South Africa: coastal playground

South Africa is one of the top surfing countries in the world, with sublime coastal scenery and consistent, high-quality surf. The country also offers great sailing, sea kayaking and surfskiing – and some of the best wind- and kite- surfing in the world.

Surfing in South Africa

“South Africa is one of the top surfing countries in the world, with sublime coastal scenery, consistent high-quality surf, a cheap but high standard of living, and a unique culture to be proud of,” says Steve Pike of the Wavescape website – and few visitors would disagree.

There are hundreds of surf breaks all along our coast. The best known spots are around Cape Town, Durban, Jeffreys Bay and East London, but there are loads of great, virtually unsurfed waves besides these.

Our surf ranges from safe swells for beginners to epic breaks that scare even hardened competitors in the international contests held in the country.

The many backpackers hostels around the country are geared up for board rental, escorted surfaris and surfing lessons, and there are dedicated surf schools in Durban, Cape Town and many of the smaller coastal towns.

Top 10 surf spots

South African Tourism lists the Top 10 surf spots in South Africa as:

  1. Jefferys Bay: The area of the Eastern Cape around Cape St Francis, Jeffreys Bay and Port Elizabeth – collectively known as “J Bay” by local surfers – is world-famous for the quality of its waves.
  2. New Pier, Durban: Courtesy of the pier in the middle of Dairy beach, carve up some of the best man-made waves in Southern Africa. Some say it’s the perfect wave.
  3. Cave Rock, The Bluff, Durban: Serious surf – take off over an exposed reef and charge a top-to-bottom tube with a 10ft swell. Novices beware!
  4. Kalk Bay Reef, Cape Town: Surf with a Mother City attitude – consistent, left-breaking waves, and the occasional savage barrel.
  5. Dungeons, Hout Bay: Home of the Red Bull Big Wave Africa surfing competition. When conditions are right, 7 storey (21m) snarling beasts are known to swallow and spit out the world’s best big wave pro’s. Stay on shore and watch the spectacle.
  6. Nahoon Reef, East London: Power and speed will make you master of these reef waves – just ask the regulars who hang out here.
  7. Victoria Bay, Wilderness, Garden Route: One of the Southern Cape’s best and most consistent point breaks.
  8. Elandsbaai, West Coast: When the swell arcs around the point, ride a cylindrical wall that runs for 150m when conditions are right. Classic!
  9. The Wild Coast, Eastern Cape: Lives up to its name – razor sharp reefs and powerful swells. A surfing rite of passage that’s not to be taken lightly.
  10. The Kom, Kommetjie, Cape Town: Those-in-the-know reckon this big wave spot delivers “Hawaiian-style perfection’. Aloha!

South Africa is home to a six-star rated World Championship Tour event, the Billabong Pro at Supertubes in Jeffreys Bay – said to be capable of producing “the perfect wave” – as well as two six-star rated World Qualifying Series events: the long-standing Mr Price Pro (formerly the Gunston 500) in Durban, and the Quiksilver Pro Durban.

And the annual Red Bull Big Wave Africa is the world’s second-longest running big- wave surfing event, after the Quiksilver Eddie Aikau event at Waimea Bay in Hawaii. It takes place at the Dungeons reef at the mouth of Hout Bay in Cape Town, renowned for its ability to produce the biggest rideable waves on the coast of Africa.

Other competitions to look out for include the Regional Interclub Championships, the National Interclub Championship and the SA Interschools Championships.

Wind- and kite-surfing, sea kayaking, surfskiing

South Africa has awesome windsurfing and kitesurfing spots. Langebaan, near Cape Town, is internationally recognised as one of the top boardsailing venues in the world – and there are others.

A more accessible way to experience the sea is in a specially designed sea kayak. There are escorted trips around Cape Town, Hermanus, Knysna, Plett and Durban.

For more of a challenge in the way of paddling, try your hand at surfskiing. Surfskis are exciting craft: fast, responsive – and with the approximate stability of a razor blade balanced on its edge!

Durban’s Surf Ski World Cup, first held in 2006, boasts the biggest prize money in the sport, and has been officially accredited by the International Canoe Federation – the first time a surf ski world cup event has received ICF recognition.

Sailing

South Africa features on all the major round-the-world races, including the South Atlantic Yacht Race (formerly known as Cape to Rio), which is one of the most accessible ocean crossing races in the world, attracting a large cruising contingent.

South Africa’s coastline is one of the most challenging in the world to sail, with few harbours, stormy conditions and, often, very rough seas. So it’s not a good bareboat option.

However, it’s a great place to learn to sail. There are sailing schools in Cape Town, Port Elizabeth and Durban.

  • South African Sailing – recognised national federation representing the interests of sailing in all its forms in South Africa: www.sailing.org.za
  • Gybeset – sailing news, results: www.gybeset.co.za

SAinfo reporter, incorporating content from South African Tourism

Reviewed: October 2013

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