As well as selling all kinds of healthy stuff cheaper than anyone else on his website www.fitfuel.co.za , Giles Knights is our de facto PR man in South Africa.
Last month his hooked us up with his mate Will Bendix who’s the editor of SA’s top surfing magazine Zigzag.
Will published a short feature on our trip in the December issue:
…pick it up at your local newsagent to see it in all its glory.
Because of space contraints he had to run a shortened version so here’s a full-length version of the interview – exclusive to africansurfer.com:
1) Can you give me the low-down of what you guys set out to do, and why?
A group of us who were at university in Cape Town found ourselves visiting a
friend of our in Swakopmund, Namibia in December 2001. We lucked into great
waves at Guns on that trip and decided, after a few Tafels round the
campfire, that there is no reason the surf wouldn’t continue to be that good
all the way up the west coast of Africa. That’s how the idea of driving up
the coast to Europe was born.
Five years later Mike “Stone” Sternberg, John “Lurker” Fleming and myself
found ourselves behind the wheel of our 1981 Toyota Landcruiser heading
north from Cape Town in an attempt to drive to London and surf as many waves
as we could on the way.
The idea was to check out the surf potential in fifteen West African
countries and end the trip with some European waves in winter 2007/2008.
The main motivation was to show how ridiculous it is that all of us Saffas
fly direct to London and miss out on heaps of great waves and beaches on the
We’ve travelled a bit in East and Southern Africa and we’ve always found
that the Poms, Aussies and Europeans are doing the coolest stuff all over
our continent while most of the Saffas haven’t been north of the border. We
think this is madness, so this trip is just another part of our effort to
convince South Africans to change their mindsets about “Africa”.
2) Do you know of anyone doing something like this (the surf part)
We’ve never heard of a surf trip that’s gone overland up the whole coast.
There’s a British surf journalist called Stuart Butler who has travelled to
several countries in West Africa and most cities have a small crew of ex-pat
There are also a couple a Saffas representing in a few odd places. Mike
Markovina of the victorious 2001 UCT Surf Club team is working at a national
park in Gabon and surfing some crazy sand points when he’s not rescuing
travelling surfers from muddy puddles in the rainforest.
We also stayed with Dirk du Toit, the ex-Cape Town 80s contest surfer, who
is smashing the lip as hard as ever on the fun points around Port Gentile.
In general, though, the awareness of surfing is really low. Its clear that
few, if any, surfers have travelled to some of the coastlines.
We did a bit of research before and there is a serious lack of information
on surf spots and conditions in West Africa. We think this is a good thing
but some of the ex-pats who live in the cities are quite keen on using
YouTube and Wannasurf to increase the number of visiting surfers. They say
that they get lonely surfing uncrowded, tropical perfection!
We did meet a couple of non-surfing expeditions coming south from Europe but
we haven’t heard of anyone who’s done it north from SA. Kingsley Holgate
and his crew left Cape Town a few months after us and overtook us in Benin.
He’s a great guy and he runs a super-professional outfit with three
sponsored Land Rovers and a ton of gear.
I think we burst his bubble a bit though when he kept arriving at these
isolated coastal villages and hearing that three South African surfers had
passed through in an ancient Toyota a few weeks before!
3) How did you guys go about making your trip a reality?
We all had to work for a couple of years to save up enough to take the time
off but, in general, the day-to-day costs are pretty low if you’re happy to
camp in the bush and eat local food.
The route and time frame planning was pretty haphazard and, ultimately,
deeply-flawed. We were meant to be in London by September 2007 and right now
we’re still somewhere in North Africa! This happened mainly because we were
blown away by the quality of the waves, the beauty of the beaches and the
hospitality of the locals in almost all of the countries we have travelled
It took a few years to find the right vehicle – one within our price range
and simple enough so that three non-mechanics could vaguely understand what
was wrong with it – and there is pretty much always something wrong with it.
Once we found our old Toyota we spent a few months working on it each
weekend with a mechanic in Cape Town. We mounted two rooftop tents on roof
racks that we modified so that we could fit six boards underneath. Sport &
Surf in Cape Town hooked us up with a good deal on a quiver of Tufflite
epoxy boards that we thought would sustain the knocks of the trip better.
They were definitely much stronger than our normal PU boards but they really
feel different in the water so we’d advise potential Tufflite travellers to
make sure they’re used to them before they head off.
4) A few highlights so far?
The one major surprise of the trip is the quality and consistency of the
waves we have surfed. We had some old surf reports from the 80s that
advised that many of the countries were “longboard-only” – which is just
patently untrue. Although there are few super-hollow reef breaks, there are
hundreds of really long points and solid beachies.
We’ve been surfing for a couple of years around Southern Africa but the
waves on this trip were some of the longest and most perfect ever – a few of
them were even amongst the biggest. There’s something about baggie-surfing a
right point that looks like Crayfish Factory on the take-off, but runs for a
couple of hundred metres into a bay – Port Alfred-style – with the entire
population of the village standing on the beach and screaming in unison at
every turn. We were pretty sure no-one had ever surfed that spot before
when they ran into the water to touch our boards like teenage girls in
Durban trying to get a hand on Kelly after a heat.
The other surprise was the generosity of the people we met along the way.
The fact that we had surfboards on our roofs seemed to help a lot but
everywhere we went people hooked us up big-time. The story was the same in
each country: helpful locals, generous ex-pat surfers, beautiful beaches and
waves better than we imagined.
5) Lowlights so far?
Staying healthy is a bit of a problem. Lurker has had two bouts of malaria
so far, but he’s recovered well from both. There was also some kind of
stinging insect that lived in the sand of Angola’s beautiful beaches that
left festering sores on our legs and feet. The doctor we went to in Luanda
said they were called Fogo do Deus which means “The Fire of God”. They may
have been God’s fire, but they stung like hell.
6) Any tips for anyone wanting to surf mission west Africa?
Make sure you’ve got a vehicle that can handle the non-existent roads in
some parts of central Africa. Also, try to plan your trip around the rainy
seasons. Its easy for us to say this now because we really lucked into it,
with no planning at all, but we reckon there are some folk we passed heading
south a few months ago who must still be stuck in the mud in some rainforest
in Cameroon or Gabon.
Most of the countries in West Africa are French-speaking so it’s easier if
someone in your team can speak the language. Then again, none of us could
speak French and we got by, so it’s not a necessity.
If you’re planning to take along technology like laptops, video camera,
still cameras and iPods then make sure you put it all in a dust and
water-proof case like a Storm case or a flight case of some sort – West
Africa is hard on gear!
7) Parting shot (for now)?
Right now it’s a mission to go on a surf trip in West Africa. Like all tough
trips, however, the rewards are proportionate to the challenges.
Treat the locals with respect, don’t pay bribes (this is possible with a bit
of patience – we haven’t paid one so far), force yourself to get out of your
comfort zone by talking to everyone and eating the local food, and don’t
listen to anyone who says West African waves are “longboards-only”!
Stone makes a strong case for a follow-up “Senegal” feature…2 Comments