To fully appreciate the experience that is the African desert, you need to embrace it for what it is—a land of extremes. For instance, there is no need to drive at 75 mph on the sand, but that is how my mate Paul drives, straight from the airport to the point. At least we’ve shaved an hour or so off the drive, I tell myself, until he hits the e-brake at full speed and snaps the exhaust off of the manifold, turning the V8 engine into something that sounds like a monster truck. Paul loves it. He can fix the problem, but chooses, instead, to drive the car like that for the rest of the weekend. He likes the sound.
We pull up at the point and battle the ocean during the last three hours of light. They are the most incredible barrels I have ever seen…if you have the guts to go over the ledge and the concentration to stay inside one until it lets you out. Like early treasure hunters, the crew in the water gets worked more than they’re rewarded. It’s brutal. A broken foot, two broken collarbones, dozens of snapped boards, and a near broken neck are just some of the casualties of the desert. When the sun finally sets, the beers start flowing and the temperature drops rapidly. But Twiggy shows his true animal commitment. He refuses to let go. He gets his equally committed girlfriend to drive him to the top of the point well into the twilight. He’s the last man standing, threading his way through the mist, the sharks, the seals, and the endless pits. He thrives in this type of harsh environment.
Driving back at 80 mph in the dark, on the sand, I’m terrified, but I can’t fight it. I have nothing left.
At 5 a.m. the alarm rings. Paul is already making us sandwiches for the day. Coffee, eggs on toast, and it’s still dark outside. We pile in and head off into the desert. Jackals howl in the distance, hoping for something to go wrong. A killer whale has washed up on the beach. I’ve never seen an animal like this before. I feel vulnerable, a small part of the food chain.
The morning session is dominated by the goofyfooters, because it’s too fast for the backsiders as the tide drops. When the tide bottoms out, the wave still looks as beautiful as ever, but it’s almost completely unridable. To prove me wrong, South African goofyfoot Dan Redman gets a 20-second tube, kicks out, and hugs me.
“Best wave of my life,” he says. There’s a lot of that going around.
Then the desert sun attacks us. Hours earlier, we blew smoke rings into the ice-cold air getting into our wetsuits. But now we’re baking, our skin turning the color of the sand.
Dave Weare snags a clean entry and quickly drops to the basement, gone in an instant. When he emerges from the spit he looks confused—this has never happened to him before, not for that long anyway.
Kiron Jabour and Artiz Aranburu have travelled from the opposite ends of the Earth to try their hand here. They make the most of it. Both have tube-riding techniques that need to be seen to be believed. Jabour lays back and feels the roof of the barrel at the same time. Aritz makes it through everything, and lets go and stands tall when it counts. He rides the best wave of the entire swell. It looks like he’s kneeboarding, but he’s actually just adapting his stall ingeniously for this wave. Without changing his line, he dumps half his body over the rail. As the wave swallows him, he rises over his board and stands. The wave thunders down the point.
Well overhead and well below sea level, we write it off as just a runaway. Then, 20 seconds later, he comes out, only to disappear again, and again, and again.