Back in the 1990s, when I was a student in Cape Town, a West Coast surfing trip offered the Great Escape. A long weekend up to Elands Bay with boards and beers was the holy grail, especially after year-end exams. For many Cape Town youngsters, ‘E Bay’ meant the first kiss, first babalas, the first green tube of eternal stoke.
Thirty years later, and still a sucker for surfing in all its forms, I planned a road trip to my old West Coast haunts. I loaded the car with surfboard and windsurfer; Tracey packed hampers of food and strange, practical stuff like sunblock and maps.
It was a bright and breezy summer’s day as we hit the R27, Californian rock filling the car and our grins as wide and carefree as 18-year-olds’. We paused to check the breaks at Blouberg and Melkbos, then pressed on to Yzerfontein. There we hired a self-catering apartment, On the Beach, for the night. Boogie-boarding grommets splashed in the shore break while a few silverbacks rode a large, fast wave at the back, carving its face with awesome precision.
Next, we hit Langebaan – a Mecca for all forms of sailing on the West Coast – and checked into a guest house attached to the Cape Sports Centre, which caters for watersports on the lagoon. It offers rentals, lessons and a shop that sells equipment ranging from surfing and windsurfing to stand-up paddling (SUP), kayaking and kitesurfing.
In the morning, while the wind was still light, Tracey and I tried SUPping. It was a pleasant, if wobbly, few hours learning to paddle and taking colourful tumbles as a tiny swell played havoc with our balance. All around us were novice kitesurfers and windsurfers learning the ropes, and groups of instructors shouting directions from the shore.
When the wind got up, clearing the grommets from the water, I rented an 86-litre Tabou windsurfer and raced across the lagoon. Back and forth I sailed, to Schaapen and Meeuw islands through shallows alive with gulls and cormorants, until I was too exhausted to even stand.
North we drove, bound for legendary Elands Bay, arguably the best surf spot in the Western Cape. We checked into Elands Bay Hotel, an old-school establishment that’s been around since the surfing elders were grommets. It’s no nonsense, no frills, and lies just above the beach and caravan park where we used to camp on student jaunts.
The wind was building and a decent swell bent into the bay. I joined a bunch of lads rigging windsurfers in the parking lot and soon we were dancing out across raking blue hillocks. Gybing onto a face and creaming down the line, smacking the lip and tearing clean bottom turns with the southeaster howling over Baboon Point and across the bay.
Later, as the sun slipped into the drink, Tracey and I walked along a rocky, mussel-strewn ledge where surfers come to worship at the Atlantic font. We climbed the bluff to a cave filled with San paintings. A giant eland adorned the rock, like a totem to the surf god of the point. Beside us, a group of dreadlocked surf rats smoked zol and gazed glassily at the pearly dusk.
We retired to the Wit Mossel Pot, a beach-style backpackers and restaurant that serves hearty fair and delights the surfer crowd. The décor was old surfboards, dream catchers, flotsam and sea wrack. Supper was proper hake and calamari and slap chips washed down by a workmanlike Two Oceans white. The music was deep, mellow trance. A sign on the wall read, ‘you book out but you never leave.’ Damn, I thought, if I had a spare year to burn, I could easily mislay it in a place like this.
The road led north toward Lambert’s Bay. When I was a lad, Farmer Burger’s was talked about in hushed tones: a secret spot on a private farm. Legend. These days, it just so happens that Farmer Burger junior (a charming surf acolyte called Albert), rents out surf-shack-chic accommodation on his family farm, Steenbokfontein. It’s got the whole Robinson Crusoe thing down pat with seashells and driftwood, bathrooms embedded in the rock and home-made Jacuzzis fed by donkey burners. It’s as close to surfer heaven as the West Coast gets.
That night, as the boerie and tjops sizzled on the braai, we wallowed in our outdoor tub, frothing with rooibos foam, and watched the stars surfing that long, long Milky Wave all the way to the horizon.
It was time to turn for home, except for one last stop in the sleepy fishing dorp of Lambert’s Bay to squiz the surf. As it happens, Yo-yos was cooking. It’s a reef break in front of the caravan park that goes both left and right. I suited up and joined a pod of dolphins and whooping teenagers shredding the wave. Hell, I could still just about do the schoolboy thing, despite my twoscore years and ten.
My car honked its horn. Tracey was waving from the parking lot. Damn and blast: Cape Town was calling. So back we drove, down the long and lovely West Coast road, past the many spots that make this a surfer’s paradise. Our stretched weekend had filled us up with wind and waves, calamari and chips and a home-made Jacuzzi under the stars. We’d be back.
‘How about next weekend?’ said Tracey.
Accommodation on the West Coast is plentiful and varied.
We stayed here:
🏨: On the Beach in Yzerfontein has two, elegant apartments for self-catering.
🏨: Puza Moya guest house in Langebaan is part of the Cape Sports Centre.
🏨: Elands Bay Hotel and campsite is on the beach in Elands Bay.