Brett Burcher

Isn’t it strange that when you visit a new place with no reflections of yourself or your way of life, you somehow see deeper into yourself and the surrounding milieu? Your desire to be anything vanishes. Less noise, more to hear, lesseyes, more to see. Too often with travel and life in general, we crave the fiction when we need the truth. Since my first visit to Africa, I have been entirely drawn to the place. Geographically on the same scale to Australian shores but volumes apart, there’s and inescapable element of danger and instability both in and out of the water. As surfers, having the freedom to divide your time between chasing waves and experiencing unforeseeable elements beyond the ocean is what makes foreign surf travel so enjoyable and unique. And more often than not, it’s those hidden truths that uncover the essence of what you truly journeyed for.

The Rythm of the waves

Potentially the ramifications of excessive pre adolescent exposure to the Lion King sequels and Toto music, Africa, the land and those who share it, have always fascinated me. Everything they do, they do in rhythm. One wave above all that demands such rhythm is J-Bay. Needing no explanation, she truly is one of the seven wonders of the surfing world and if you didn’t pack your dancing shoes, she will unapologetically tango without you. No feeling surpasses that of high-lining around a section to see an endless wall presenting itself for you to do as you please. The concept of time seems non-existent to Jeffery, and any wandering traveller could easily be forgiven for staying put, only to check their flight itinerary that mysteriously expired yesterday. Like all elements of Africa, there are two faces, and unless you turn your head, you will only see one side.

Wild West; no faint hearted

With the souls of our dancing shoes hanging in by a thread and the hoofs in desperate need of a rest, we closely followed whispers of a wild stretch of coastline, hosting warmer water, right hand points and the highest number of recorded shark encounters in SA over the past decade. Throwing caution to the wind, we hit the road running. Reeking profoundly of braii, we loaded up on enough meat and staples to feed a small army and headed north. Our 10-hour journey mimicked a game of Simon says. Instructions from our trustworthy friend were pretty straightforward and sounded somewhat like the following. ‘Take this highway, fuel up here, turn left here, lock doors through towns x, y, z, don’t stop here and here, load up on supplies here and finally, follow this dirt road until you arrive here’. As willing participants of the game, our actions resembled just that. The 1hr drive connecting the main highway to the coast was not for the faint hearted. Within the space of 20 anxious minutes, we witnessed a recent human traffic fatality, another violent car crash and numerous deceased dogs. It was as though one turn of the steering wheel had simultaneously transported us into an era of Wild West proportion.

Dusty Roads Ahead

In this particular game however, it was more what Simon didn’t say that gripped the attention of the gamers. Goats, cows, pigs and other farm life littered the uneven dusty roads that unraveled us closer to the horizon. Chickens danced on front doors while rolling green hills housing colourful traditional Rondavel style buildings graced our seemingly hallucinogenic eyes. These euphoric sensations elevated when to our amusement; we observed an afternoon game of soccer being played on the low side of a significantly sloping hill. Not just a spontaneous game either, there were goal posts fixed in to the ground on what to the naked eye looked like a 45 degree incline. To put the icing on the mole cake, our first glimpse of the ocean revealed crystal clear blue water with a double rainbow dissecting the wind riddled red horizon. T.I.A.

Staying on Guard

Getting from A to B in an 8-seated people mover meant we weren’t exactly inconspicuous on the local roads. Approaching groups of kids as they trotted the dry, uneven streets, the deafening echo of ‘sweeeeeetttssss’ could be heard as they chased the car down like it was a Mr. Whippy van on a scorching summers day. On the morning commute to the waves, groups of kids heading to school would spot the van, high tail it home to get changed, and show up at the check spot in the hope of being assigned a job. Only too willing, we would give them the opportunity to watch the car while we surfed, help carry our gear or watch their mate while he helped carry the gear. They wouldn’t know their luck when for simply carrying a plastic bag of wax and fins would pocket them a selection of their beloved ‘sweeeeets’ or the finances to purchase them. True to their word, they would hang out by the car and joke amongst themselves all morning while we surfed and you got the impression that they would have watched the car all month if we took that long.

Fortunate

Regardless of the waves, this place was already independently superior. Fortunately, we lucked into an incredible right hand sandbar breaking beneath rugged green rises and African Aloe Flora. Undeniably more powerful than J-Bay, lines would wrap around the point and funnel into a secluded golden sandy beach. Leg burners would become arm burners, and this went on all morning with no one in sight. The similarities to the Byron/Lennox coastline were uncanny, only the squirrels came in the form of jackals. To share a session like that with your brother and two best mates, really drilled home how fortunate we are to do what we do. Every arvo, we would retire to Brie headquarters, share a few doops, attempt to eat our bodyweight in meat and watch the ocean glow after another postcard day.

Reality vs. Possibility

Irrespective of which angle you look at it, Africa is a torn land. Divided in the past and uncertain about how to heal its wounds for the future. Beneath all the incredible experiences, lifelong memories and lessons learnt in Africa, you can’t help but feel torn yourself. Torn between possibilities and the confronting reality, torn between wanting to know more, what to believe, how to act or how to help, and haunted by the guilt of a life born into privilege. I’m no Bono and refuse to pretend I’m even remotely educated in foreign affairs, but subjectivity aside; it is currently a very volatile time for South Africa. Much of South Africa’s raw appeal as a travel destination is linked to its untamed grandeur and its social diversity. Preserving the independent cultural identities of the various groups (black and white) while fostering greater equality will be a huge challenge. Perhaps the best thing we can do to help is visit and find our own path through the glorious country. Tourism is arguably the greatest asset for the Rainbow and potentially one of its most unifying forces. One thing everyone believes in is the wonders of Africa.