I’d been dreaming of Jeffreys Bay since the time I watched a full wetsuit-clad Shaun Tomson fly across its machine perfect rights in Storm Riders at the Tarzana 4-Plex in ’82. An exquisitely arced pointbreak near Cape St. Francis, South Africa, J-Bay delivers one the world’s longest rides. During the swell season from May to September, surfers from all corners of the globe make the pilgrimage. Some never leave.
On an overcast day in June, a couple of fellow pros and I pulled into the parking lot that overlooks Supertubes, the finest of J-Bay’s many sections, just in time to witness a procession of double overhead, hypnotically perfect waves peel off to infinity. There were at least fifty guys sprinkled along the lava rock point, but the waves were so relentless it hardly seemed an issue. We couldn’t get out there fast enough. Boards were slung from roof racks, Air Jordans were hurled across rear seats, wetsuits and booties were anxiously shimmied into.
I paddled out at Boneyards, the tip of the point. The water was a frigid fifty-eight degrees. After duckdiving a fleet of waves that induced spasms of ice cream headache, I maneuvered into position. The sky was the same shade of grey as the water, making it hard to distinguish bumps. To my left were swarms of surfers; to my right, no one.
A set marched in. I bolted for the horizon. The first wave crested, and as I pierced through the back, needles of icy offshore spray rained down on my head. The second wave stood up perfectly. I stroked, angled, popped to my feet.
The silvery face stretched out for a mile, a racecourse of steep, dimpled, twelve-foot wall. I dropped to the bottom, turned, and held my line. The curtain heaved over my shoulder and suddenly, effortlessly, I was standing in a gleaming tube. It roared the way a shell held to your ear does. Out of the almond shaped hole, I watched surfers stroke over the top.
I came out, dropped to the bottom, and again, pulled into a high tube. Swirling water whooshed past. Cool air blustered up from the crashing lip. As the tapering swell rounded Supertubes, it yawned and released me. Out of the corner of my eye I glimpsed Marty Thomas, Chuy Reyna, Barton Lynch, Vetea David, Octavio Bueno—a veritable UN of pros—all hooting.
I scaled to the crest, arced tenderly, and barreled to the bottom, my 6’7” Rusty swallowtail chattering against the surface chop. The wave steepened. The lip pitched. Again, I pulled in tight and held my line. In that perfect little cocoon of spinning Indian Ocean, I watched the curtain zipper past, falling in sheets of spidery glass. My exit shrunk. The mirror-like face turned frothy, ribbed. In a kind of cartoon of childbirth, the tail of my board lifted and shot me forward. My face slapped the hard water; the turbulence wrestled me down. I felt ecstatic. If it were possible to laugh underwater I would have.