Some say that next to Waikiki, Muizenberg corner with its soft wave and long ride is the best place to learn to surf in the world. 021 throws on some slipslops and goes to check out this supremely mellow scene
On some days, the surf at Muizenberg rustles like the grass skirt of a Hawaiian dancer. Once the South Easter decides to relent, Surfer’s corner is as close to tropical as it gets in Cape Town. Just close your eyes and try to imagine a promenade of palm trees, and the faint whiff of coconut wafting in from the jade ocean. Muizenberg offers a welcoming 22 degree Celsius water tempertaure, compared to the nipple numbing 16 degrees on the other side of the peninsula.
Maybe that’s why Muizenberg attracts a different crowd than the arch tribes that congregate around Clifton, Llandudno or Camps Bay. Only a few stalwarts hanging around the Camps Bay side are planning any serious water interaction. At most, Cliftonites and their ilk brave a quick splash. In Muizenberg people spend hours playing in the water, in as many different ways possible: swimming, bogey boarding, kite surfing, you name it, they’re at it.
And the cafe scene opposite the beach is disinct too. You don’t see a lot of Jimmy Choos strolling around here. There’s little cocktail sipping and even less oyster eating. Lungis and slip-slops rule. Muizenberg is a place that’s forgiving of middle aged spread.
Somehow, Muizenberg evokes memories and nostalgia. It smacks of childhood summers. Here you’ll want to throw the diet to the South Easter and eat soggy hot chips followed by a soft serve ice cream cone that melts too quickly in the sun. Maybe build a sandcastle. And at one stage certainly take a surfing lesson.
Surfers corner at Muizenberg is the united nations of surfing. Here you find every age, every colour, level of skill and language emanating from the wave: “Merde” cries a French girl, as she takes a tumble; “porra” shouts a Portuguese, before he goes under.
Waves are fickle creatures and while the one at Muizenberg is less of a hormonal roller coaster than others, it has its moods. When the South Easter howls, the water churns like someone put too much Omo in the washing machine, On those days, Muizenberg is the pits with the appeal of an empty allotment, a desecrated wind bowl with empty chip packets swirling around your feet.
But on the 10-15 perfect summer days, with a light North easterly and a 2-3 metre ground swell sweeping into the bay, nudging surfers across the wave like a croupier clearing a blackjack board, you start to make plans to live here.
Off-course, perfection is a transient condition. On days when the ocean is clear and crisp as cut glass crystal, word soon spreads. “It’s perfect” is the brief phrase whispered down phone lines that summons surfers from every corner of the city. If you are lucky, you hop in your car, fling on some board shorts and get out there. If you’re married with kids and shackled in the suburbs, it’s a mission: Give kids breakfast; find surf boards in the garage. Where has that surf rack gone? To a background tune of kids whining, you try and beat the clock, knowing that after 9am Muizenberg’s parking is non-existent. The bay has only a limited capacity, after which it becomes unpleasant, like a scene from Seal Island, with everyone colliding and locals grumbling.
On such days, David …basks in his good fortune. With his view from the Empire Cafe, he lords over the scene. He’s built his life around the Muizenberg wave. At age 44 this diehard bachelor has yet to find the woman who can compete with the charms of this frolicsome wave. He’s been riding her from the age of 12 when his father tossed him, terrified, into the ocean. Now, he gets up every morning at 5.30am and immediately checks the surf report on facebook, before starting to bake croissants and ciabatta. Once his staff arrive at 7am, he escapes to the ocean. It’s a ritual he swears by: “If you surf first thing in the morning, everything else is details. If you get your surf you feel that you’ve accomplished everything you need to in the day.”
But among lone wolfs like David, there are many married men. Muizenberg is a family wave. There’s a Diaspora way from Muizenberg when guys hit their thirties and get married. But eventually they start coming back, to teach their kids to surf. It’s a familiar and fetching sight to see mature men standing waist deep in Muizenberg’s surf, pushing pint size versions of themselves onto the waves. In a world where young boys have few role models it restores your faith in humanity to see men keeping the circle of life intact.
The thing about Muizenberg is that it’s safe. It’s the picket fence of surfing. The wave is as predictable as a solicitous aunt, the one who always presses sweets into your palm. The worst that can happen is that a beginner surfer bangs you with their board.
Off-course, there are sharks. The sound of the Shark alarm and the sight of the water emptying is an eerie sight, redolent of Jaws. But unlike the tricky little …that plague the waters of East London and the Transkei, the Great White shark is not exactly a discreet creature, and easily spotted in the water by the vigilant shark spotters on Boyes Drive, adding to Muizenberg ‘s reputation as a safe spot.
