Creativity can define surfing. Lee-Ann Curren expresses her creativity on a trip to Africa.
Since the very beginning, surfing has been closely linked to art in every form – painting, music, photography and film. A lot of surfers approach surfing more like art than a sport, because creativity plays a big part in the way you ride a wave.
It takes years to refine style, the position of the body, the lines you choose to take.
It is almost like painting and dancing at the same time. A subtle change can make movement flawless for a second, and that synchronicity with the moving water is the best feeling in the world. It’s what makes surfing amazing to film and photograph.
You can make a reference to someone in your surfing: for example making a reference to Andy Irons by looking back at a barrel while coming out, to Tom Curren by bottom turning with your hand on the water and eyes towards the beach, etc. You can even make a statement with your surfing, like choosing to do a simple high line where everyone else would hit the lip. Everyone has their own style that reflects their personality and soul.
Sometimes we run out of inspiration and we can get a little bored of doing the same turn on the same wave every day (which we are the only ones to blame for, because surfing should never be boring), so we try to get out of our comfort zones by surfing different boards or by travelling to remote places and surfing new breaks.
This is partly why I decided to head to Mozambique, with Claudia Lederer documenting the trip. I was invited by longtime friend Tammy Lee Smith, young South African surfer Sophie Bell, and her family and friends. The plan was to land in Durban, meet everyone and get ready to leave for ‘Mozam’ two days later.
If surfing is an art, you could see this as an artists’ residency. The adventurous Bell Family took us to one of the most special places on earth – a little bay, three hours north of the border of Mozambique. We packed three 4x4’s with all kinds of boards, fishing equipment, a boat, a jet ski and two weeks worth of food and beers for 15 people, and we hit the road at 4am. The drive took us through an elephant reserve on bumpy dirt roads, and we drove deep into the bush for a
few hours. It was astonishing to see elephants, giraffes and wild dogs through the window.
When we finally made it to Bella Rocha after 8 hours of intense driving, the swell was small but it was still clear that we had arrived in paradise: the set up was perfect, a point break, the jungle, and no one in sight. We jumped in the crystal blue water with finless boards, and sliding in the sunset on gentle waves was a perfect way to start the trip.
The place we stayed at was like a campsite with dormitories and little cabins. When we got in from the surf the boys were setting up a ‘Braai’ (South African barbecue) and getting the fishing gear ready for the next few days.
It was amazing to get to know the Bell family and their friends. I feel like the key word to understand their vibe is YOLO (You Only Live Once). They were breaking all the codes of what a usual family from the suburbs should be like. For the whole trip we did not see any of them being self conscious, sad or unhappy. They were fishing, surfing, drinking beers, then dancing and singing, every day.
The first morning when we got to the beach it was hard to contain our excitement. The swell had glassed off, it wasn’t big but really clean – to me it looked like empty 3ft Snapper. After a few waves I started to get used to the feel of this wave, adapting to its power and shapes. It was like a skate park, enabling us to perfect some old moves and to learn new ones.
As a surfer you are evolving in a moving environment, and sometimes you take off on a wave with a plan in mind, but you have to be ready to change it. You have to always be ready to adapt and turn every situation to your advantage. It goes the same with the way with travel.
After a week of surfing our heads off in fun 3ft waves, the swell was decreasing and the wind started blowing onshore. Tammy got hold of a friend in Port Elizabeth who said there was a swell heading towards the South. So we decided to leave a few days early to go to Jeffreys Bay. We organised a ride back with one of the cars and willingly jumped from a tropical paradise to a crowded, cold-water, great white shark haven. Claudia had trouble understanding why we did that, but she followed along.
J-Bay is the ultimate surfing canvas. A wave that makes the concept of drawing lines gain all its meaning. Big perfect green walls roll along the shores so fast that it is hard to keep up with its pace.
As you take off you kind of need to have a clear vision of what the wave will do from start to end, to mentally pick a perfect line and surf with the right rhythm, otherwise you’ll get left behind the fast train.
It’s a fine balance between being
“THE FIRST MORNING WHEN
WE GOT TO THE BEACH IT WAS HARD TO CONTAIN OUR EXCITEMENT. THE SWELL HAD GLASSED OFF, IT WASN’T BIG BUT REALLY CLEAN – TO ME IT LOOKED
LIKE EMPTY 3FT SNAPPER.”
radical and making the section smoothly.
The afternoon we landed, once we’d got some food and sorted out accommodation, we still had a few hours before sunset. When we got to the beach we saw a few nice sets rolling through and felt the adrenaline rush even though we were tired from the trip. Ready to hit the water in no time, we paddled into the line-up and tried to politely wait for everyone out there to get a wave before it was our turn. On the first few rides I had trouble going fast enough, being more used to cruising on the rip balls of Mozambique.
Sometimes I felt like surfing the fish helped me to get rid of the speed problem. But then it was harder not to dig the rail at the end of a turn, because it’s a hollow wave. When things went smoothly it was the nicest feeling.
Surfing J-bay is like dancing salsa with a very experimented partner. It’s pretty hard not to mess it up. You try to not waste a second of the tube, and to carve down the face without losing speed to make the next section. A lot of the time I felt like I was timing everything wrong, barrel dodging, then racing down the line when the wave would slow down, and cutting back when the wave would speed up again. Tammy was doing the double arm drag to make sure she wouldn’t miss a tube section, and that seemed to work pretty nicely. No matter how we surfed the wave, we would paddle back up the point with the biggest smile, making the most of every second surfing this iconic point.
Watching wave-riding artists like Derek Hynd or young style master Mikey February was very inspiring out there. It takes years to learn to surf J-bay properly but that is what makes it so fun. After three days I still felt like I was only starting to get my marks, but it was already time for us to leave. Tammy was going back to work and training to surf big waves in the South African winter, and we left her the next day promising we would explore some of the European Coast together next November.
When I think about this trip I can’t believe how much surfing and good times we squeezed into two weeks. It is nice to think
I’ve got a bit of Bella Rocha, Mozambique and J-Bay, South Africa engraved in my mind but also into my surfing. Like, maybe a specific line learnt during this trip, or inspiration from the other people I surfed with, that sub-consciously changed my approach forever.
Tammy Lee Smith, double arm drag, J Bay.