DIAMONDS IN THE MIST : BY PAT O'SHEA : ALL PHOTOS ANDREW LITTLE, EXCEPT WHERE NOTED.
The fog is thick. No; thick doesn't do it justice. The fog is nigh impenetrable. The enticing sound of waves breaking is about the only thing that cuts through the shroud of grey-white. This area of South Africa, known as the Weskus, is notorious for its fog. Two hundred days a year it rolls in from the sea, blocks out the sun and covers everything in cold and damp. The waves here are quality, but ckle, and their locations are well-guarded secrets. It's taken some serious research, planning and a very long drive to nd this spot; a superb right-hand point. But we can't be sure that we actually have found it because we can barely see an arm's length in front, let alone the surf.
Our group is made up of a veritable tri-nations of surfers; two Saffas, a hell-bent, hell-charging, moustachioed Kiwi and myself. One Saffa and the Aussie suit-up and disappear into the haze wearing the full hood-and-booty garb of a Weskus surfer. We edge blindly toward the sound of breaking waves; over mounds of dried mussel and limpet shells, around foul-smelling pools of water and onto a range of unsteady boulders. When we step onto a bed of live mussels we know we're close. Three paces later we plunge into the icy Atlantic.
The kelp is nigh impassable; immense, strong, nbreaking stalks in densely packed forests that impede our progress. We struggle through; anxious to put some distance between ourselves and the mussel beds before a set looms out of the gloom and causes some issues.
A heavy splash just beyond the eld of vision causes a jump in heart-rate and I look around to gauge a reac- tion from my counterpart. But he's nowhere to be seen; swallowed by the mist like everything else. Now that I'm clear of the kelp and I can't see the shore I'm not sure which way to paddle in, so I push on. Somehow I stroke into a clear patch; like a sunny clearing in a forest of murky vapour. I spot my man Daryn paddling over a shapely four-foot wave and all thoughts of large marine creatures are erased from my mind. He turns his head and grins; this is going to be a session to remember.
The aim of the trip is to connect with a swell at that desolate sand spit in Namibia they call Skeleton Bay. August is supposed to be one of the most consistent months up there and we have the entire 31 days to score. Alas, as we set off from Cape Town the forecast looked about as bad as it gets. No red blobs charging across the charts; only the uninspiring blue and turquoise of an apparently inert ocean. So we made a detour to this lonely corner of the African continent where the reefs and points don't need so much grunt to get going.
A large slice of the Weskus is diamond mining area. Most of it has, at one time or another, been fenced off, locked up and had the guts ripped out of it in the hunt for those glitzy little rocks. There are parts of the region that are still strictly off-limits to the public. A quick scan on Google Earth shows some potential setups in the coastal diamond areas. But the standard protocol for dealing with trespassers in the Wild Weskus is something like 'shoot rst, ask questions later'. With the swell situation we had on our hands it was de nitely not worth the risk. It was due to drop in the coming days and even our swell-magnet point (which requires a covert vault or two over unguarded fences to access) would probably shrink to knee-high kelp runners.
There's only so much frisbee you can throw on the beach before one-foot dribblers start looking good. But they never are. There's something about bouncing around in gutless white-water that makes you want to scream in frustration. We scour that coast for any sign of a wave and come up empty handed; mid-morning onshores and fog banks don't help our desperate operation. The forecast is dire but we persevere because none of us really has a clue about this area. And empty one-footers are better than crowded one-footers any day of the week.
A small pulse of westerly swell lls in one day and we nd a slabby little right that it's hitting nicely. There are porpoises fanging around in great numbers and in the translucent glass on a rare fogless day we watch them pass underneath. The wave itself is a shifty peak throwing thick lips over a kelpy ledge. The glassy conditions provide some delectable in-tube moments but the barrel often clamps shut. The Kiwi, who refers to himself as Vadar (like the Star Wars tyrant) even though his name is Brad and everyone calls him Brett, elects to sit on the rocks, comb his moustache and bemoan the small conditions. We name the reef Britt's in honour of the way 'Brett' sounds with an exaggerated Kiwi accent and wish his mouth would occasionally clamp shut.