A story in 2 parts. Part 1.
The South African surf season generally consists of two international events over the June/July school holidays. The Ballito Pro, a mini-Rage beach-type surf festival on the North Coast of KZN, for the QS Challengers and then, as if to show the class gap, a clinic for the world’s finest at what is surely the most consistently excellent wave on the tour, with an open air amphitheatre set-up; the one and only J-Bay Open!
Generally, SA surf season offers surfing in it’s most high-performance, athletic and competitive form. The global standard, as seen on the WSL, at the Olympics, the ISA and most events put on by regional and national surfing bodies, worldwide. Here we’re talking about shortboards, progression, professionalism, whey protein smoothies and Italo’s gym routine.
However in 2022, after a 3 year Coronavirus enforced surf comp hiatus, surf season South Africa kicked off on a blue-note: The inimitable Vans Duct Tape Invitational’s first ever event on African soil, at good old user-friendly Muizenberg. And just like the role of a blue-note in jazz… a single note deliberately played or sung off-key, as a way of disrupting and breaking with everything that has come before… The beautifully executed Duct Tape Invitational Muizenberg edition kicked off our first national surf season since the plague, with the promise of a new direction.
Muizenberg Cape Town. Ground zero of South African surfing. The place where the South African surfing fever-dream was breathed into life by a Zimbabwean woman and her two US army friends (and their Hawaiian styled wooden logs) at the end of World War One. (See Here). The self-same spirit of adventure that now fuels the many faceted surf retail, food and beverage offerings along what has become Africa’s most-valued surf retail real estate. The weather, peachy by Cape Town winter standards. Almost warm, a gentle offshore breeze grooming endless 2 footers, with no beginning or end, all equidistant from the curl, ensuring there can be no priority, no claims of ownership, nor drop-ins, turning perhaps the world’s most unprejudiced and honest grovel wave into the perfect tableau for the world’s finest loggers to showcase their transcendental footwork.
22 years is how long it took for Joel Tudor to train his sights on the Berg. To lift our particular rock and look at what the kelp lice are cooking. We don’t need to be reminded of how long the flight is, nor how far down that pecking order our beloved surf scene sits. “But what a gift to be able to go and explore South Africa, surf the waves and share the culture.” Says Joel with a slap on the back. “It doesn’t get much better than this!”
Our turn was always coming, expedited by Stevie Sawyer’s inclusion on the Duct Tape roster and his 2018 World Championship win. For surely Mr Sawyer, otherwise known as “the Glue” in Duct Tape circles, must have whispered sweet nothings and gentle chidings regarding South Africa’s ceilingless surfing pedigree, flawless set-ups and original approach to the culture in Joel’s ear. The grunt work then fell to local Vans senior marketing manager, the tattooed battler Warren Talbot, whose task it was to shimmy up the greased pole and claim the prize for his region. He put in the long nights and took ascetic pleasure in the hard work to land this resplendent smorgasbord of alt.surf in the bosom of the South African surfing. A gift for a community that so badly needs it. But enough of my waffling. It’s our turn now. Let’s get involved.
On Thursday, as mentioned, we free-surfed in the warm winter sun. What a vibe to bump into Kevin Skvarna and his glorious moustache in the parking lot, cruising with local Jedi, Sam Christianson. And then to watch the blessed bare feet of Andy Nieblas sauntering passed the church like entrance of Lifestyle Surf Shop, as if he’s cross-stepping his way to the nose of a particularly long longboard, stretching from Knead Bakery across the railway line to the bar at the Striped Horse. Karina Rozunko and Honolua Blomfield on the low wall, feet in the talcum powder like sand, warming themselves in the weak ‘Berg sunshine. Out front the buffet of endless 2 footers. What a day.
