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