Article

Sand On The Wind

A Tall Tale From Africa’s Longest Left

| posted on February 27, 1987

Skeleton Bay, not for the faint of heart. Photo: Pacotwo/We

By Simon Nicholson

Photos by Pacotwo/We

It’s not often you’re disappointed when faced with the best waves you’ve ever seen. I watch as minute-long barrels stretch across the horizon and fade into the marine layer. But they’re useless to me. Standing on the beach, I take a mental inventory of my body’s critical systems. Adrenaline: depleted. Muscles: seized. Nerves: shot. The only thing I know for certain is that I’m exhausted and ready to give up. And the surf is only 4 feet.

Something that nobody ever mentions about the Skeleton Coast—about that left—is how unbelievably fucking heavy it is. Try to imagine thousands of miles of desert sand meeting the Atlantic Ocean. The Agulhas Current carving out the perfect curve from south to north. The open-ocean swells need to be in excess of 18 feet before it even starts breaking. Imagine all that ocean moving, nothing slowing it down until it hits that concrete-compacted-desert-sand bank and explodes down the point. I couldn’t imagine it—not before I saw it with my own eyes.

Now the waves of my life are right there for the taking, and trust me, some are being taken, but not by me. When Ian Walsh and Grant “Twiggy” Baker are pulling back on 4-footers, you know something’s not right. The wave is alive, angry, charging north, and eating anything in its path—no compassion here. It’s a wave reserved only for the brave, and even then it’s a waste of time without the skills to back it up.

On one set, Ian commits to an upside-down takeoff. He clings to his rail as he shuttles down the point in a subway train of a wave—four tubes, five tubes, all ridiculously long and seemingly unreal. He later claims it as the best wave of his life. My personal in-flight dreams, however—fantasies of sliding into perfect left barrels—blow into the thrashing wind and sand on my first wave.

It ends quickly after free falling from top to bottom in a panicked scramble to grab my rail. Again on wave number two and three. It’s not my idea of perfection. And now, the current has dragged me over a mile down the point, and still the waves stampede in, exploding and eating everything in their path without mercy.