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Surfing in Southern Africa


Sun, sea, sand and ... stupendous surf. Just think about it. South Africa's coastline is 3,000 km long so it's not surprising that it has some of the best surf in the world. Here's a very condensed run around the coast from east to west.

You get places that have good surf, and then you get places that are just defined by surf. Durban is one of those places. The whole city has a surf culture. The central business district flows right down to the beaches and it has the country's only surf museum. There's also great surfing on the North and South Coasts to either side of Durban. The water is warm and many locals surf without wetsuits.

Heading further south, the Wild Coast is just that - wild. And it's a rite of pilgrimage for all South African surfers to - at least once in their lives - travel up the Wild Coast, camping on deserted beaches and discovering secret breaks, but it's not an option to be taken lightly. Rather head towards Port St Johns or Coffee Bay, where the surf is great and there is some infrastructure. As you head down the coast, the water gets a bit colder, and most people wouldn't surf here without at least a shortie wetsuit.

East London has some fabulous surf - particularly Nahoon. Port Alfred, known to the locals as Kowie, has a cooking right break off the pier. Port Elizabeth has some nice surf, and it's a fun little city but there are better waves to the east and west. West of Port Elizabeth is Jeffrey's Bay - or J-Bay - the mecca of South African surfing.

Supertubes at J-Bay is reputed to be one of the fastest and most perfectly formed waves in the world, and Bruce's Beauties, at the nearby Cape St Francis, is legendary. If you saw Endless Summer, you'll remember it. The waves are still awesome, but the magic has gone. Hideous yellow brick apartment buildings line the streets and J-Bay definitely scoops the award for the ugliest town in the prettiest surroundings.

There's great surfing in the Garden Route towns of Plettenberg Bay, Buffalo Bay and Wilderness. Mossel Bay, which is otherwise the least attractive of the Garden Route towns, has some awesome waves but it also has a shark-cage diving operator that regularly chums so it's a bit of a dicey one there. The tiny settlement of Victoria Bay, between Wilderness and George is a little gem that's reserved for locals only during December and early January. No kidding.

The coastline around Agulhas, which is the most southerly tip of the continent, faces the open ocean with nothing between there and Antarctica, so it has some pretty impressive breaks. Arniston, Jongensfontein, Stilbaai and Struisbaai all offer quite big right reef breaks but there are some fun shore breaks for beginners as well. The water here is getting a tad chillier, and a good wetsuit is pretty well mandatory.

Cape Town, of course, offers awesome surf. The shape of False Bay and the height of the peninsula make for loads of micro-surf environments, so there's almost always something surfable somewhere. Koeelbaai, on the eastern side of False Bay, is a long, hollow break that's not really for beginners. Muizenberg, on the other hand, has a shallow sloping beach with long shore breaks and it's where almost every Cape Town local learned to surf. It is still richly endowed with surf schools. Further along False Bay, Kalk Bay Reef is a short but sweet left, and Fish Hoek usually has some nice, gentle waves.

On the western side of the peninsula, the water is really cold and a good, full wetsuit is essential. Most surfers also wear a hoody and booties and some even wear gloves. The whole area from Scarborough through to Noordhoek offers fabulous surf. Outer Kom, just off the little town of Kommetjie, is one of the best big wave spots in the country. The well named Long Beach, which runs from Kommetjie to Noordhoek, has some great breaks. North of Noordhoek, the mountains run straight down into the sea so the coast is rocky and inaccessible, except for the lovely little Hout Bay beach, which has a reasonable break on the eastern side. But, in the bay itself, is a legendary, scary surf spot. Dungeons only starts breaking at about three metres and it's right next to a big seal colony (which is a larder for what kind of fish?). It's the venue of the annual Big Wave Africa competition held every June. Llandudno and Glenn Beach both have pretty powerful hollow beach breaks and the odd territorial local.

The West Coast has a couple of good spots but the real gem is Elandsbaai, about three hours north of Cape Town. North of South Africa, Namibia, on the west coast has icy cold water but a couple of good spots. Walvis Bay and Swakopmund are relatively easily accessible but, if you want to experience true wilderness surfing, head out to Cape Cross, which has a left that can break continuously for hundreds of metres. No infrastructure, no water, no shark nets and millions of seals (and what eats seals?). Still north of the border but on the east coast, Mozambique has some lovely warm water surfing just off sparkly white palm-fringed tropical beaches. Tofo, near the town of Inhambane, is reputed to have the best surf in the country, and Ponta do Ouro, which is just north of the border, is easily accessible and has a long right point break.

For something a little more wacky, you can river board on standing waves in the Batoka Gorge on the Zambezi River between Zimbabwe and Zambia. There is a wave pool at Sun City in the North West Province, and the Gateway Shopping Centre, outside Durban, has an awesome wave tank with the world's first (and possibly only) artificial double point break.

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