I grew up with the great privilege of living along the prestigious coastline of False Bay in an established suburb called St James. We lived high on the mountainside in a family home boasting panoramic views of mountains and ocean. I am the oldest daughter after three burly brothers and have a younger sister. Our free time was spent at the beach and being one of the youngest I developed a highly competitive streak as I tried to keep up with the older boets! We participated in every sport imaginable and all of us excelled at swimming either in Water-Polo, Squad swimming, surfing, body surfing or body boarding (also known as boogie boarding). Our house was 75 steps from the main road and across from a private beach called ‘Danger Beach’ – aptly known for having a reef, rocks and a powerful rip current. There is nothing exotic about Danger Beach but it was close to home and great for a quick dip before or after school and on weekends.
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I always enjoyed body surfing with my neighbourly girlfriend – we were roughly the same age and followed the same schedule. Body surfing was fun and maintained our fitness levels. Our lung capacity benefited from body surfing during high tides – large waves would come crashing towards the shore and if we panicked from the size we’d simply dive deep below the wave and pop out on the other side. Sometimes the tides were ferocious and we had to spend much time underneath the powerful wave before it was safe to surface. The challenge was to surface catch new breathe and dive underneath the next wave from the sets that came through too swiftly for us to manage body surfing each wave.
I was fascinated with surfing because there were always boards standing up outside our house, sand and wet suits all over the place. No matter the weather, one could stand on our balcony and see the hard core surfers as they got their adrenaline fix daily.
My brothers eventually got me to agree to some surfing lessons but the timing and location they chose in order to ‘break me in’ was abysmal! If you know the Cape you will be aware of Spring tide and how destructive it can be. The Cape seas have no mercy and during certain times of the year it worsens to a battlefield where only god Neptune can survive.
My mother refused to buy me my own fitted wet suit and so I had to wear an oversized suit making me feel really goofy and uncomfortable. My brothers took me to Danger Beach and didn’t give me the pleasure of surfing lesson instruction on the sand but decided that to ‘jump right in’ would be the best way to learn. This hasn’t changed on any level when I think of all the other skills I’ve taught myself since. All with varying results!
We stood on the beach, bantering and talking drivel as usual. It was freezing, the wind was blowing and there was no room for glamour or silly sister’s whinging about being cold or having wet hair. My brothers helped me with my suite barked a few playful commands and off we went. The sea was pumping, it was just after Spring tide and the waves were coming through in powerful sets of 4 at a height that felt like 8 metres which I have now drastically over exaggerated. We should have started the surfing lessons at Muizenberg Beach which is great for learners but no, the brothers decided that I had to promote myself from learner to pro, by surfing a reef instead. We all knew about the rip current and where it started – this current is so powerful that it can pull you under and towards Muizenberg within seconds. Sharp rocks were another obstacle to bear in mind and it’s no wonder I felt so panicky the first time I experienced surfing lessons as executed by mental male siblings!
Once we reached the reef, my brothers started carving the waves and surfing to shore. Once ashore they’d turn and paddle back to enjoy the same process all over again. They had prepped me about surfing etiquette and I was told never to ‘drop in’ on anyone otherwise it would be ‘war of the waves’! To ‘drop in’ on someone is to take their wave – clearly being the youngest and only girl, I gathered I would never have a chance to practice anything that I dreamed of doing. Then came my chance, my brother made a few hand signals and all the surfers backed off laughing as they let me ride my first wave…. what a total nightmare – I paddled into the wave, turned and positioned myself on the crest………… then I almost fell apart……… what I saw below me was a naked reef, barnacles, muscles, seaweed and metres of hard rock – I had no idea what to do… The wave had sucked back so far that there was no cushion of water on the reef just what I’d best describe as cut glass waiting for my face! Anyway I road the wave and tried to navigate myself away from the worst of what I knew my face and body would connect with…. I must have lost my nerve as I proceeded to get dumped over and over again, thrashed about by Neptune’s anger yet still going back for more. I just didn’t want to give up – I had to show my brothers that I was made of adolescent steel like them. Another aspect of spring tide is blue bottles – these are tiny jelly fish that are blue in colour with long tentacles. Guess what? Because of my oversized wet suit, for some reason the jelly fish managed to get underneath my wet suit which stung my skin giving me a harder surfing lesson beating than I deserved. My ordeal was well and truly over when my leash broke and I had to swim to shore as my brothers salvaged the board and returned to the beach. All I remember from my surfing lesson experience is something traumatic along with a new and powerful respect for surfers. They represent some of the fittest athletes and are true representatives of what the god Neptune stands for. Power, strength, bravery and unsurpassable lung capacity.
Surfing lessons are best enjoyed in a controlled environment and executed by professional surfing instructors. A learning beach is also preferable avoiding reefs, jelly fish and rip currents at all cost.
Kite Surfing lessons are also great to experience but cannot be enjoyed without powerful winds.
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Prepared by Odette Butcher, Chief Experience Officer, Celestial Gift Experiences