Riding (trying to) Giant Waves on The Mound (with video)
This time last week I was headed back from Cradock and the Fish River Canoe Marathon. It marked the end of a 3-month campaign to upskill for and complete a major river race in a K1. After 3 months of polluted rivers, I was itching to get back to the ocean and my surfski. Frustratingly the weather was foul for the entire week, but today (Sunday) looked good so the day got earmarked for my return to the sea.
Woke up this morning with a message on my phone warning me that the sea was wild. What?!? It’s supposed to be calm and serene. Checked the webcams and true as nuts, massive swells were pounding the Durban Coast. The mound was breaking with monster foamies rolling through into the backline from a km out to sea. Time to shift mental gears and get with the new programme. Mound here I come.
Since I was a kid I have watched the mound break and dream’t of riding it. Never had a chance nor the means. Things changed when I took up paddling though. Surf ski’s are fast enough to get out there and they give you a chance of catching a wave. The Mound breaks so seldom and when it does I always seem to have work issues of some sort that keep me out of the water. Today was different. No excuses.
I arranged to jump in a double with Richard, my old doubles partner in our, now very old, double ski. Rich strapped the camera to his head and off we went. It’s hell of intimidating to stand on the beach and watch waves the size of houses break and giant foamies roll through in deep ocean water knowing that’s where you are headed. We are fortunate in Durban to be able to launch from a very protected beach and be able to paddle onto the mound from the side or even behind if you prefer. Being at water level, just inside the protection of the harbour breakwater, and to watch these waves thundering through a few 100m away is frightening. It took a steel will and a lot of swallowing to paddle into the middle of it all.
The Mound is made up if 2 banks. One is closer to the harbour wall and breaks a little softer with a shorter run than the second bank closer to the main beaches. The second bank breaks super hard and swims there could (would) be catastrophic. We opted for the 1st bank. After sprinting for several waves we were coming up empty-handed. The take-off spot is all over the place and the waves are moving through at well over 45km/hr. All the while you worried you about the rogue (also regular) outside wave that breaks and cleans up the takeoff area with a mack truck sized foamy.
After some time we were joined by Wayne Ashford in a single. Wayne was the cameraman in the video posted last week of him and Herman Chalupsky getting a monster at the same spot. Wayne gave us some pointers on how the place was breaking and got us into position. With his help, we managed to paddle into a beast, but the wave was moving so fast we just could not get down the face and ended up dropping off the back. We turned to see Wayne dropping into the wave behind. Quite a feat when you consider how fast one has to paddle in a single to catch such a large wave.
We tried for a while longer and got a few smaller waves but no bombs. I was stoked to still be alive and out there, but also bummed that we had missed out on a rare opportunity. One factor I came to terms with, is that with waves this fast, one does not have the luxury of catching them before they jack up as one normally would in a surfski. You have to put your ski in the spot where it looks like the wave will break on your tail and it’s terrifying. But that is the only point where you can momentarily match the wave’s speed and stand a chance of catching the ride of a lifetime.
I hope it breaks again soon. I learnt a ton today and will be far better equipped to be more successful next time.
Here is a little video of our session. Look out for Wayne’s crazy wave. Also, don’t forget to subscribe to our blog. Just leave your email in the field on the right. Also, subscribe to our YouTube Channel.