Stab Magazine | Hot Dogs In The Desert
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Hot Dogs In The Desert

Craig Anderson leaves Newcastle for South Africa, and then Namibia, and experiences life-changing moments, as well as great disappointment, at the world’s longest barrel. Story by Craig Jarvis. All photos by Alan Van Gysen. It might be as hospitable as living on the moon, and the chances of development and progress slim, but it’s big business […]

news // Mar 8, 2016
Words by stab
Reading Time: 10 minutes

Craig Anderson leaves Newcastle for South Africa, and then Namibia, and experiences life-changing moments, as well as great disappointment, at the world’s longest barrel.

Story by Craig Jarvis. All photos by Alan Van Gysen.

It might be as hospitable as living on the moon, and the chances of development and progress slim, but it’s big business either way up in South Africa’s north-western neighbour.

The best wave in Africa, the southern hemisphere and the longest barrels in the world. Of course, the surfing universe is going to totally absorb it, write tomes about it, shoot endless images of perfect waves, of jackals and seals, of sunsets and of sunburned faces smiling up.

We’re going to explore the history of the place and we’re going to assimilate ourselves into the local community. The discovery might lead to another such wave further north, of which the stories are gaining strength. The rapid transition of sand movement might destroy Skeleton Bay and all that will remain are these countless images, words, and spoken-word experiences of the best surfers in the world recalling their best waves.

The whole facade might fade away to be lost forever in the early morning mists of time. The wave might slowly disintegrate as Bruce’s Beauties did, destroyed by common human greed.

Or, it might prevail and become the benchmark for lefthand barrel-riding. As one of the earlier pioneers, Grant ‘Twiggy’ Baker, put it, “It’s the best wave in the world, as simple as that, if you’re into thick, dangerous spinning tubes that can break your neck. If you’re not into that sort of thing, it can be the worst wave in the world…”

It was discovered 10 years before an American surfing magazine laid claim to it four years ago. There were local surfers and South African surfers, and even one top foreign surfer, figuring out the conditions, working out the swells, spending money and having a go long before Surfing’s Google Earth Challenge 2 in 2008 where American Brian Gable submitted Skeleton Bay.

Cory Lopez and crew were simply the first to record it and, wow, did they get it right. Cory’s wave is set forever on Youtube and it’s always great to go and have another look, to revisit the first time you saw it, and amaze yourself all over again. It evokes such a strong emotive response. Here was a wave that was totally unbelievable, even as you watched it. It moved from incredible to bizarre to absolutely fucking crazy as he moved down the point and through numerous barrel sections. That such a wave even existed on the planet was the most stupefying thing.

Fast forward to 2012 and the world is on it. Surfers gather around new waves. Waves formed by natural phenomena involving sand, wind and water. Fresh waves. If the waves are phenomenal as well as previously undiscovered, our numbers multiply quickly, obscenely, like insects in the sun.

Craig Anderson was one of the surfers who gravitated to Skeleton Bay for the best swell of 2012. He surfed. He watched and he soaked in the scene.

****

What were you expecting? I’d seen the wave, on video you know, and I had heard all about it, so I knew what to expect. Or so I thought. I was totally misguided. I had no idea that it was so good. If I had known, I would have been there a long time ago, and I would have made a lot more missions to get out there.

Can you describe the experience? I can’t really describe what I experienced out there. I have never claimed a wave in my life, and I claimed this one wave. I was like totally numb. I couldn’t quite, my mind was struggling to comprehend what I had experienced. I was like struck speechless. It was a totally life-changing experience.

That amazing? So many of your best ever moments in surfing, your very best, and they’re all lined up on one wave and you experience them all on one wave. That still doesn’t sound right, like what I’m trying to explain. You know, we live in the moment, and it’s one of those moments that I need to explain. You know what I’m talking about…

Do you mean a total experience kind of thing? Sharing and hooting? Like the camaraderie that is talked about by big-wave surfers? No. Not that. You’re not really in the water with your mates, pushing them into waves, watching them getting slotted and cheering them on. You’re just surfing with yourself. This wave and this current take all of your attention, and when you’re on the beach you’re only really seeing a short section of the wave. Video doesn’t do it enough justice either. It’s all a big movement with you, the current and this wave. No one else.

Sounds like you’re going to move there, or at least get there for every swell? Well, there are two things. It is a total mission to get to and it’s actually really fickle. If you’re not in South Africa already it’s a long haul to get there. It’s long and it’s a mission and it’s not cheap. It’s a way expensive trip. Then it seems like it’s more fickle than what we think.

It needs plenty of swell, and it needs to wrap just right. Well, yeah, but there are a few more variables. We scored the best waves of our life and we were totally rapt and hanging back in Cape St Francis with the Zoetmulders (just south of JBay – the Zoetmulders are a local surf family with Donavon and Faye close friends of Craig and Phillipa) and we saw another swell. It was identical, and we couldn’t believe our luck. So we went back. We did the whole mission again. We just said fuck it; imagine if we score like we just did – the charts were totally identical. We got there and it was really bad. The waves weren’t breaking, the swell was there but there was something wrong with it. The waves were outside of the sand. We barely surfed. It was such a nightmare to go back so soon and not score. It’s not like you can go and hang out if it’s not happening. If there are no waves you’re in the wind or you’re looking out the window of a car.

How fit are you? Did the wave take its toll on you physically? There was a Quiksilver Europe team around and they had a van doing pickups along the point. They just picked up all the surfers at the end and took them to the top. I had a red sticker on my board, which meant that I got the lifts. Even so, it was weird. My feet were bruised in the evening just from doing some of the walks. It’s a total physical thing.

