It was always about J'Bay.
In South Africa, all roads led to Supertubes, and we would extract as much information as we could from those lucky people who had ever scored it. We used to dream about the Supers lines when we were kids, and dream about the day we would get there.
Before the Internet and before mobile phones, we only managed to source our surfing information from magazines, and the only wave that was ever really shot from the Eastern Cape was Supers. Surf photographers were a rare breed, and most of them lived in Durban and supplied their images to Zigzag, a Durban based magazine. While J'Bay had an event from 1984 onwards – the Country Feeling Classic – there still wasn't much media about the surrounding waves and coastline.
When Bruce Brown released Endless Summer in 1966, it was 10 years before we even had television in South Africa. It took a few more years before we had Betamax, and many of us never even saw the movie or knew much about it. Ironically for the host country, Bruce’s Beauties wasn't even a whispered secret, it was simply unknown, and this may explain what was to happen to the wave.
"Every surfer dreams of finding a place as good as Malibu or Rincon. We found a place that's better, and it's better every single day." Although the facts didn't stack up, the power of Bruce Brown's 'discovery' lay in the imagination. Surfers sought their own version of untouched, exotic perfection - and Cape St Francis was the archetype.
What wasn't unknown, however, was the incredible value of raised ocean front property. It's alleged that an assessment was done on the area by an esteemed ecology professor, and he concluded that the dunes that abutted the wave could be stabilised as long as there were pockets of sand left intact. Those untouched dunes would continue to feed sand into the bay to enable sand flow. This report went unheeded by developers; the sand dune that had been feeding Bruce’s for eons was stabilised in the '80s by Port Jackson - an introduced Australian pest - and parcels of land were sold off to the highest bidders. Before long, houses, units and condos mushroomed along the point, totally eradicating all sand flow to the water.
From old photographs it can been seen that there used to be three sand blow-outs to the water, and dune stabilisation stopped all three of them. It was this development that all but killed the wave Bruce Brown discovered.
It wasn't only Bruce’s that was destroyed by development along the St Francis Bay point. It went further than that. The harbour at Port St Francis was completed in 1997 to great commercial success for the squid industry, with 200 moorings and 236 accommodation units. Yet this development saw the end of another classic wave in the area, further up the point, called 69’s. The harbour wall was built right in the middle of this perfect little wave, causing a nasty backwash and making it completely unrideable.
In the late '90s another phenomenon appeared, or should we say disappeared. The beaches in St Francis Bay all started losing their sand to natural erosion and longshore drift in the littoral zone. The problem, however, is that there has been no sand whatsoever to replace this sand drift, and now there are no beaches at St Francis at the first sign of a high tide. The houses on the front row have all been barricaded up with rocks to prevent them washing into the sea, and the main car parks are continuously being damaged by wave action and high tides.
There has been much talk about arresting the erosion at the main beaches, but the damage has been done. The obvious solution would be much like Snapper with the Tweed sand bypass system, and we have the much-silted up Kromme River crying out for a serious pumping, but the costs are exorbitant, and the river sits on the wrong side of the longshore drift. Still, there could be a solution within these parameters.
Another tried and proven method would be to build some groynes, and this is the current focus doing the rounds at the moment. It’s an urgent situation, but should the powers that be decide to build some groynes, there would be a whole slew of new waves for everyone. Oh yes...
Bruce’s, however, is not totally lost. Unlike Bruce Brown's claim that it broke like it did in the movie "300 days a year", something still happens out there when the ideal swell direction coincides with the perfect tide. Those conditions are as rare as a nun in a bikini, but they do happen, and if you’re local, you might get to surf the runway a couple of times a year.
Occasionally the conditions align and local surfers get a hint of Bruce Brown's original vision (Photo Stan Blumberg)
Two years ago a giant swell hit during the running of the JBU Supertrial - the trials event for the J'Bay Open - turning Supers into a giant wash through of unfathomable proportions. Waves broke on bommies hundreds of metres beyond the normal takeoff line. The best surfers in the country all headed over to Bruce’s to score the section called Killers – the gnarly ledge up beyond the normal Bruce’s takeoff zone – and scored the best it had been in years and years. In fact, it hasn't been that good since.
Bruce’s is very much cyclic. West swells are the most consistent and coherent on the weather maps, but then they're the ones that don't get around the corner into the bay at St Francis.
For Bruce’s to have a good year, something out of the ordinary has to happen. Maybe it’s an El Nino / La Nina thing, or maybe it's when we have a late start to winter, but whatever it is it didn't happen in 2017. She's been relatively quiet, with just one three-day swell keeping the locals appeased.
Speaking of locals. Unlike Supers, Bruce’s has a small take off spot, and the crew keep it in check. When it gets big and some crew move up to Killers and others move over to Hulets Reef, then it is a little bit more spacious in the takeoff zone, but not by much. The locals wait all year, through freezing winters, in a bid to get a few at their treasured break. They don't suffer interlopers unwilling to waiting their turn or disrespecting the locals.
Get a good one though...and by that, I mean a screamer that connects all the way through the inside section and past the suck rock and you’ll be getting washed up the slipway with a big smile on your face.
Bruce Brown RIP
// CRAIG JARVIS