Conversations For Transformation: Essays Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

Conversations For Transformation

Essays By Laurence Platt

Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

And More

The Original Jeffrey's Bay

The Hess Collection, Mount Veeder, California, USA

August 10, 2003

This essay, The Original Jeffrey's Bay, is the companion piece to Barrier Reef.

It is also the first in a group of seven on Surfing: It is also the first in the sextology Rosebud: The Original Jeffrey's Bay wasn't initially included in this Conversations For Transformation internet series. Nonetheless it's arguably one of my most widely read works, appearing in numerous online surfing publications and e-zines including the prestigious Legendary Surfers. In this new context in which it now appears, fewer things are closer to my heart than the idea of Werner and I and friends hanging ten on Dewey Weber 9' 6" Performer  noseriders* at Jeffrey's Bay in South Africa.

I am indebted to Kiwi White who contributed material for this conversation.

Photography by Yves van den Meerssche
The Point

Super Tubes aka Supers
Jeffrey's Bay, South Africa

Legend has it that the doyen of South African surfing John Whitmore discovered the waves at Jeffrey's Bay in the late 1950s as he drove up the famous N2 Garden Route between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth on a business trip.

As he stood in amazement at the side of the road looking at an as yet unmapped break through binoculars, it would have been extremely hard to mistake those ruler edged corduroy lines perfectly wrapping around a point, giving what could have been (taking all the component breaks into account) a 1.2 kilometer ride.

Unlike its soon to be world famous neighbor Cape St Francis, Jeffrey's Bay is a consistent break. The prevailing winds in the area are offshore. The ocean bottom is formed largely of flat bedrock rather than of shifting sands so when a ground swell of almost any height is amove (and the prevailing swell direction at Jeffrey's Bay is also almost always optimal), Jeffrey's Bay works.

Following the 1966 international release of Bruce Brown's quintessential and timeless surfing film The Endless Summer to delighted surfers and audiences everywhere, the legend of the perfect wave at Cape St Francis grew, attracting surfers from other countries as well as us locals from around South Africa.

Bruce's now infamously playful exaggeration - that Cape St Francis' perfection is "always like this"  - proved to be disappointing. Not only does the shifting sand bottom make Cape St Francis iffy  at best, but the winds there are not prevailing offshore. Surfers visiting Cape St Francis often found it not working. So, being in the area anyway, they started to explore nearby opportunities, and slowly the legends of nearby Seal Point and Jeffrey's Bay were born and grew. And while Jeffrey's Bay has never gained the worldwide renown that Cape St Francis has for having the perfect wave (regardless of that being true or it being false, but such is the stuff of which legends are made), the consistency of Jeffrey's Bay in terms of how often the breaks there really work became legendary in and of itself.

Rodney Sumpter, the then British surfing champion, also showed up in South Africa, traveling from town to town, hamlet to hamlet, showing his own surfing movie, further popularizing the sport of surfing in South Africa and further forever sealing Jeffrey's Bay's fate as the local surfers' secret spot  which unfortunately for them was also known to and coveted by every other surfer in the world!

In 1964 when you drove to Jeffrey's Bay from Cape Town up the N2 Garden Route, you knew when you were close to the mecca. The climate changed. That place had its own climate! If you hung your arm out the window, the hairs on the back of your hand knew  you were getting close. It was an indescribable feeling, like moving into a distinctly different climate zone.

And the scent. The pungent aroma of the local Jeffrey's Bay flora. That unique scent of Jeffrey's Bay! Anyone who has been to Jeffrey's Bay knows that even when you can't see it, you can scent it.

In the beginning there were the waves. Just the waves. There were the simply mesmerizing collections of shells on the beach which delight conchologists. There were a few dolphins frolicking. There were the sand dunes. That was it. That was all. Much, much later came the development, the houses, and the parking lots.

In the beginning there was just the farmland abutting the point. And you have to remember that in the beginning, Jeffrey's Bay was synonymous with the point. No 9' 6" longboard would have been fast enough to make it through the much faster breaking Tubes or Super Tubes aka Supers  (although we didn't have those names back then) so no one bothered to try.

