Surf-ari Provisioning / Durban / South Africa

Durban is a board buyer’s heaven. Can’t put it any simpler than that. Lots of quality shapers making great boards, stocking a bunch of surf shops, all at good prices (especially for foreigners). Oh, and the crew at all of the shops is super friendly, totally willing to walk you through different shapes and help you get in the water straightaway.

Durban is also a fairly cool city, though we admit we didn’t see a ton of it. Given a passport issue and an appointment in Cape Town just a couple weeks away, our mission was to find boards, and get on the road. Mission accomplished. Here’s how we did it.

There are essentially two areas to shop for boards. The Gateway Shopping Center (a giant mall), that is home to all the major surf brands – Rip Curl, Billabong, Quiksilver. I know. At home in the USA, these guys don’t have boards. Here in South Africa though, they do, and they are generally via a partnership with a local shaper (though Quicksilver only seemed to stock Al Merrick). Billabong had boards from Rebel, and Rip Curl had boards from DSG. Nice boards, but not what I was looking for.

See, before getting to SA, I’d done some homework and learned that there are tons of shapers in SA, many of whom call Durban home. Surfline even has a “Shaper’s Alley” feature on Durban area shapers (Note: not all are based in Durban. Do your research). These guys make great boards for a lot less than you’ll find back in the USA. More to the point, if you get in touch with them ahead of time (based on what I heard, I’d give yourself at least six weeks), you can get custom shapes made, awaiting your arrival in Durban. In hindsight, I’d wished I’d reached out to these guys sooner. Most were cool about my inquiries, but just too busy to get something done in our timeframe. Oh well.

So, if you find yourself in our situation, your best option for buying boards is to drive downtown, just before “The Point.” There are 4-5 shops within a mile radius that all have great selections. Check out Surf HQ, 42 Surf, Bilt, New Pier, and Sessions. We were hoping to buy used boards (less environmental impact), and that lead to a conversation with the shop owner at Surf HQ, who then intro’d us to John McCarthy – the guy behind “The Greener Surfer” which is an initiative to make, duh, greener surfboards. Inside of Surf HQ, there’s a whole section of boards made from recycled foam and reclaimed wood, or glassed with hemp + silk bio resins, etc. Annie ended up buying a board with the latter resins, brand new, for ~$140USD.

The Greener Surfer store-within-a-store at Surf HQ…

But John wasn’t just shilling his own boards. He was nice enough to tour us around the neighborhood helping us find the right board. Yes, he literally walked and drove us, complete strangers save for an interest in greener surfing, around from shop to shop, in hopes of finding the right board. I ended up finding a great used board at Sessions (near North Beach), a Rusty “Yes Thanks” (made locally though), that I bought off of the store owner. Yes, it was his board and marked “not for sale” but it was the exact dimensions I was looking for, in perfect condition still, and the owner had plenty of boards to choose from. Mine was ~$240USD. I was stoked.

John McCarthy, so stoked on surf that he was rushing to put fins in Annie’s new board so she could surf before day’s end…

We weren’t actually staying in Durban proper. We were crashing at a hostel North of Durban in Umhlanga – Durban Backpacker’s On The Beach – and we’re glad we did. The friendly owner chatted us up and when he found out we were there to buy boards, he said if we need board bags, leashes, accessories like that, to hit up his neighbor Warren. Warren “The White Rat” is the founder of Island Style, which is a South African surf brand, headquartered in Durban.

We missed Warren at his house, so we tracked down the factory in an industrial park inland a bit, and we’re glad we did.

PRO TIP – In Durban, buy your board bag, track pads, board socks, even sandals, and some clothes at the Island Style factory. The prices are insanely cheap because you’re cutting out the middleman. We walked out with two good board bags (Mine can fit 2 boards with bubble wrap. More on this later)., two leashes, track pads, a board sock, and a dope hat for less, given the exchange rate, than a single board bag will cost you in the US. AND, if you’re taking the gear home with you, you can get the 14% tax (VAT) back at the airport. This applies to all qualifying purchases (read up about this online) in South Africa, just make sure to get an itemized “Tax Invoice” and follow procedure.

Inside the Island Style factory and warehouse…

So all in all, we had two new boards, bags, gear etc, for significantly less than what we’d pay for it in the USA.

But what about the airline fees to get it home, you ask?

Boards fly free on South African Airways! Yes. Really. One board-bag per passenger, emphasis on the one “bag,” free.* Just keep it to a shortboard, and under 23kg. 

So, while we generally try pretty hard NOT to buy crap we don’t need, we admit that we did take advantage of the friendly prices, and family members flying back home (who thankfully were willing to schlep our boards back) and we stocked up on some surf gear that we were mostly in need of (and some stuff we weren’t in dire need of, but will certainly use). Like I said before, we opted for used boards first, and that’s what I bought. Point is, I’m not encouraging you to go to South Africa and buy shit you don’t need. But, if you’re traveling through and/or want to try to do a surf trip there, the system is set up in your favor at the moment.

Annie, on a mission to find waves in Durban with her new silk + bio resin eco-board.

PRO TIP – When you buy a new board somewhere (not just when traveling), ask the shop for extra foam packaging – the stuff the boards are wrapped in when they’re delivered. The guys at Lifestyle (in Muizenberg) hooked us up with enough to pack our three boards to send home.

  • Do… your homework ahead of time. It helps to know the shapes and shapers.
  • Don’t… wander in with an open mind. Try to have an idea of what you want, know your required volume, etc. Makes shopping a lot easier.
  • Don’t… forget to try a “bunny chow” while in Durban. It’s a cool Indian-Influenced dish that (of course), looks terrible, but tastes delicious. We got ours from a great vegetarian place near all the surf shops called Vrushiks Vegetarian Foods.
Mmmm… “Bunny Chow.” Indian curries mixed inside of a scooped out loaf of bread.
  • Later on, in Cape Town, I picked up a second shape that I’ve been looking for for a while, and stuffed two decks in my double board bag. No charges at the airport and my boards arrived home safely!

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