Island dreaming: east meets west in the South Pacific.
From Tom Linn
It was a classic kneelo scene. All five of us rode completely different boards and had very different styles. Simon rode his Flashpoint thrusters of course. Bill was on various Blast four fin Fishes. Tony rode self-designed boards customized for his size. Pete rode boards with low volume noses and tails and I rode my Lil’ Tavi round pin which I designed myself under the label of my local surf shop, Infinity Kneeboards.
One day I watched Big Tony paddle beyond the take off point to the outer reef and proceed to physically manhandle Cloudbreak with at least five consecutive tubes. Pete surfed top to bottom all the time no matter how big the wave. Simon and Bill were fearless and not the least bit intimated by Cloudbreak with good size. Once, while I paddled frantically up the face in the Shishkabobs section, I watched Bill pull into the deepest, heaviest shack which he ended up getting spit out of! Yowza! Simon just put on a clinic of committed rail-to-rail surfing. I saw him from the back of one of the bigger waves: a huge fan of spray and all three fins above the lip while his board impacted in the lip facing down. He made it and the surfers in the line-up were totally blown away.
From Peter James
One of the memorable parts of the trip for me was seeing five kneelos having a crack at Cloudbreak and getting nods from the standup guys. I never surf with other kneelos – no agenda there – just have always kicked around with regular surfers. So one of the personal highlights for me was to surf with four other kneelos who made me feel like part of their family! The genuine spirit of camaraderie and the stoke we shared in the water has given me a desire to connect with other kneelos in the future. One afternoon will live with me for a long time. Cloudbreak was in a good mood and a happy 4-5 foot. It was like a point break with long, friendly walls and no evil outside closeouts. All the kneelos were out with just a handful of stand-up surfers. Everyone was having a ball.
One of my good mates was on the trip. Dave always gives me shit about being a kneelo, but gives me plenty of kudos too. It’s good friendly banter between us. After a small onshore but fun session at Restaurants, he and I paddled in for a late beer. As I was paddling in, I spotted Simon paddling out. Dave and I grabbed a beer at the Restaurant and were watching the two footers roll through. Even onshore, it’s a great setup. I don’t think Dave knew Simon was out, and I’m pretty sure he’d never seen him surf. We were both watching when Simon took off on this pretty average 2 footer that walled up nicely, but was already broken about twenty feet ahead. In the blink of an eye, he executed an extraordinary, explosive roundhouse turn into the top corner of the wall, swung it around, smashed into the section behind, bottom turned and destroyed the lip on a closeout reentry. It was all so clinical and all executed in the space of a phone booth. My mate almost dropped his beer. ‘Did you see that? What the fuck was that? That was insane!’ I had to smile. It was a nice moment – sure, it was probably one of the poorest conditions Simon had that week, but it demonstrated that kneeboarding is alive and well.
From Big Tony
This is one of two trips we have on the island each year, but the first time we’ve had this many kneeriders with us. Leading up to the trip I put the word out to a select few that I had openings and would be stoked to have a few core kneeboarders join us if possible since some of my main crew were not going this year. In the past it’s usually been Freddy Rodriguez, Randy Morris and Joe Coyne. Aside from those guys I’ve only surfed with one other kneeboarder out at Cloudbreak once, during the 2012 Volcom Fiji Pro. The guy was from Sydney and staying on the mainland.
This didn’t start out as a kneeboard-based trip, but became one pretty quick as Tom Linn was the first to pony up and get on board, followed by Simon, then Billy and then Peter James. None of us had ever met Peter and it was my first time meeting Simon, although we had traded several emails. Tom and I have been friends for almost 30yrs; Billy and I for at least 15-20yrs. The trip came together nicely and before you knew it we were off.
Barbara and I came on island a few days earlier than the rest of the group to get warmed up and score the swell that was hitting before our week started. I had three solid days at Restaurants with just a few guys out during the medium-lower tide sessions. Surf was 4-6ft with solid 6ft + sets coming in. I was laughing because the other island Namotu was full of fisherman only and no surfers that week, so crowds were light.
