and holds well up to 5m. On a good day the wave is 50m long. You will need to hire a boat from longbeach to get there, but you can be sure that there will be very few other surfers enjoying it – this is a wave for extreme kamikaze mullets only. Beware the sharks though!

The following video (XLTV) shows some of Cape Town’s gems, including Sunset:

Sunset was discovered fairly early on in South Africa, but Dungeons was only pioneered in 1985. The Paarman brothers had made a name for themselves as the first  South African family of big wave surfers and one day in the early 80’s Pierre noticed a solid swell running which created  a clean phantom wave standing up and throwing its toys underneath the Sentinel cliffs. So piqued was his interest in this wave that he and Peter Button lugged up the back of the Sentinel hill to watch it. One fine day in 1985 they decided to ride it. From the hill it looked 10 foot and clean. They walked down the hill, scrambled over the rocks and paddled across the deep water channel, oblivious to whatever beasts were lurking underneath them. They got out back and it was more like 20 foot, without a drop of water out of place. The wave stood up like a fortress and had a wall like the one in China – huge, long and sweeping into the distance. On his little twin fin hybrid, Pierre was perilously undergunned. The next time he bought the right equipment.

Pierre and Peter rated the wave better than the Sunset bowl, because of the longer ride and the huge arcing wall it produced. They surfed it as often as they were willing to make the arduous mission. And with that, Dungeons was pioneered and recorded forever in the chronicle of big wave lore.

Red Bull Big Wave Africa (zigzagsurf) is now in its 8th year. The event is held at “Dungeons”, just east of The Sentinel, a peak in Hout Bay, Cape Town. This year sees a radical new format introduced to give the event the utmost chance of running. The biggest format change is the waiting period. Instead of the usual 21 days, a relatively small window for any big-wave spot to stand to attention, the waiting period has been extended to nearly four months. Day one of this period is Monday May eighth, and the window closes on August the thirteenth. All in all, 97 days of possible contestable waves. There are 18 invited surfers and 20 alternates, all with rock-solid big-wave surfing credentials. The field is wide-open.


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