Steve Pike

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - SPORT -

The ocean played a big role in Nel­son Man­dela’s life. Sur­rounded by the cease­less At­lantic Ocean for al­most 20 years, this prox­im­ity was not ex­actly of his choos­ing. But day af­ter day, Madiba har­vested kelp in the tidal zone along the rocks, with Ta­ble Moun­tain in view across the heav­ing seas of Ta­ble Bay.

How many thun­der­ous storm seas and rag­ing tem­pests must have shook cell num­ber 46664 over those 19 win­ters?

I have of­ten won­dered about his thoughts as he stood among the rock pools, with gi­ant surf crack­ing and roar­ing along the reef be­fore him.

As we hon­our his mem­ory, surfers may won­der if Man­dela knew about the surf break on the open ocean side of Robben Is­land. Madiba’s Left, or Madiba’s Point, was coined dur­ing a surf trip across Ta­ble Bay to the is­land many years ago by for­mer world big-wave surf­ing cham­pi­ons Ian Arm­strong and Cass Col­lier, a black surfer with strong anti- apartheid cre­den­tials.

It is doubt­ful that Man­dela mind-surfed the curl­ing break­ers like surfers might, or that he was aware that his prison was a wave- rich zone that surfers il­lic­itly sneaked in to surf.

I won­der whether he was ever told of the story my fa­ther-in-law and for­mer Cape Times ed­i­tor Tony Heard once told me about a dar­ing plan to break Madiba out of Robben Is­land.

As a surfer in the 1950s on those wa­ter-logged barges that took two men bulging with spinach to carry into the wa­ter, Heard and friends later, in the 1970s, shared an idea. It was sim­ple. Let’s get Madiba off the is­land by pad­dling him on a long­board into the ship­ping lane.

“The pris­on­ers would of­ten har­vest kelp on the shore­line. I thought, hey, why not pad­dle qui­etly through the soup, cam­ou­flaged by the kelp, maybe in the dark of night, hide out and then get him to climb on the board and pad­dle two-up into the ship­ping lane to be picked up by a for­eign freighter. Any­thing to get him out of South Africa!”

As a nat­u­ral her­itage site and re­serve, Robben Is­land will re­main iso­lated and empty, her kelpy surf­ing se­crets safely guarded. Only the hardi­est dare to ven­ture here. This for­lorn stretch of Pre­cam­brian rock is not lit­tered with the rusted hulks of ships for noth­ing. The el­e­ments have bru­tally dis­posed of 29 ships on th­ese shores, most smashed into obliv­ion by the vi­o­lent salty surf.

Then there is the gut-cur­dling cross­ing in deep ocean, the no-tres­pass­ing laws that co­coon her, and the loom­ing prospect of “men in grey suits” – great white sharks – that pa­trol the depths.

The plan – also men­tioned by for­mer Daily Dis­patch ed­i­tor Don­ald Woods, in his book Rain­bow Na­tion Re­vis­ited – did not come to fruition.

There was un­cer­tainty about Madiba’s safety. What if the ship did not see them? What about weather and sea con­di­tions?

But it’s a nice thought. Imag­ine a di­a­logue be­tween a white surfer and Nel­son Man­dela as they drift silently out to sea off the Cape of Storms?

Heard says he al­most broached the sub­ject with Win­nie Man­dela, but for some rea­son, prob­a­bly due to the dis­crep­ancy be­tween per­ceived risk and re­ward, never did.

It was un­likely that Man­dela would agree to a “take­off ” into the un­known so will­ingly. It was a wipe- out wait­ing to hap­pen.

Hamba Kahle Madiba. THE win­dow pe­riod of the Bil­l­abong Pipe­line Mas­ters be­gins tomorrow, and a solid swell is bear­ing down on the North Shore of Oahu in Hawaii. Sadly, Jordy Smith won’t be com­pet­ing in the last world tour event of the year, but he gets to chill at home for a change af­ter scoop­ing a top five place in the world. Ru­mour has it that he has a very tough fit­ness coach who will en­sure a new- look, re­laxed com­peti­tor in 2014. A FRISKY south­easter at least blows straight SE, which is fine for Clifton 4th beach where we are sceen­ing some surf films.

Show starts at 9pm and it’s of course free. Bring a blan­ket and chill un­der the stars. SURF­BOARD shapers Robby McDon­ald and Dutchie lost their fac­tory in a fire re­cently.

The sup­port from the com­mu­nity has been amaz­ing, but still some way to go be­fore they can re­build prop­erly. Visit: www.vudusurf.com/ or www.dutchie.co.za THERE is some dy­ing swell around as the south­easter rips through the penin­sula this weekend.

How­ever, the worst blow took place yes­ter­day, with a fresh wind build­ing to strong again to­day and tomorrow, but not the gale-force gusts.

The swell is drop­ping, with 4’ sets run­ning to­day and 3’ surf tomorrow. Be­ware the wa­ter. It’s freez­ing.

MICHELLY RALL

TOUCH­ING DIS­TANCE: An­dries Jou­bert comes as close as damn-it while surf­ing Madiba’s Left off Robben Is­land.

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