Donkey Bay, Namibia. Photo: Timo
The saying remains the same: there’re only two things you can on count in life – death and taxes – and even the most accurate surf forecasts are never going to become the third, that’s for sure. So you can speak to the best hunters, cross check info and still land in a distant country in Africa and spend four days checking all the maps and thinking, ‘tomorrow will be better’. But it won’t. It is and will be small, windy and there are no alternative spots. One thing is for sure: there’s a perfect spot pumping somewhere on this African continent, you’re just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Can you fix it? No, but Aritz Aranburu can. He spoke with a thousand people, spent hours on Skype, downloaded a hundred videos (with a connection slower than grandma on crutches) to show us how good it could be on the other side of the same continent. And it was.
Shark buffet. Photo: Timo
Just how good? Well, when you hear the same sentence – “One of the best barrels of my life!” – from some of the most talented tube masters in the universe, you get a pretty good idea… But first things first: getting there. Aritz is the only one from the group that already surfed the spot and he knows what to do: Get a powerful 4X4, a guide that can take you to the right exit – it’s not nice to get lost in the desert looking for waves – and food, lots of food. Even if you’ll be eating a lot of sand – some people say its good for your intestines and that’s why babies insist on doing it – you need something to get your arms and legs going. The wave is so long that if you stand mid-way along the beach, there’s no way you can see where it starts or ends. 2.5 km long, they told me and I couldn’t believe it. Now I do. And did I mention it barrels? Yep, all the way non stop barrelling just like on your wettest salty dreams or that small piece of paper where you got lost during maths class drawing imaginary waves. Not any more. They’re real. Those waves jumped straight from your drawings to reality. God exists.
No lens exists that is wide enough to take in a 3km pointbreak. You just have to use your imagination. Photo: Timo
Wait for the sets to stop; paddle out; wait but not too much or the strong current will beat you easy; when you see a good one, paddle hard or you’ll be always condemned to a too late drop that can cost you the best wave of your life. From that point, you just play hide and seek with the thing and hopefully you wont get smashed against the compacted sand that lays barely 1 metre under your board. Breath in, breath out, sun, shadow, hot, cold, clear, dark, the hardest thing here is not getting shacked.
Aritz. Photo: Ricardo Bravo
Tiago, Vasco, Aritz and the image crew flew from Africa, Miki and Jeremy flew from Europe to meet us. Usually around here, a swell lasts for one or two days if you’re lucky, so when boards don’t arrive on the same flight as you did, you might have a problem… Jeremy’s boards didn’t come, he had a big problem. Or, we all thought he had, until he got in the water with Tiago’s board and started pulling rabbits out of the hat, a very deep hat. If it was a contest – some might say it’s always a contest with these guys – everyone from the group would easily have got tens, even if the first ones were hard to see – the Skeleton Coast fog must be a franchise from London –, they all scored a ton of deep, brown, fast gruelling barrels. My camera was shooting 50 photos sequences just aiming at 20% of the wave path. Absurd. Vince and Isio – the video guys – where standing in two different spots so that they could register about 40% of the wave, and they still had had a small wide angle camera mounted on the taxi – the 4X4 in charge of picking up the surfers at the end of the wave and bringing them back up to the spot – and I can only imagine how many smiles and story telling he got on that memory card. A short, sorry, a long film on how surfing makes people happy could be edited just with the footage from that camera.
Miky, Mimi, Saca and Vasc. Photo: Ricardo Bravo
“Man, hope it’s not too fast or too big. Backside barrelling is not my thing and with all these guys around I’m gonna look like a kook…” Vasco told me before we left flat land heading for tube land, and before he got a super deep one getting out way after the spray. For a kook, he’s a fast learner.
“Have you seen that? I think I just scored one of the longest barrels of my life!” That’s Coxos master, Tiago, speaking on the back of the taxi with a big, big, grin on his face. Sorry mate, I didn’t, the wave is too long to get everything on the camera. Anyway, Tiago never brags about anything and I’m pretty sure he’s spent more time in real barrels than any of us in our dreams. Next passenger on the taxi – Miky: “The wave just kept going and barrelling all over the place! Amazing! Never seen anything like this!” And as these passengers told me their stories, Aritz was ready to surf all day long, non stop. Maybe he stopped for a nutela sandwich and some water, but to me it looked like he surfed for ten hours straight – he was on a tube marathon. Sorry, truth is he was the first to get in the water at sunrise and the first to get out after – Greenpeace close your eyes now – running over something (hopefully a seal) that got on his way. Broken fin, get a new board, back in. Jeremy? He just kept taking rabbits and everything you can imagine from the deepest magician hat ever.
So, just to get this straight: it’s expensive to get there, it’s far – not Indo far, but still some distance, hard to find the way through the desert without getting stuck on thin sand, too cold, too fogy, strong currents, seals and sharks all over the place, tricky to get a decent photo and a variation on ten degrees on the swell direction will move you from Paradise to Inferno. We were lucky to have a hunter with us, we got it too damm perfect to be true, four, five barrels per wave, dreamlike waves becoming real, surreal. And he best part of all? Nobody died. Because if ever there were a place to die quietly, alone, to rot silently back to a sandblasted bones, surely this be it.
– Ricardo Bravo