“When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.”
In South Africa, a nationwide lockdown to combat the spread of COVID-19 started on 26 March, 2020. The lockdown regulations were some of the world’s strictest and surfing was completely banned across the country’s entire coastline. Despite some well publicised incidents of surfing at the very beginning of the lockdown, by and large the ban was observed by everyone in this region of the country and weeks of good autumn surf went by unmolested. Following the lockdown extension in mid-April, some began wondering if winter would pass with the ban remaining in place.
At the end of May, with surfing still banned, the collective patience finally cracked and some surfers gorged themselves during an exceptional two-day run of waves. They weren't fined after exiting the water. The floodgates then opened and the following three months saw three, five, and even a ten-day run of swell which several locals were calling the best in a decade or more.
Technically, surfing was still banned until early August but the genie was out of the bottle and the authorities decided to turn a blind eye. There were so many days of mind-bending perfection at the point that it sometimes appeared as if the gods were rewarding that particular form of torment that comes to a surfer who, through no fault of their own, can only watch perfect waves going unridden…
Initially, crowds were very light with a 'locals only' policy which was fairly strictly enforced. However, a regional business travel permit scheme put in place at the end of June saw the arrival of surfers travelling “on business” to take advantage of the aforementioned ten day swell run. The crowd situation then got progressively worse, even moreso as people realised there were no pros or foreign surfers in town. Although locals weren’t shy of berating visitors, overall everyone managed to get their share.
Some of my reflections of a winter for the ages in this part of the world are below.
(All photographs ©thiem_photography)