Later that night, with burgers, pints and tunes at the Jack Black Taproom and an impromptu performance by a proper Kaapse Klopse Marching band, it felt like Duct Tape, but in Cape Town. As with every Duct Tape, the event is as much about the aprés-surf engagements (culture) as the action in the water. After several years of hard times, this was a golden opportunity for the broader surf community to come together, connect and hug it out. The next day the weather turned, as it does in winter in the Cape of storms, the waves notched up half a foot and and we got to complete the opening rounds and line-up finals day. On this day, many of the talented South African longboarders fell to the more polished footwork of the Duct Tape travelling circus. The fallen included Crystal Hulett, Angela Rosslind, Sam Christianson and Dean Simpson and Dylan Swindale. As could be expected, Skvarna, Quintal, Tudor junior, Arganda and Steven Steezy Sawyer all roared towards Finals Day. Johnny the ripper looked unstoppable and Rafi Nogalo, the Filipino log-meister who calls Hout Bay home, dominated his heat in fine style. But no one gets left behind at a Duct Tape. Just because you didn’t get through your heat in the water, doesn’t mean the event is over for you… not by a long shot.
Later that night, we hit the Shred, Cape Town’s industrial indoor skatepark, because the culture is not just about walking on water, you got to slide around (with abandon) on concrete to balance things out. What we learnt is that Mikey Feb can dance on both surfaces. Shane Sykes sends. Dallas Oberholzer is an untamed animal. Pain may be all consuming, but it’s temporary. Zag’s own Calvin Thompson loves a halfpipe and can do big hucks. There is such a thing as a “gourmet boerie roll”. Look left and right and left again, when you cross the park, to get to the bar.
Saturday was a rainy, black dog. Surf 1 foot. The surfing was thus called off for the day, but we still went down to Muizies to sample the winter conditions personally. An impromptu Zag team surf in less than mediocre conditions. Then we watched SA longboard supremo, Alfonzo Pieters shape his very first stick, courtesy of Vans, under the watchful eye and steady tutelage of Ian Ihlenfeldt in the Lifestyle Shaping bay. Then we meandered back to the hotel. The day ended at a Constantia wine farm, sampling the local produce before taking in a Springbok rugby match on the big screen and then some festive night-before-finals-day blather in the hotel lobby.
Finals day rolled around in classic Capetonian style. Not too fast. It rained in the morning and everyone got wet. The surf was 3-4 foot, but anyone who knows Muizies and could read a swell chart knew that the incoming tide would bring with it lines from the deep Atlantic, once it pushed around the crooked finger of the Cape Peninsula. And so it was. It’s rare when you get to see a real down-rail power carve at a Duct Tape, but that was a signature move in the men’s final, as 5 foot sets jacked at the back and rolled in and reformed multiple times, through the long long inside. I think I even saw Steezy grab a rail. Hard to tell, because when it gets bigger at Muizes, the wave breaks far out the back. Ultimately Kevin Skvarna, on song throughout the event, took out his first Duct Tape win, chased hard by Justin Quintal (who has collected many Duct Tape checks), Steezy came in 3rd and Johnny ‘the Ripper’ van Hohenstein from Hawaii was 4th. In the women, the Hawaiians Honolua Blomfield, Kellis Kaeopa’a and Sierra Lerback decimated the field all the way up to the finals, but then Ambre Victoire, the self-assured French logger, feeling at home in the blustery Atlantic winter conditions, sneaked up and snatched the win from the island girls, with all ten toes curled over the nose of her board.
And now, with nothing left to do but party, we all paddled out for some sunset Muizies nugs on boards borrowed from Lifestyle. Then we hit the bar formerly known as Rafikis, and now called a Movable Feast, ate pizza from an endless procession of Vans branded pizza boxes, drank beers from a bottomless Jack Black keg (is this Vanshalla?!) and swayed rhythmically to the incredible groove-jazz act Mabuta and then stomped riotously towards the dawn to Muzi’s insane selections, then slept little and flew home hungover, with the same thought swimming through my head: surfing is a wild, diverse and rebellious culture. Let us not forget.
End of Part 1… Join us for Part 2 on Friday.
Written by – Andy Davis
Images by – Kevin Rom & Mhlengi Mbutho