We met our crew on the island that Saturday and welcomed them Fiji style. It was windy; but blowing trades, so it was changing constantly. Most of the guys went for a surf right away and some of the kneelo crew and I surfed the evening session with solid sets out at Cloudbreak. There were a few cappers breaking out on the ledge during our session. We had great waves all week and everyone surfed their asses off at some point each day. It was great surfing with these guys and everyone was charging. I was hampered by gnarly injury during the trip and not 100%, but I had a great time and surfed hard none the less. I’m having Achilles surgery on the 25th of September, so that gives you an idea of what I was dealing with while in paradise …
Seeing Simon surf up-close for the first time was mind blowing. I always knew he ripped, but his low, driving Dee Why - ( Chin Down Mate, Chin Down) - inspired bottom turns and barrel riding were clearly tip top. He quickly adapted to Cloudbreak and tore the ass right out of it. We surfed a lot together and I shared my knowledge of the place and what I had learned from the main guys there - like the owners Jon Rosemann and Rick Isbell, GM’s Dylan and Kaeo, Lifeguards Gade, Jimmy and Lono as well as the Fijians Aca, Ise and Ulai. (This was my 18th trip to Tavarua and over all those trips these guys have taught me something new each time. I can’t thank these guys enough!) Simon and I hit it off right from the start and realized we had a lot in common from all angles outside of surfing; our daughters both have the same name too. We got on the piss, had a blast, even killed fish one day and had poke for the entire crew. Good times and I’m stoked to be able to say that Simon and I have become good friends and are already making plans to travel together again in the near future.
Billy has always been a charger and a big part of the Blacks Crew. He may be 4ft nothing, but he’s got balls the size of Sherman Tanks and will go on anything. This was Billy’s 20th trip to Tavarua and it showed on the biggest days. He was going for it and had a new quiver that Bud McCray sent him that was geared especially for big Cloudbreak. Billy was pulling into everything and if he wasn’t pulling in or taking big drops he was flying down the line and doing huge top turns. It was great to finally surf in Fiji with Billy. I have a ton of respect for him.
Many of us were thankful he was on the trip, because at some point during the week he worked on all of us - bringing us back from being hurt, broken or just plain surfed out - so we could keep going. When it’s pumping like that for 10 days straight it takes a toll on your body, especially for those of us over 40yrs but we kept going for it and Billy made sure we were ready to go. Thanks Billy …
This was Tom’s first trip to Tavy and the first trip with any of us from what I know. Tom surfed really well and scored some real magic sessions out at Restaurants mostly, but had a couple of good afternoon sessions with me at Cloudbreak too. There was one session in particular that Tom and I were out at Cloudbreak together and racked up wave counts in the high double digits. I was sitting up at the top of the reef and Tom was in the middle section leading in to Shishkabobs. The swell angel was really south that day and perfect for Cloudbreak, it likes a straight south which pulls away from the roof and literally makes it run like a point break. I like sitting up high on the reef when it’s like this because you can take off high and make it all the way through past the boats at the end of Shishkabobs which we were doing this day. I saw Tom get some great waves and was stoked to see him really surfing well and having a good time.
It was funny because Simon was asking me in the boat about getting caught inside and what to do and where to go. I told him that we call it ‘doing a tour of the inside’ or a ‘Hot Lap around the tower’. He paddled up to me on one of the biggest days of the trip and said “Mate, I just got a proper, proper 6ft barrel and one of the worst floggings I’ve ever had. Oh, and I officially took my first Hot Lap at Cloudbreak”. We laughed our asses off, paddled back out and did it all again!
I didn’t see Peter’s wipeout, but heard he free-fell from top to bottom on a solid 8ft set and got detonated at the bottom. Billy and I both got blown up at Cloudbreak on the last day during our morning session. I was caught inside trying to get back out and Billy was taking off and had to go around me which put him out in the flats. We both ended up swimming. I lost my fins and Billy lost his board and we were both done and headed back to the boat, calling it quits.
