Beauty, interrupted

Craig Jarvis
Swellnet Dispatch

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



Woof woof 41's picture
Woof woof 41's picture
Woof woof 41 commented Wednesday, 3 Jan 2018 at 12:07pm

How many good waves and beachys have been destroyed by this fucking weed plant these Fuck wits plant all over the place to stabilize dunes that have been fucking stable for millions of years before they decided to stabilize the stable dunes...

Mort's picture
Mort's picture
Mort commented Friday, 5 Jan 2018 at 1:39am

Fuckin Weed, plant, damn stabilization!

thermalben's picture
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thermalben commented Wednesday, 3 Jan 2018 at 12:17pm

Good time to revisit Craig's 2015 article on marram grass too.

blindboy's picture
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blindboy commented Wednesday, 3 Jan 2018 at 12:53pm

The sand mining companies in the 60s imported Bitou bush from South Africa to stabilise dunes in Australia and imported Acacia longifolia from Australia to stabilise dunes in South Africa. Both became major weeds. Genius!

indo-dreaming's picture
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indo-dreaming commented Wednesday, 3 Jan 2018 at 6:13pm

Oh :(

Please Stunet give me an ignore button for Talking Turkey, Shatners Basoon, Dale Cooper, Factotum, Pupkin, and any new fake profile he decides to create.

batfink's picture
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batfink commented Thursday, 4 Jan 2018 at 10:17am

Blindboy, I read that line about the sand dune that had been feeding Bruce’s for eons was stabilised in the '80s by Port Jackson - an introduced Australian pest" and laughed.

Thought it might be revenge for Bitou! Isn't Lantana also from SA? Central Coast is still rife with both, and I regularly get down the hill and hack away at all the lantana at the holiday house. Will be doing some today, most likely, after I finish mowing, whipper-snipping, cutting tree branches back, house maintenance, and if I'm lucky, maybe a surf.

Living the dream!?

Blowin's picture
Blowin's picture
Blowin commented Thursday, 4 Jan 2018 at 10:40am

Sell your house in Sydney and retire to the holiday house.

Or sell both and move somewhere cheap and fun.

batfink's picture
batfink's picture
batfink commented Thursday, 4 Jan 2018 at 3:54pm

Funny you should say that, so far I've been working 20 years on my wife with that plan. No deal so far! Working for the kids futures now blowin.

Mort's picture
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Mort commented Tuesday, 9 Jan 2018 at 11:46pm

I have a better idea, write the Great Australian Novel, earn heaps, start up an Intentional Community, by a surf break. Live on your history, the media will love you, just don't sexually abuse anybody. I am stil working it out.

bbbird's picture
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bbbird commented Thursday, 4 Jan 2018 at 11:48am

Taking away the dune vegetation and the sand can be lost to your beach next storm.
Prevailing EC winds are South -Easterly blowing dry sand inland; building up dunes in the northern corners of beaches . Without vegetation to slow the wind and sand, building up dunes, sand is lost to the coast nearshore currents that move north; feeding J bay sandy surf points like Crescent, Lennox, Byron, etc up to build Stradbroke and Frazer Islands.
Sandmining on the east coast moved alot of sand in the 70's, followed by continual veg clearing for subdivisions, sea veiws, roads, carparks, parks, surfclubs.
History; At the coldest time of the last ice age about 20,000 years ago, sea level stood about 120 metres below its present level. Coastal inundation occured as sea levels reached their present level at least 6,000-7,000 years ago.
So were destroying the majority of stabilising dune vegetation on our eastern coastline in 100 years.
Selective weed replacement to restabilise sand dunes (bush regeneration) is a long term process (eg. 10 years) that protects houses and property from storms. This work is often done by retired thoughful volunteers 'working' for Local Councils. These volunteers are abused & threatened by the ignorant & selfish. ...
Stabilising Dunes info


derra83's picture
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derra83 commented Thursday, 4 Jan 2018 at 3:43pm

"Taking away the dune vegetation and the sand can be lost to your beach next storm."

It's meant to be lost, that's how beaches protect themselves, but if the system is healthy then sand accretes and it returns to normal. Locking the sand up under introduced vegetation isn't healthy.

velocityjohnno's picture
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velocityjohnno commented Thursday, 4 Jan 2018 at 10:47pm

For the love of carpobrotus virescens, Craig's article will spell out exactly how a natural dune and coast stystem will feature large areas of blowout, and a gentle slope into the water. And excellent sand banks throwing barrels in A frames.

When you "stabilise" the dunes with invasive species, you collect sand in a high foredune, and starve the near shore sandbanks, creating closeouts.

When you "stabilise" any part of of a moving sand system - in and out of the water - you effectively choke it and in the near future experience sand starvation upstream.

Just let nature be itself.
(Link to my favourite little dune critter. Yellow flower is C.edulis, a South African import I think)

Mort's picture
Mort's picture
Mort commented Wednesday, 10 Jan 2018 at 12:30am

For The Love Of Carpobrotus Virescens!

Mort's picture
Mort's picture
Mort commented Friday, 12 Jan 2018 at 1:11am

I have always wanted to learn Latin.

