Surf It While You Can: The Shifting Sands of Skeleton Bay
Are the days numbered for the greatest wave on earth?
The future of Namibia’s freakish lefthand sandbar, Skeleton Bay, is looking uncertain due to a large sand deposit forming halfway along the 2.1km wave. What was once a perpetually grinding 50 to 60-second barrel has now been split in half – with more signs of deterioration on the horizon.
“If you want to see this wave in all its glory, you better get there soon… It’s definitely looking like it’s not as good as it used to be,” says veteran Skeleton Bay photographer, Alan ‘AVG’ Van Gysen, from South Africa. “That’s a fact.”
AVG first stumbled upon the wave in 2007 during a flat spell – the same year as Surfing’s Google Earth Challenge. It wouldn’t be til Surfing released their cover that AVG and friends realised what they’d missed. The following winter, en route to another wave in Angola, AVG’s crew surfed it for the first time.
Few look better on this wave than Craig Anderson (seen Slow Dance?) – and it’s no surprise he keeps returning. This is from a Skeleton stint in 2012.
Alan Van Gysen
He’s been back nearly every swell since (it only breaks four or five times a year, max) and kept a close eye on the mechanics and changing shape of the wave.
“There is this one little pole in the sand and when you took off at that top ledge you could get a barrel there and literally get a barrel the whole way down the end of the point,” he says.
“Two years ago Koa (Smith) got that incredible GoPro clip and won that award but since then, last year and this year, it seems that you’re not able to get a barrel from top to bottom anymore,” he says. “It just has sections. You get barrelled, you come out, you get barrelled, you come out, and you can still have multiple barrels on the wave but it’s not top to bottom perfect at the moment.”
The relentless northward current known as the Benguela is responsible for depositing the thousands of tonnes of sand now breaking the wave up. Big Atlantic west swells had previously kept the wave in shape by stripping the sand away, but that in itself is a new phenomenon. Locals from the area can recall a time not that long ago when Skeleton Bay was a straight closeout, and there’s every chance it’s headed back there.
“If we don’t have a proper west swell in the next year or two, that’s only gonna get worse,” says AVG.
The wave itself is such a new discovery that little is known about its relationship with broader weather and climate trends.
“Do we attribute this to a mini cycle? Or does this wave have bigger 20-year cycles that just happen?” ponders AVG.
For all the reports of its demise, however, it is also worth considering that your perception of the wave is ultimately shaped by the point you first set eyes on it.
How long will this sand pattern last? And, is it still as good now as it was when Craig went there in 2012 (pictured)?
Alan Van Gysen
Legendary South African bodyboarder, Andre Botha, is a relative newcomer to the wave, having first surfed it in 2014, meaning he missed the golden age. But Botha knows good waves when he sees them, so when he says, “every time you go there you get the best wave of your life,” you know it still has life in it.
Of the handful of times he’s been there, the best Andre’s scored was the start of this year (2016). He might have only been surfing the end section, but a 10-second barrel is still a 10-second barrel.
“That wave, I can go faster than any wave I’ve ever been on, so you can make sections that are otherwise almost impossible,” he says, adding:
“There is always that rare occasional one that goes all the way through. But in general, it’s almost two different waves, top-middle or middle-bottom.”
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