Billy, Simon, Kevin Naughton and I rode back to the island beaten and battered after that last morning. It was big and wonky with a rising swell and the wind had torn it up pretty bad the night before so there was a lot of lump in the waves. I was determined to go back out and get redemption since I was leaving later in the evening while the others were leaving that morning. I said goodbye to those that I could and ran back to my locker to grab my other 6’6” pintail and new flippers. I ran past Simon without saying goodbye and jumped back in the boat with Kevin and Conner Coffin and headed straight back to Cloudbreak. I keep two 6’6” pintails, a 6’3”pin tail and a 6’5” chop tail on the island at all times: all shapes inspired by our friend Bruce Hart. We got there with a dropping tide and a rising swell. It was at least 2-3ft bigger than when we were out there earlier. As soon as we hit the water the wind switched to side-offshore and the wave faces were clean and groomed. Kevin and I went straight to the top and Conner and one of the other lifeguards, Branden, went to the middle section and for an hour we all scored mental top to bottom barrels. We all came back afterwards saying we couldn’t believe how perfect the direction was for it and how much bigger it was getting. A lot of water moving across the reef though, and the current was a bitch!
My last wave was a solid set that pushed from the top of the point. I pulled in right from the bottom turn and drove through to the middle section, but got clamped down on and driven to the bottom just before Shishkabobs. The visual in that barrel is the only thing I can still see vividly from the trip. It was big and round and I was staring straight at the island while holding my line. I got driven down into a hole and had the longest hold down I’ve had to date at Cloudbreak with my 6-6” tombstoning for who knows how long. I swam up my leash and came up to see everyone looking at me to make sure I was OK. All I could do was yell out a loud hoot and paddle to the boat with a huge smile. Redemption had been achieved! Cloudbreak will make you feel invincible but at the same time will humble the shit out of you within the blink of an eye. You must show respect and be willing to pay to play with her …
Overall the experience of having 5 kneeriders on the island was great for me. I normally travel alone or with a select group of guys, but having this group come together the way we did was truly inspiring and walking away with newly forged friendships is wonderful. The fact that each of us had specific quivers from five different shapers was cool in itself, let alone being able to watch the different styles: everyone charging in their own right!
It needs to be mentioned that going to Tavarua extends far beyond great surf and all the fun things that go along with being there. It’s about the Fijian people and their willingness to take you in, accept you as one of their own and make you feel at home. For me this is one of the most important aspects of visiting Fiji as often as I do. It’s truly a second home for me and my family and we’re thankful for all it has given us over all of these years and for the years to come. We’re very involved with the villages that make up Tavarua and as of our last trip took some steps with one of the Yako Village elders, Waiseki, to assist in creating a Pre-School/Kindergarten for the village children so they can have books and supplies that will assist their learning before they go to primary school. Watching my wife, Barbara, read books to the kids and interact with them from an educational perspective was something I will never forget. Vinaka Vaka Levu ….
Tom Linn, Big Tony Alvarez, Bill Lerner & Peter James
Edited: Rob Harwood-Legless.tv
Island dreaming: east meets west in the South Pacific.
There are certain breaks that have always been potent totems for all surfers. Most of them are and will remain places of mystery to the majority of us, and for good reason. The mere mention of Tavarua conjures visions of oceanic swells rolling in from the deep blue to detonate over shallow coral reef. Cloudbreak especially is now synonymous with mountains of moving water, a byword for waves of consequence that can make or break reputations. Many of us may dream, but few will ever find the opportunity to surf such waves. Among those few is a bunch of West Coast USA legless brothers and their associates who have been quietly making annual trips to Tavarua for a very long time. Some of them either are now or once were legendary figures in the surf pantheon. All are surfers who not only dare to dream, but also dare to realise their dreams in reality. As a surfer who shares their deep-seated passion for clean, powerful, hollow and uncrowded waves, it was inevitable that Simon Farrer would one day make the Tavarua pilgrimage: that day finally came earlier this year. What Simon didn’t realise was that this would be one of those times when a rare confluence of disparate forces would bring about something utterly unplanned, unexpected and unique. Of course Simon returned with a few stories and it’s our good fortune that he was good enough to share them with us here. It’s our even better fortune that there were other participants also willing to share. Read on …
Tavarua is a place I have always wanted to go to from the first time I read the stories in surf magazines and saw footage of these insane waves called “Cloudbreak” and “Restaurants”. I had seen a couple of photos many years ago of Rex Huffman laying over insane bottom turns, which now I can completely understand and respect so much more after surfing the wave and having so much speed and power - which is everything kneeboarders search for. I don’t know what happened over the years but I never did go. Last year I was desperate to go on a surf trip but confused about where. Places were either booked out, overpriced or I had been there, done that. Looking online for different destinations I came across Tavarua & straight away got excited that maybe now was the time to finally go. I was talking to a friend in America who mentioned that Big Tony is the man to go with. I had heard stories about Tony - although I’d never met him - so I sent him an e-mail introducing myself and before I knew it I was booked in with him for my overdue trip to Tavarua.