Anthony "Ant" van den Heuwel
at home
Anthony "Ant" van den Heuwel, Piers Pittard, and Gavin Rudolph owned  Jeffrey's Bay point back then. Climbing and dropping were the order of the day. Noserides and hanging ten were de rigueur. Occasionally you'd see an outrageous skeg first takeoff. And if you didn't get tubed, it was probably because you were asleep. If you simply got up on a wave at Jeffrey's Bay, Jeffrey's Bay tubed you!

But "slashing"? "Tearing"? We weren't there yet. And as for aerials? Maybe when going over the falls ... but intentionally? Never.

Back then, almost every longboard surfer in South Africa knew all the other surfers in the country on a first name basis. Many of the faces in the South African chapter of The Endless Summer were friends of mine.

We drove our Volkswagen Kombis and Beetles and Austin Mini Minors replete with roofracks with about six boards lashed to each down the dirt road to the Jeffrey's Bay village. There was no official parking lot at the point. There was no construction at the point. Just sand dunes. And the local townsfolk didn't know they lived near some of the most amazing waves on the planet.

The friendly farmer who owned the land at the point knew what we were there for (even though he may have looked at us askance at first). After the first few visits he even installed a solitary tap so that we could get fresh water.

If we didn't sleep in the kombis, we slept in the bushes on the sand dunes. We braided the six foot tall gorse into habitable units and stayed there for weeks on end - each respecting our neighbors who inhabited a similar braided unit on the dunes. Before sunrise we were all awake - listening for the break even before it was light enough to see it.

In those days, for ten cents you could buy a half a pint of milk, a loaf of coarse meal brown bread and a half a dozen bananas at the local village café and fish 'n chips  shop. This was supplemented by sea snails which we dove out of the bay from our surfboards in between sets and cooked in their shells over open flames. It was a nutritious meal fit for kings. Mrs Coetzee lovingly tended that shop back then with open faced pride. She was the annointed godmother to all the surfers who signed her visitors book, and everyone  signed her visitors book. God Bless You Mrs Coetzee.

At night, lit by the fires of piles of driftwood, we shared the stories of the days kraakers  (that means "big waves" in South African surf slang) - not that there was anything unknown: everyone there had been in the water at the same time.

When you heard the exuberant roar of the waves at Jeffrey's Bay as they burst onto the rocks at the water's edge, you knew you weren't just listening to waves rising and breaking: you were listening to waves rising and breaking with intention  - rumbling like a freight train careening down the point.

And even when the sun had set and darkness shrouded Jeffrey's Bay, you could tell the freight train waves were still there, rumbling down that point forever. Stoked, happy, and exhausted, you fell asleep dreaming of the tomorrow ... and how you would then perfect that toes on the nose maneuver you almost got right today ...

* * *

These days a lot's changed at Jeffrey's Bay. The sand dunes have been decimated. Houses and businesses have been built and the solitary tap has gone. Miki Dora has come and gone. And - for better or for worse - the era of surfing for the simple delight of surfing without aggression, without sponsorship, without professional competitions like the Gunston 500 or the Billabong Pro, has also come and gone.

All that aside, the waves are still there. Endless. Churning. Cranking. The Green Room. It's still there. God! That Green Room. If ever a place could be said to get the credit for producing a Green Room which all other green rooms get to emulate, it's Jeffrey's Bay.

Many, many years from now, when all the houses and parking lots are overgrown ruins, when the developments have been washed away, when the world once again regains a semblance of sanity, when the simple joy in all things pure returns, when we can celebrate our interdependence with the ocean not because we are sponsored to do that or paid to do that but simply because we can't resist the call of our hearts to be at play with it, the waves will still be there.

And the Green Room will still be calling me.
The Green Room

* If the Orson Welles' classic Citizen Kane were remade as Citizen Laurence, a Dewey Weber 9' 6" Performer noserider replete with hatchet skeg would be its Rosebud.

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