For the first time in a long, long time, there’s to be no professional surf event at the world’s best wave, Jeffreys Bay. Bad news for pro surfers and full time webcast addicts, but good news for punters who want to sample what its like to travel at the fastest speed possible. With the season kicking in, no jetlag and the massive steaks for 3 euros, shouldn’t you be in J-Bay.
Where do you start, and where do you stop, when talking about Jeffreys Bay, universally known as one of, if not, the best waves in the world? This wave (or in fact series of interlinking waves) has everything any surfer could ever need, with the possible exception of warm water.
A tantalising mix of sand and reef, tubes and open face, consistency, length, variety and quality means that it easily falls into that cliche of a wave that every surfer must surf before they die. To not do so is to do you, your country and every other surfer in the world, a huge disservice. Ask yourself this; do you really want to die unhappy, dispirited and forlorn, knowing you had the chance the surf one of the world’s geographic surfing diamonds, and didn’t?
The break and the town of Jeffreys Bay lies about an hour’s drive from the city of Port Elizabeth, pretty much smack bang in the middle between Cape Town and Durban. The wave itself has been surfed since the early ‘60s, the early longboard pioneers discovering the end sections perfect for their heavy logs. However as time progressed, and surfboards became shorter and more maneuverable, the focus soon moved up to the aptly named Supertubes, the barreling 400 yard section that you have mostly seen in videos and photos, or more recently in webcasts from the Billabong Pro, which until this year held there every July. Predictably last year, when the event was downgraded to QS, it scored the best 4 days in competition history.
If the conditions are right, that is a six to eight foot swell is being airbrushed by a light sou-west wind (which through the months of May to September happens with ridiculous regularity) Supertubes throws up some of the most perfect, powerful and paciest tubes on the planet. And if you time it right paddling through the key hole (a big if granted) you can even be in the line-up with dry hair. Six wave sets roll in, each wave a mirror images of the last, with six second tubes the norm. It’s also a known scientific fact that you will never travel as fast on a surfboard as you will if you manage to catch a six foot waves at Supers.
However, there in lies the catch. Catching a six foot wave at Supers can sometimes be a frustratingly difficult task. While the constant flow of tourists to Jeffreys Bay will always ensure a crowd, it has been the locals response to this endless invasion that will probably cause you the most frustration. Known as Jeffreys Bay Underground (JBU) this is a close knit group of hard core local surfers who match intense talent and local knowledge with some good old fashion violent localism. Luckily, by showing them respect, and with the wave so long and so consistent, it still possible to have the best surf of your life, day after day after day.
In addition, if the action at Supertubes is too intense, there are plenty of other sections offering world class waves and a mellower vibe. After Supertubes, comes Impossibles (named with good reason), before sections known as Tubes, Point and the Albatross, which all offer set takeoff zones, less crowds and long wally fun waves. Of course if all the planets align and you have Dalai Llama like Karma, it’s possible to ride a wave from Supertubes all the way through to the Point, by which time you’ll have legs like jelly, a heart beating like a hummingbird’s, a 800 yard paddle back out and a sense that no matter what happen in the rest of your life, you can die happy.
The perfect day: An early season May morning sees sunny skies, offshore SW winds, 16 degree water and an eight-foot swell. Braving the cold, an dawn session sees you surfing Supertubes, with just a handful of locals. Six 500 yard waves later, and wrapped in a warm jacket, you munch on a strip of biltong, watch the perfect line-up and plan your next two surfs of the day. Repeat this cycle for 2 months.
Best months: May-September. While always cold, the consistent swell and offshores mean loads of back to back swells. Out of season is less consistent, but has the advantages of less crowds.
Getting there: Fly into Johannesburg, Cape Town or Durban international airports, then a domestic flight to Port Elizabeth. From PE buses can be easily arranged to get to Jeffreys Bay.
Boards: The full quiver, from shortboard to big guns. This wave has serious range, and paddling power is always handy.
Essentials: A good 4/3 wetsuit and paddling strength is essential, whilst a hankering for ridiculously cheap and enormously tasty red meat and wine helps.
Accommodation: There’s a host of quality backpackers set up for traveling surfers. Island Vibe has an amazing location, although is a bit of a walk from Supers. Also try Ubuntu, Hard Rock and Phoenix backpackers for cheap beds and great times.
Other waves: Kitchen Windows (in front of Island Vibe) is an underrated excellent wave, whilst MagnaTubes just round the corner from Supers offers quality tubes, if the sand is right. An half hour’s drive away is the swell magnet of Seals Point plus the mythical Cape St Francis.