I then contacted my good friend Bill Lerner, my right hand man when travelling. I’ve travelled to Hawaii, Mexico & Indonesia with Bill over the years and recalled his stories about how insane Cloudbreak is and how much I would love it. I had to invite Bill as he had already been to Tavarua over 20 times. Bill charges hard from 4ft to 10-15ft - fearless, respectful, always positive and smiling. It was never intended to be a kneelo trip.
As far as I was concerned it was just the 3 of us going at the same time. I had no idea that Tom Linn was coming. I first met Tom back in 1986 at the World Amateur Titles in Newquay, England, the first American kneeboarder I ever met! Peter James is a Victorian solo kneeboarder, quietly spoken, chilled & easygoing, enthusiastic to surf with other kneelos. Peter charged both Cloudbreak and Restaurants. I didn’t even know Peterbut the group of guys he was going to Tavarua with had got wind of some World Champion kneelo from Australia who was going at the same time, so he sent me an e-mail introducing himself and … that’s how we ended up with a total of 5 kneeboarders.
In the week leading up to our departure I was more anxious than I’ve ever been about any surf trip before. I wasn’t anxious about the wave, but more the thought of not getting swell and the chance to surf Cloudbreak and Restaurants. We had just seven days on Tavarua, Saturday to Saturday. I checked the long surf forecast multiple times a day, every day. The first time I looked it was horrific - small to tiny waves with onshore winds. I felt sick to the stomach that my one chance was going to end up a disaster. I kept checking leading up to the departure date and things just started changing and went from bad to possibly very good: 3-4 days of 4-6ft+ and good winds. Things were looking damn good!
Visible from the tower on the island of Tavarua is this atoll that sits out all on its own a couple of kilometres away. The wave itself wraps around this sharp, shallow and unforgiving coral reef full of colours and sea life. The one thing that I never realised about this wave was how many different faces it has. The more south-angled swells produce playful & completely rippable walls. With more west in the swell the wave becomes more down the line, bending wide in towards a draining Shish-kabobs section. It’s a very intimidating wave over 6ft with a SW direction. When your wave came through all you could focus on was how much wall there was down the line. It would hook around so much it almost looked like it would close out over the infamous Shish-kabobs. You would either get a barrel that put your heart in your mouth or it would bitch-slap you then manhandle you over the extremely shallow and unforgiving reef.
It was a humbling experience when things went bad. Some of my worst experiences were either after pulling off a wave or falling off and coming up along Shish-kabobs and seeing a freight train wave or waves thumping down the reef behind you. There was nowhere to go to escape the beating. Turn around and drydock on razor sharp coral, risking bad cuts & snapped fins or paddle like your life depended on it for deep water, trying to out run this train of destruction … which only put you in a worse position unable to confidently duckdive due to the water draining off, leaving the reef only a foot deep and wanting to rip the skin off your knuckles. The best thing was to just stay put and either duckdive shallow or swim shallow and just cop it. Everyone experienced this with different outcomes. High tide and low tide had such a huge effect on the way the wave ran along the reef. Slight degree changes in the swell would either make it more intense on the outside take off area or open up the inside section over Shish-kabobs. Every day was a different experience and you had to adapt to her moods. I absolutely loved this wave!
This wave is named after the restaurant on Tavarua, which it breaks in front of over what is easily the shallowest reef I’ve ever surfed on. This wave is nothing less than a machine. We didn’t get it as good as it gets but what we did get was this extremely fast mechanical phenomenon. On one session it was only 4ft but the speed you could generate out of every turn was hard to comprehend. Being able to do half a dozen serious top turns in a row while maintaining full speed is an experience you just don’t get often, if at all. I paddled out one day and dove over the reef you surf on and it’s alive, full of colours and shapes. I even found a rash vest that the reef had stolen from some poor surfer and over the years had grown around it I guess and it’s now a permanent fixture to the sea floor.
