Get barrelled in the desert!
Most readers of this magazine will have heard about the Skeleton Coast, many have probably even driven along its barren, windswept shores. But did you know there’s a world-renowned surf spot called Skeleton Bay?
Skeleton Bay is not just any old surf spot. It is widely considered to be one of the most spectacular waves on earth. Surfers fly in from as far afield as Hawaii and Australia to pit themselves against the seemingly never-ending wall of water. On a good day, the wave is up to 2 km long! In fact, it’s so perfect and cylindrical that it allows surfers to ride deep inside the barrel from start to finish. An experienced surfer could ride a wave here for more than three minutes – almost unheard of.
For a while, the location of the surf spot was known only to Namibians, until it was put on the map in 2008 by
Surfing magazine, an American publication. The magazine held an annual Google Earth Challenge to identify new spots with potential for good waves, which was won that year by Brian Gable, an IT specialist from California. He and a friend joined the magazine’s tour to the secret spot on the Namibian coastline, along with other pro surfers, including the American Cory Lopez.
After a video of Cory riding the wave went viral, the secret was out: Skeleton Bay was in fact Donkey Bay, near the port town of Walvis Bay.
Surfers had been riding Skeleton Bay long before 2008. It rose to prominence among locals around the early 2000s, but a group of Namibian diamond divers had ridden it on their windsurfers back in the 1980s.
“The wave wasn’t as long back then,” says Heiko Metzger, a former Namibian national windsurfing champ and ardent surfer. “We would head out and ride the winds, and between sessions we’d watch this perfect little wave peeling for about a hundred metres before closing out. We often thought about surfing it, but the current was too draining to deal with. Besides, it was great with a sail.”
So, how did the wave get so long? Unlike the ancient wilderness that surrounds it, Skeleton Bay is an infant in geological terms. Half a century ago, it didn’t even exist.
A 2012 study using satellite imagery backs up Heiko’s recollections, revealing how the shape of the bay has changed over the past 50 years. Huge quantities of sand moved north along the sand spit, which creates the wave. One geological study estimates that nearly one million cubic metres of sand flows past Skeleton Bay per year! Scientists believe a subtle shift in the wind direction since the late 1970s is responsible for the evolving landscape. As the predominant southerly wind continued to blow and move sand along the coast, Heiko’s 100 m wave grew into a 2 km freak of nature, surpassing iconic surf spots like Jeffreys Bay that took millennia to form.
Even today, the wave is evolving along with the movement of the sand and wind. The bay changes shape every season. It might disappear again in another 50 years. Until then, Skeleton Bay remains the benchmark for the perfect wave…