In 60 years there has been only one shark attack. The fact is that you are more likely to die from an incident with a toaster or a chair, than a shark attack at Muizenberg. And let’s not even think about how much more dangerous the South African roads are. Still, surf instructors are required to give a safety speech about sharks and according to many of them, people love the thrill of danger that it adds to the experience.
Muizenberg is also a girl power wave. Thanks largely to the effort s of Roxy Towe, who has devoted seven years to encouraging girls and women to surf, on any given day there’s likely to be a equal number of girls and guys riding the waves. Pouring forth from her shop is a stream of pony tails, lip-gloss and bubblegum. With their pretty pink boards, The Roxy brigade has added a touch of femininity to the Muizenberg wave, replacing the beefcake with the cupcake. Roxy, the originator of the species, tells me that you can’t miss one of her tribe: “They look stoked. They’re wearing massive smiles . They’re permanently in the water or on the beach.”
The bikini is a Roxy girls one essential fashion accessory. At around R500 for a branded bikini, these tiny items don’t come cheap. But there can be no skimping. Looking good in the line up really matters. Perhaps it’s part of a cunning ploy. Roxy confides that with bikinis in the line up boys get distracted and the girls get more waves. But there’s plenty of space for everyone on Muizenberg’s wave. There’s none of the jostling for position that happens on other more aggressive waves. No wave rage. Ten people can easily share the same ride. If someone comes with an aggro attitude, getting pissed when learners drop in on him, he’s soon going to get tuned to Muizenberg’s caring, sharing culture.
The yang to Roxy’s yin is Gary’s surf store. Here teenagers slouch around a television, smoking and exuding the scent of teenage boredom. Gary’s a wise cracking wave veteran. “I don’t dress up for no –one’ he announces, “ I’ve got two suits: my birthday suit and my wet suit,” he quips. When I tell him that I’m writing about the surfing culture, he replies, quick as a flash, “Surfing’s got a culture?”, Whoa I didn’t know that. I thought it was just about hanging out on the beach smoking doob”.
But the image of the stoner surfer is so old-school. Nowadays, surfing has a cleaner image and is being touted as a kind of ocean yoga, good for mind body and spirit.
Tucked in the corner and bringing it all together, is The Surf Shack, owned by Dave and Fiona, the good Samaritans of the Muizenberg scene. Many of their instructors, who come from every racial background, have been mentored to rise above difficult circumstances. They feel comfortable in the deliberately unpretentious set up.
It’s hard to imagine that the long-haired, jovial Dave years ago was a stressed out executive, a product manager for an IT company, pedalling hard to provide for his family who lived in a villa in Panorama, with all the trappings of success. At the same time as the twin towers crumbled, Dave found himself redundant. Within two years he’d lost everything – the fancy house in Kometjie, the holiday house in Clanwilliam, the SUV.
His daughter Tarryn was an up and coming surfer. and with time on his hands, Dave set about stirring up a girls surf culture. He started with no premises, giving 30-40lessons per week from the beach. By 2005 boys were also coming to learn. Finally they found premises and began catering for some of Cape Town’s wealthiest, most prominent people, who come for secret surreptitious surfs, as well as kids form some of the roughest backgrounds imaginable.
Having found their niche, Dave and Fiona are philosophical about their travails. Fiona says, “we know that money doesn’t buy happiness and we’re so much happier with this laid-back lifestyle. The Surf Shack sponsors three schools a week, giving free lessons to the kids from Ocean view. Some of these kids, find surfing an ideal outlet for their frustrations and go on to become surf instructors. Fiona adds, “Our struggles have given us compassion for the kids that come to us. We understand their vibe. Many of them have compulsive natures and surfing becomes the addiction. I’m not sure that they could easily get a job in the regular world. If they didn’t find surfing, I suspect that they’d turn to drugs.” One of their instructors, Alfonso concurs: “Surfing Keeps me out of trouble. In the water you can’t do nothing wrong. You can’t light a pipe.”
Craig is the surf Shacks success story. As bouncy as the tight curls squeezed under his cap, his teacher Mrs Howard recalls fondly that he was a difficult student who always wanted to be surfing rather than studying. Following his passion has helped Craig find an authentic place in society . We’re not all born for desk-jobs. For would be wave dancers like Craig, initiating others into the joys of surfing is a life of purpose. On a summer day, come to Muizenberg and witness the unflagging enthusiasm of the surf instructors and ask yourself if your job matches theirs.
Dawn Kennedy – Oct 1st 2013, 00:00