The two waves (Restaurants & Cloudbreak) are so different but provide so much reward in different ways. Restaurants is tight and in the pocket, below sea level constantly keeping you on your guard, just waiting for you to nose dive or go too deep before scraping you along the coral. Cloudbreak is pure steroids on the takeoff with big, strong and powerful turns needed to negotiate the mass of water in each wave. Pulling into these beasts really tests your courage. Restaurants feels like a skate ramp that never ends and comes across playful … until you push it too far. I would give my left nut to surf this place glassy and 4-6ft.
I think my best day was the second last. Bill and I were on the first boat out to Cloudbreak and were pleasantly surprised when approaching the line up to see the swell had picked up from the day before. I’m sure there were 15 wave sets, then a short break, then they would just come marching through again. I didn’t even wait for the boat to stop. I jumped out and paddled into an empty line up faced with 5-6ft+ funnelling barrels with the odd bigger sets. I think I got half a dozen all time barrels in a row within 30 minutes. Full down the line barrels, pumping inside to try and keep up and just feeling this effortless glide and quiet surrounds with the tingling sensation of the wave spitting once or twice to complete each ride. Bill and I were giggling and hooting like little kids. It lasted for about an hour of endless sets before backing off somewhat to your normal set up of a few waves per set. I have no doubt that Bill knows which session I’m talking about!
My best memory of a wipe-out goes to Peter James. I had caught a wave right through Shish-kabobs and was paddling back out when I saw a set approaching. It looked chunky and had quite a few waves in it. The first wave someone attempted to stand up on but the bottom just dropped out - he just ate shit, which I thought was pretty heavy , but it still made me giggle. The second wave - easy 6ft - another stand up surfer paddled in, free fell out of the lip, somehow landed on his board and attempted to engage his rail before he was guillotined by the lip and absolutely smashed - again I giggled with an aw shit remark. Then the 3rd wave I noticed Peter stroking into a solid 6ft beast. From the moment I saw it I thought ‘oh shit, Pete!’ It had a lot of SW swing on it and it was draining so much water off the reef that as he was paddling into it he appeared to be going up the wave backwards towards this thick lip that was starting to get thicker and steeper by the second. It seemed to be moving too fast for Pete to get into it but I don’t think Pete had any doubt in his mind as he stroked into this nasty wave. The strong offshore wind held him up high and as he went to get up, the face just dropped out and the ocean pushed forward with Pete hung up in the lip. Pete got launched - still completely attached to his board - free fell all the way to the bottom and landed sideways on the deck of his board with an ugly bone-crunching bounce … followed by the full force of the lip into his back. He looked like he was just vapourised
I admit to laughing but at the same time screaming FARK! I thought without any doubt he was going to be hurt, so I sat up on my board waiting to see if he came up. It was so intense! I was truly concerned for him (sorry for laughing Pete). Anyway, he ended up coming up uninjured. I later spoke with him and he told me at no point did he think he wasn’t going to make it. Heavy!
This trip was the first time I had ever met Big Tony but after a couple of days he was like a lifetime friend. We got along like best mates! Mr Tavarua, generous, full of knowledge, surfs hard. I can’t thank this man enough for bringing me on this trip. Getting to know the big fella was so cool. Finding out we had so much in common was just weird.
Another person who inspired me to seek out my travel dreams to Tavarua was Kevin Naughton, a surf traveller/journalist who pioneered the idea of getting out there and finding unexplored waves in the 70’s & 80’s with his travel mate and kneelo Craig Peterson. I had read his articles years ago & watched a film of these two guys “The Far Shore”. There was a shot of Kevin jumping off a boat at Cloudbreak into an empty line up - I think in the mid eighties. I was shocked when I turned up to Tavarua and on the 2nd day, during happy hour around the pool bar, I was introduced to this old, crusty but well-spoken fella called … Kevin Naughton! When I was introduced to him with a brief run down of his history I spoke up and said I know exactly who he is. I hit it off with him straight away. One of the most interesting people I have ever met. The stories were insane and his connection and experiences and respect towards kneeboarders is so cool.
