I am standing on the viewing deck at Supertubes, staring out at the break where surfing legends have put on outstanding performances at the world’s longest, best, most famous, right-hand wave.
I dreamed of surfing J Bay ever since I learned of it, but in the last few years surfing Rockaway, almost entirely left-hand waves, I began to become obsessive over it. All I want is to go right.
So when we planned this trip, around the world, to South Africa, J Bay was a priority.
And now here I am.
And it’s blown out.
Not like, “kinda choppy” blown out. Not, “a little side shore” blown out. Like, howling wind annihilating any swell for miles blown out.
There’s not even a diehard out in the water to jump in with.
Still, it’s a beautiful place to be and our hostel, Aloe Again, is stellar. Firstly, it is located directly in front of Supertubes, it’s clean, the rooms are great, cool shared spaces, board rack/outdoor shower, and the best hostel kitchen I’ve ever seen (and I’ve seen a lot of ‘em).
J Bay itself is a decent little town, too, which seemingly survives entirely off of surfers, complete with a “Surfer’s Village” – home to several surf shops and factory stores selling all the surf apparel you can imagine for bargain prices [Almost too many surf shops. Multiple Rip Curls, Billabongs, and Quiksilvers… a RVCA outlet, too. It’s crazy]. There are a few spots to buy boards in town as well, the best selection of which is at Country Feeling.
With nothing to surf, we took time to poke around surf shops looking for boards. I was hoping to find a fun second board to send home given the great local shapes and even better prices. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find anything in my dimensions and price range, but Annie did her fill of apparel shopping, and then we cooked dinner at the hostel.
I awoke the next morning ready to dawn patrol, but, as tragedies go, I was shut out again. Too much wind, too little swell. “Maybe it’ll clean up later,” a local said.
Being the offseason, there weren’t a lot of people around checking the surf. An occasional 1-2 guys. I chatted up a few of them, mostly asking how the hell to paddle out here. All were friendly enough and offered their input, which was invaluable at a place covered in lava rock and pounded by swell. One guy, Andrew, a local surf instructor was particularly friendly and said he’d be back later on if I was keen to surf.
Annie and I scoped out a few of the other breaks – Albatross, The Point, Salad Bowls, Kitchen Windows – but nothing was working. Back at Supertubes, I must have checked the surf another five times that morning before I finally saw two guys, Andrew was one of them, in the water. The waves weren’t as spectacular as I’d seen them in surf films, but they were surfable. Andrew, a local pro, was making a lot out of a little and I was stoked. I rushed to get my wetsuit on, and ran down to the beach.
I paddled out through this narrow “keyhole” (an opening in the rocks), which was really visible now at low tide, then timed my escape through the breaking waves and made my way over to Supertubes. As I did though, Andrew got out of the water. He’d dinged his board and called it quits. Damn. At least there was one more guy out there for me to go off of.
We both floated around a bit trying to find a good wave. I paddled for a few but having read about the hardcore localism, and the “JBU” (a local surf gang for lack of a better term), I was super careful not to drop in on him and backed off a bit. He wasn’t dropping into much as the selection wasn’t great, and eventually, he actually shouted “go!” to me and so, I went.
My first wave at J Bay wasn’t a firing barrel, nor did it last for 1km as I’d dreamed. But it was a chest high right with good power that I was giddy to be surfing. I made a few pumps down the line and kicked out before the wave hit the rocks for good.
I paddled back out to the lineup, but the other surfer was gone. He’d taken the next wave and was making his way in.
So now I was in the water, alone, at J Bay, sitting in about the same spot where pro surfer Mick Fanning was when he had a run in with a Great White Shark around eight months ago… and I’d promised Annie I wouldn’t surf alone in South Africa.*
But… J Bay. Waves. All to myself… I was pretty conflicted. I could see Annie on shore, nervously watching. I couldn’t see much in the water around me, as there was too much wave action. Not good.
I scanned the shore hoping to see another surfer coming out, so I could milk this time, but no dice. I told myself I’d quickly get a couple more and head in, and did just that. A couple more quick, fun rights all to myself, at J Bay. Despite the brevity of the session and mediocre conditions, I was stoked.
I paddled back to the keyhole which is far more difficult to find on return, but with Annie’s help spotting from shore I made it out of the water unscathed by crashing waves, lava rock, barnacles, and the like.
I kept my eye on the waves the rest of the day. They deteriorated rather quickly and we only saw a few groms out at The Point later on. Not worth it.
The forecast for the next day was poor as well, so we planned an adventure to the Addo Elephant Park. It would mean backtracking about two hours, but it was worth it. Self-driving through the park we saw our first zebras, warthogs, ostriches, antelopes, and elephants. Great way to spend a lay-day in the area.
The final morning the waves still didn’t cooperate, but we’d heard they might be better at our next destination and headed West. Happy with J Bay, but eager to come back for more.
- Do… stay at Aloe Again. Place is seriously fantastic.
- Do… bring an empty suitcase (or at least leave room in your bag). If you like surf apparel, I’ve never seen more of it in my life, and it is absurdly cheap, especially given the exchange rate (right now anyway). You can also get the VAT (tax) back at the airport if you plan on it. That all being said, my favorite stop was still the local shop, Country Feeling. Owner Michael is a good guy, too.
- Do… ask locals where to paddle out. It’s not so straightforward.
- Don’t… surf alone.
- Don’t… drop in on anyone.
*Annie has a very real fear of sharks. The fact that she surfs at all is kind of amazing, considering. So, she struggled here and at other spots that are known to be “sharky.” I was bummed to not have her in the water, as surfing together is one of our favorite activities, but so it goes.