Mort's picture
Mort's picture
Mort commented Friday, 12 Jan 2018 at 1:38am

Sounds like a sexual disease?

MRsinglefin's picture
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MRsinglefin commented Friday, 5 Jan 2018 at 7:00am

60's and 70's photos of Angourie show sand in the waves from the dunes but not now.

Mort's picture
Mort's picture
Mort commented Friday, 12 Jan 2018 at 1:17am

I will buy it for $200.

simba's picture
simba's picture
simba commented Friday, 5 Jan 2018 at 2:22pm

When i moved to Angas in 90 they were just doing the marram grass thing and a few of the boys were against it cause Angas likes the sand movement from the wind,southerlies blow it over from backies and northerlies do the opposite for back beach.The other thing i noticed was when the national parks would spray the bitou from the air by helicopter ......trouble is all the cassarinas started dying along the cliff tops causing bad gooders need to butt out and leave nature alone to recover.


Blowin's picture
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Blowin commented Friday, 5 Jan 2018 at 7:13pm

Dune care warriors should have a stake made of their treasured treated pine jammed fair up their date.

The dunes are a natural buffer that shifts with the seasons. The natural world is not a museum display to be preserved according to a preferred state that exists in your mind. If a house is threatened by the ocean then it's been built in the wrong spot

Stick to picking the bindiis out of your lawns you meddlesome morons.

freeride76's picture
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freeride76 commented Friday, 5 Jan 2018 at 8:16pm

Not denying any of those sentiments but there are a fair whack of native dune plants that seem to do a good job of stabilising dunes.....spinifex, pig face, goats foot, guinea flower etc etc....

Far as I can see, where dunes are in their Natural state, or as close to is as we get, the native veg does a fair job of stabilising and "locking" up sand.

Most of the inshore sand flow from the mid-north coast north is part of the annual longshore sand budget and not sand that comes and goes from the local dunes.

Maybe why beachbreak quality is not as affected up here?

bbbird's picture
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bbbird commented Saturday, 6 Jan 2018 at 10:02am

"It is important that we understand the environmental consequences of how we use the coast. Climate change has manifested as increased frequencies of marine heatwaves and severe storms. The key challenge in the short term is to implement strategies to mitigate the effects of climate change, while conserving the natural integrity of the coast." Reference">State of the Environment Report


crustt's picture
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crustt commented Sunday, 7 Jan 2018 at 5:31pm

Hmmm.... Big winter swells are pretty useless at Bruces, all the powers gone from what gets in. The best swells are cyclone swells from cyclones that sit off of Madagascar and a few other different conditions that are a bit quirky so I'll not post on here.

Mort's picture
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Mort commented Friday, 12 Jan 2018 at 12:51am

Give me a pirates map and associated GPS corindates and I will not get there, but the idea of it is wonderful.

truebluebasher's picture
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truebluebasher commented Sunday, 8 Dec 2019 at 11:35pm

Endless Summer -CSF.

(1993 Endless Summer CSF 1st surfer Mike Hynson spills the beans)...

Exaggerated 50-50 Shark Odds
They stayed in a Beachfront Hostel
Never crossed miles of Sand Dunes to Perfect Waves
The perfect line-up lasted no more than 90mins not 300 days a year
It never fired up again so killed the down time with dunesurfing sequences

tbb: [Freeze Frame Party Dune Surf]
Shows different beach & different wind / day.

As the article one really cares cause it still looks shit hot on film!

Note: It's worth backtracking to see if '60's crew lucked a record spring-low tide.
Certainly fits the description of only the one short session that fired up.

Bruce's Beauties

1975 Wave starts to break a little closer in.

Nov 2017 'same sweet spot now engages with rocks
[1:05] [3:20] [5:00] Triple Ouch! (Looked a lot easier in the Movie!)

Aug 2019 St Francis Bay (Proposed Coastal Protection Scheme)

Locals Homepage is up to date with links to project + Wildlife snaps / Bush fires.

12th Nov 2019 (Surfer's angle again recaps GC Superbank)

Gold Coast sends a message...
GC Superbank buried kms of point break slabs & Reefs/Rock pool marine life.
CSF Rock Pools harbour Otters & Oyster-catchers that enthral the community.
The more wild beauty you banish the less community & guests will enjoy The Cape!
Generic recreational playground foreshore killing off iconic marine life haven.
Surfing one wild wave is treasured more than Superblank misfiring wider deliveries.
Tread Lightly & cherish The Cape in it's natural state...learn from GC mistakes.

Mishad's picture
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Mishad commented Wednesday, 19 Feb 2020 at 7:48am

Nice sources and interesting take on the proposed development and 'warning' from the super bank. Sounds like you spent some time there. Indeed more sand will fill up the rocks and wildlife habitats will be lost should any sand nourishment campaign extend to the headland. But to do nothing, beach front and 50 year old canal development houses are at risk of being reclaimed by the ocean. Home owners and local businesses that rely on tourism wont let that happen. Lets hope for a happy medium as an outcome. Sadly the abolishment of it's natural state was began 50 years ago. However back then the whole headland was sand and there was little habitation available for marine life compared to nowadays. Can't win really.