Did they issue you with red stickers as a kind of secret code for pickup? Er, no. I had a red Quiksilver sticker on my board.

Did you just drive past your mates without the sticker and laugh and wave? No, they picked up everyone pretty much.

Can you remember any one memorable wave? There was this one set. It’s kind of hard working out the lineup, you know? People jump into the water and then you jump a few seconds later and you’re on their inside because you’re further up and they’re already washing down the point. So anyway, I was on the outside and there was everyone further down and this big set came through. It was a good eight-footer and I went and somehow I caught it. It’s hard to get the big ones. If you don’t get a little chip in, like a little push, they pass you by, but because I was so high up the point I got in. It was the craziest wave of my life. It was big and it went on and on. I rode it the whole way down the point and when I came in I had total goose bumps. Nathan Fletcher got the one behind it and he also got a little entry point right on the top. By the time he got to me, he was speechless. We didn’t say a word in the back of the truck all the way back. The best wave of my life, and a radical experience on top of it.

Fletcher getting some good ones? He was. There were quite a few crew getting bombs. Danny Fuller was in the right place a few times. Aritz Aranburu had it right on his backhand. Sometimes the forehand guys run away from it a bit you know, they get ahead of the barrel just ‘cause they’re going so fast, but Aritz had a good thing going on his backhand, fitting in perfectly and totally in tune with the wave. He had some good barrel time. Then I saw this one wave of Sean Holmes. It was like an eight-footer as well. A real eight-footer and it went totally square and Sean was just sitting in it, in this giant square pit and he went screaming past us and it was insane. He was right up the point and when I finally bumped into him a few hours later he reckoned that he sat in that thing for like a minute. That thing was just totally insane. The wave is so gnarly you know. It’s shallow and fast and technical, and to see a guy just parking inside a beast – it’s incredible. Luke Egan was also ripping. Getting some incredible waves.

Holmes got smashed didn’t he? Got pitched and broke his nose. Heavy.

Were there any other dramas in the water? My South Africa friend Donavon Zoetmulder got pile-driven into the sand and came up and didn’t know if he was coming or going. He couldn’t string a sentence together. Totally concussed. He was looking around, and his eyes were like swimming around his face and he didn’t know what was going on or where he was. He was all right though, lucky there was no real damage. He still surfed afterwards.

****

Like amoebas in a petri dish, surfers multiply around the best waves in the world. The cat is out of the bag ever since that fateful day that the Google Earth surf exploration project was devised in a Surfing magazine marketing meeting. The local surfers have watched as a literal torrent of file sharing has disseminated their back yard, as hordes have moved in, surfed, shot and filmed before disappearing just as quickly to claim their prowess to the backslapping masses out there. Vehicles tearing up the beach, whirly birds flying up above. Where will it end? In a Desert Point set-up? An Uluwatu fuck-up? A J-Bay surf economy?

What do you reckon? Development? It’s not going to happen. There’s nothing at all out here and the wind howls all day. I don’t see anything happening out there. It’s the desert, pretty much. If the wave isn’t going there’s absolutely nothing going on. Nothing. There’s nowhere to hang. It’s not cool and mellow like in Indo you know? It’s rough. When you’ve surfed you get out of there.

Has it impacted on the nightlife of the area, with piles of young surfer dudes in town? Do the girls come out, smelling nice? Who knows? We were so exhausted after a day’s surfing we barely made it awake to dinner. It was take-away Nandos every night. Eat and sleep. We didn’t make it out.

No beers for the boys? There was some place that the Euro crew was going to, to have some beers and to share the day’s surfing, but our crew needed to sleep. Apparently it was a cool spot, near the water somewhere. We kept a low profile. You’re probably going to see some sort of town-related development to cater for surfers, but as mentioned, it’s fickle, and if you build something for surfers out there and there are no waves, there’s no chance of survival. All you’ve got it the wind.

There is talk of some sort of regulation. There were rangers of sorts out there. Guys checking working permits and stuff. I think it was because there was a movie being made in the vicinity, like a big-budget movie, and some of the photographers had some gnarly-looking lenses and stuff, but I’m not sure. Quik hired the helicopter so there was a lot of stuff going on. All these people, cars, camera crew and a helicopter that I guess the rangers just came to check everything out. I’m not sure of the details, but I guess you do need to have your papers in order. Still, it seemed pretty mellow on the whole.

Going back to the wind, how hard is it to get into the waves? This is one of the stories that always comes back, about how hard it is. I rode my 5’4” Hypto Crypto. It’s so thick and it has a pretty flat rocker. It’s so easy to catch waves. Well, it’s not easy catching any waves out there, but this board definitely helped a heap. I’m a good paddler and combined with this board, I managed to paddle into a few gems. It works really well in the big barreling stuff. Being nice and short I can slow it down if I need to, and being flat is has such acceleration if I need it. I’m so bad with the dimensions, but the board is insane. It’s made with EPS foam and has all the float you know. I’ve surfed it at G-Land and other solid barrelling waves.

****

There’s another wave out there, in the area. Maybe the guys have already found it on Google Earth and are planning their first mission right now, or maybe they haven’t. Maybe it’s better than Skeleton Bay or maybe it’s a closeout. But it’s out there, running down a point, peeling away into the distance as you read these words. When it gets discovered we’ll be able to put Skeleton Bay into some kind of perspective. Until then, we’ll ponder on Craig’s descriptions. We’ll watch the clips. We’ll close our eyes and try and think our way through a one-minute sand-sucking barrel, and we probably wont really comprehend it. It’s a hard thing to get.

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