I took with me 2 x 6ft boards and 1 x 6’2. The main 6’0 I surfed was my yellow & black Flashpoint squash tail thruster which handled up to a solid 6ft Cloudbreak. I had a back up 6’0 which was my classic SF model rounded double fly pin tail thruster which I never got to surf because the chop tail fired on all cylinders. My step up board was my black bitch - all black 6’2 rounded double fly pintail thruster - which comes into play from 8ft upwards. I got to surf this board at the beginning of the trip and the last day when it was firing.
stay on your knees…part two is not far away
Words: Simon Farrer
Edited: Rob Harwood-Legless.tv
Chayne wishing for an Endless Winter…
Jason Quinn at his indonesian home
Always wanted to surf this wave… Now i have… T’was fun…
Us or them … or anyone.
Miki Dora once said something about being a surfer when there was surf and being other things the rest of the time. Over the last couple of years, we here at Legless have learnt the truth of that statement as our lives have gone through massive transformations. Apart from forging new careers and growing businesses, we’re all now proud fathers with rugrats running to look after, a ton more responsibility and a lot less time than ever before. In these hectic days of overtime, changing nappies and paying school fees, what little spare time we can find is directed squarely at getting in the water. These are our chances to recharge, commune with nature and friends and give our souls some space before we head back once more into the grind. In this regard we’re no different from most, and certainly not Dora.
For Chayne and Albert, a big chunk of these escapes is spent not in the water, but behind the camera. In the absence of big budgets and dedicated film crews, taking turns filming one another’s surfing is their only option. Although they sacrifice precious watertime by filming each other, they do it happily: they enjoy bringing you the video clips. A little bit of sacrifice is a necessary part of what we create here and we all know it’s worth doing.
This time Albert and Chayne headed south, to a well known yet strangely empty beach break. The waves weren’t consistent, but when they came they offered up plenty of fuel to recharge depleted batteries and gave the guys a truckload of reasons to smile the whole way home while exchanging stories of dirty nappies and making plans for the future. Just like anyone, really.
Chayne’s Legless day out.
Down the coast a bit from here, Mark McLeod has a little bolthole: a shack tucked in just behind the dunes at a pretty random beach that not too many people know about. Recently, Rob Rennie, Rob Slater and I drove down there to meet up with Mark for a day of winter fun. With a South-west wind grooming a building Southerly swell, we knew there would be plenty of options to choose from.
Our first session was a cold one: freezing early morning cross-shore winds and a fun beachbreak that we shared with just a couple of local kids. After a couple of hours trading waves we’d had enough of the rip and the heavy shorey, so we took our worn-out arms back to the shack, where Macca’s girl Jane thawed us out with a hot breakfast and coffee. The big defrost continued in the sheltered backyard sunshine, while our host dragged out a few old boards he recently scored. The stories started flowing as we discussed the different design approaches taken by Craig McDonald and Peter Ware, and then of course that led to Rob Rennie digging out Macca’s old guitar. After belting out a few tunes for us to rock out to, Robbie began improvising an impromptu song for the occasion: legend!
Eventually someone noticed the wind had swung around to straight out of the West. With our surf froth well and truly back on, we figured it was time to get wet again. We suited up, wandered down the track through the dunes and came out onto the beach right in front of a clean peak: a lovely right and left and not a soul within coo’ee.
All up, a great day, sharing good waves with great friends.
Words… Rob Harwood
Pics… Rob Slater
Tunes… Rob Rennie & Mark McLeod
Video… Jane Birch
There has been some waves around lately
Pic: Steen Barnes-16images
No dribbling, please!
Back in June 2013 we ran a little piece on some interesting split-tailed boards from UK – based Chris Cockett. Chris had some really intriguing ideas about getting flex into the rear ends of his boards while maintaining speed and drive. He created a brilliant design innovation utilising different materials, creative thinking and a truckload of laminating skill, all of which caused a quiet little stir here and there around the alt.surf world. Anyway, Chris just sent us these photos of a new board he recently finished for a customer in Hawaii, coincidentally also named Chris. We have no info on dimensions and so on as yet: we’ll save that stuff for when some photos of it in action arrive. Meanwhile, feel free to drool.
A short little clip of Chayne and Albert enjoying some fun beachbreak action. Enjoy!
Two men and a swamp donkey.
