20 August, 2013 20 August, 2013

Ecstacy & Agony in Richards Bay


The surf-stoked harbour town of Richards Bay awoke to a regular Monday morning on the Zululand coast yesterday, but by mid-morning the same swell that had been smashing the coast a little further south had grown in intensity, and was starting to wallop the port with the biggest swell seen in years – resulting in first ecstasy, then agony, as bones were broken and a ship ran aground.

For surfers, there’s nothing that gets the blood pumping quite like a building swell, and in Richards Bay there are a couple of spots that the locals only get to surf every few years during the biggest waves (much like Durban’s Vetchies Reef), so the excitement was high amongst the crew as the swell peaked at 4.5m on the forecasts (6.5m according to some of the locals we spoke to, and 10m according to IOL.co.za).

With that much water moving around the fickle Pelican Island comes to life, and yesterday saw the sandbank inside the harbour cooking at 4 – 6 feet, offering rights and lefts with rides of up to 400m.

Ask any Richards Bay surfer and they’ll tell you; if there are waves, especially like that, then you don’t need to ask Freddie Le Roux twice whether he’s going to paddle out – even more so if you consider that the Zululand surfing stalwart has been training hard since the beginning of the year to compete in the SA Masters champs, which are set to go down in three weeks time.

Fred rallied the troops and reminded them that Pelican Island had not broken like that in many years, and he a crew paddled out in excitement to go get some.

Another local shredder, Malcolm Mersham, had other ideas – he and a couple of mates managed to sneak themselves onto the south side of the harbour (where access is restricted to the public), in the hopes of scoring a wave called ‘secrets’ –  which is rumoured to be just like the African Kirra, or the reverse of Skeleton Bay – you get the idea.

Of course being a restricted area evidence was destroyed, and all of the other surfers had to go on were tales of 4ft dredging barrels and Malcolm’s broad grin as he described waves like this:

Jordy gets slotted at the African Kirra a little bit (or a lot) further north.

The African Kirra a little bit (or a lot) further north.

Meanwhile, back at Pelican Island, Fred was riding another long left on his SUP and attempted a floater that ended in pain after he lost control of his craft. The massive board smashed against his leg and snapped his tibia and fibula clean in half, leaving him in tremendous pain in the middle of the harbour.

Fred was helped to shore by David Ravenscroft – the head lifeguard at Alkanstrand, before being rushed to hospital and receiving emergency surgery last night to repair the damage.

“Why aren’t you out there, this only happens every three years or so?” said Fred from his hospital bed this morning when his buddies came to check on him. “I’m so bummed, as this is the fittest I have been in years and I was really looking forward to the SA Masters” he continued.

Fred is looking at about six months out of the water, and another three years before he gets to surf Pelican Island again, so he’s in pretty good spirits considering.

Following Fred’s accident at Pelican Island, a massive coal tanker attempted to leave the harbour, but was quickly hammered north on exiting the harbour mouth, before running aground on a shallow sandbank exactly where the full force of the mighty swell was focussing its energy.

Those are 12ft A-frames rolling through on the inside, and it's clear that the ship is sitting right in the path of where the wave energy is focussing hardest.

Those are 12ft A-frames rolling through on the inside, and it’s clear that the ship is sitting right in the path of where the wave energy is focussing hardest.

Many locals are puzzled as to why the tanker was allowed to leave the harbour in such heavy seas, and they now face the potential ecological and economical disaster as salvage teams try to rescue the sinking ship.

There has already been evidence of oil leaking out the side of the vessel, and with the ship running aground so close to the harbour mouth – the entrance could potentially be blocked for other ships to enter with their valuable cargo.

The vessel now lies stranded, it's spine broken, just north of the harbour entrance.

The vessel now lies stranded, it’s spine broken, just north of the harbour entrance.

“Let’s pray for waves and no damage” was local surfer Rudi Stadler’s last words as he described the incident to Zag.

So, while Freddie’s ambitions of SA Masters domination now lie shattered beneath a cast, the town of Richard’s Bay will be looking to mop up the damage caused by nature at full force.


  1. Bay ou
    20 August, 2013 at 10:55 am · Reply

    Awesome Zigzag, lekka to see locals geting mentions

  2. ragged
    20 August, 2013 at 2:08 pm · Reply

    why was the evidence deleted?
    restriction is above the high water mark,
    what an opportunity to post some pics,
    as if its going to get too crowded soon..LOL

  3. thatguy
    20 August, 2013 at 4:53 pm · Reply

    That’s what you get for riding a SUP

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