Africa’s a vast continent whose coastline is still, incredibly, relatively unknown and unexplored. Much of her West coast, for instance, is an inhospitable place: harsh coastal desert with huge sand dunes, enormous seal colonies, and abundant sea life, including massive sharks. There’s also mind-blowingly good surf, as anyone with a laptop and an internet connection now knows. Namibia’s Skeleton Bay popped up, apparently out of the blue, on Youtube and various surf media websites a few years ago. As an example of a sand-bottomed point break, it’s jaw-droppingly good: long, relentless, powerful, but it’s also a rigorous test of skill and commitment, both as a wave and as a travel destination. Thousands may drool over the online videos, but few will ever make the journey to experience the wave at first hand. South African Gigs Celliers is an exception. He was among the first crew to explore this Namib Desert gem’s potential. Marc Crawford recently convinced Gigs to take him along on a road trip to Skeleton Bay to catch a swell. On the long drive back home, Marc managed to extract an interview from the captive Gigs, but only on condition that Gigs was allowed to interview Marc afterward. The donkey? Well, read on.
Marc Crawford. How many trips have you made?
Gigs Celliers. I’ve done 8 or 9 trips there. The fact that it’s on the same continent as I live makes it a bit easier to respond to the right swells and launch a strike. It’s a flight away, but a long drive. I’ve done both. The first trip I did was kinda a weird experience. A kid walked into my shop and mentioned Cory Lopez had just visited his area. What? Why would he be in an area with fairly good but pretty average surf … considering the cost, distance and cold water! I went into stealth mode and waited for the heaviest storm of the year. I flew in without a clue where the heck to go but somehow knew I was onto something. Turns out a hitch-hike into a local town and a beer at the pub with my board bag on the patio got a local bodyboarder chatting to me. Soon I was networked into a tight but amazingly friendly crew. Turns out they barely knew what was in their desert area but it had been spotted on Google Earth and ventured upon by Surfer mag in the USA.
Gigs. I got a few waves first visit but knew I had to get it at potential. Turns out I arrive the next year with only Andy Irons, Corey Lopez, Twig Baker, Greg Long and Pete Mendia. Six of us in what I can only describe as a cartoon line-up that only Wilbur Kookmeyer and Captain Goodvibes got to experience. Linear hollow grinding perfection stretched out illogically for two kilometres. Not joking. The host family (Lombards) shuttled us in Landrovers until the sun went down. We were hi-fiving and Greg and Andy said they just counted me in a six foot, thirty second tube. I know it sounds like crap but I remember visiting zones mentally during that ride that nullified any previous tube experience. G-land – gone. Supersuck - gone. Desert Point Lombok - fading badly. Since that moment we were all hooked. We lied and denied any knowledge of its whereabouts but the media couldn’t let go of it. And no one can blame ‘em.
Marc. Can you describe the uniqueness of the wave in relation to kneeboarding?
Gigs. When you unlock the right one it is hands down the best wave on Earth, if tubes count. No turns except an angled drive off the bottom. I’ve had waves so mesmerizingly metrically perfect reel for more than a km. Oh bullshit, I hear some of you call. OK, let’s get mathematical. Fifteen second plus period swell striking the sand at the right angle turns a Waimea shorebreak type effect into an angled peeler. Being a West coast wave, the swell seems to slam more as opposed to East coast points that wrap. I ain’t no scientist, but the punch the wave packs is beyond terrifying. I have been more frightened of a six foot wave there than a thirty foot wave when I was doing all my tow surf adventures.
Marc. What’s the longest wave and barrel you’ve surfed while in the desert?
Gigs. I’ve been learning to concentrate on focusing and mentally not ejecting. Sounds weird but when you pass ten seconds of tube time you enter new mental zones. So to calibrate I try talking or counting - one crocodile, two crocodile, three crocodile kinda deal. I have counted to thirty nine before. I have seen guys sit in pits for close to a minute. When you arrive you will understand for yourself how hard it is to document.
Marc. Rumour has it some of the farts on this trip were as long as the barrels. Please shed some air on the subject?
Marc. Looking back at all the visits, can you sum everything up in a few words?
And then the tables turned …
Gigs. Hey MC, now that I managed to get ya up to Skeleton Bay, what can ya tell the kneelo world ?
Gigs. Oh, and how do you compare the wave with other spots you have paddled?
Marc. Unrelenting rawness, earthy Jupiter madness.
Surfing: Gigs Celliers
Images & Words Marc Crawford
Legless.tv African correspondents
A quick video of Chayne Simpson, Albert Munoz, and David Parkes on a day trip down the coast.