Welcome to Ari Kraak’s office
The Kraak surname is synonymous with South African surfing. Most surfers who’ve had a brush with the industry or been down to J-Bay would have bumped into Ari, son of the famous Cheron, at some stage.
Over the years he’s broken away from the standard surfing mould and chalked up quite a CV along the way. Having studied marketing, gotten his Yacht Masters license, completed a serious security course (which is basically like being a Ninja and a Navy Seal at the same time) and gotten certified as a Medic (First Person On Scene), the ou is now looking to new ventures. These days, in between flying commercial choppers by day and chasing baddies for Net Star by night, he finds time to squeeze in a surf or two and spoil his mates with the odd trip in his flying ride.
He recently took Zag journo Clayton Truscott and photographer AVG on a chopper cruise over the Atlantic Seaboard (with a trip past Dungeons and Dunes thrown in for good measure) to get some photos. After getting the crew safely back on land, Zag decided to get the low down on what Ari’s next move is, and of course, we grilled him…
Clay: AK, how did you get into flying choppers?
AK: I started off studying marketing, because with my mom in the business I thought it would be cool to have someone like Shaun Holmes’s job, getting paid to surf and live in J-Bay. And after the first year I was kind of over it – it wasn’t a challenge at all. The way the course was structured I could pretty much coast all year and still get 75% for the exams. After my second year she sold the company, so I thought, “this isn’t really what I want to do.” So we sat down and thought about what would be the best thing: something challenging and interesting.
So I thought I’d do a private helicopter’s license, and just see how it goes. And from about the fifth hour of flying I was completely hooked. So I started flying as much as possible and about a year and two months later I had my license. That was it ever since.
Clay: To outsiders, it seems like an extension of some childhood dream getting to fly a helicopter all day. How do you make your bread and butter doing this? Is it always fun?
AK: Haha, at the moment I work down in the waterfront flying charters. Its really sick cause you get to meet new people every day and show them this amazing part of the country. It’s been an awesome way to start my career off.
You fly standard routes around Cape Town, which on some days can be monotonous, but its always changing and we always finding new ways to fly and different aspects to show clients. Like cruising up and around the Twelve Apostles- so you can see both Atlantic and Indian ocean- with amazing perspective of all the mountains. And then little exciting things like a ground rush when flying over a drop off, cutting low through gorges.
Clay: Like when we went up?
Clay: Ja that was awesome. (In truth, the journo almost kicked his pants, full on).
What’s the long term plan with the choppers? We hear that you are getting in with Net Star, chasing baddies who’ve stolen cars in Cape Town. Is that part of a bigger plan?
AK: Net Star is cool – I’m just getting in to it. It’s at night, which is insane cause we never get to do night flights. The hours aren’t great (6am-6pm), and you usually don’t fly much more than 4 hours month. But when you fly it’s exhilarating, cause you are part of a live car chase. Peeps on the ground with guns etc. You in the air directing them. It’s another part to it, which I really like! There’s a good sense of pressure and your heart is racing! Plus when you pull it off without writing yourself off or anyone getting hurt, it’s an awesome feeling.
I really enjoy charters and I’m happy in Cape Town, but one day in the long future I want to use it for work, as way of getting up each day and having a task at hand. But I’d like to get into exciting work: fire fighting and rescue work – other avenues where I can use all my qualifications, maybe working up in North Africa in some remote areas of the bush. That way I’ll get to travel a lot and see things you wouldn’t get to see anywhere else.
The view from Ari’s office window.
Clay: Your daily flight path across Muizies and the Peninsula, you must have seen some big sharks. Any days or specimens that stand out?
AK: That’s one of the exciting and fucken scary things about flying here – how many times you see sharks. I tell guys to come fly with me in the morning when it’s windless and the right time of the year and I guarantee you we’ll see a shark. I’ve probably seen a good couple hundred sharks between Muizenberg and Gordon’s Bay – and some big ones. The one day I counted 17 sharks in five minutes, all in the two-and-a-half, three-and-a-half metre range. You can clearly identify the big ones from the small ones. Doesn’t matter what altitude you’re at – you can see it. When the last Fish Hoek shark attack took place, I saw a monster about three days prior. The other day, too, I saw one that must have been close to five metres. Definitely the biggest I’ve ever seen.
To get a real perspective, I’ve gone down next to it and flown a few metres away from it. The chopper comes in at about 11 metres in length, and when the shark is sizing up to half of it’s size and about the same girth it makes you think… Fuck surfing Muizenberg!
Clay: You also get to fly over some sick surf spots. You ever get tempted to hand the gear stick over to a passenger to get a better look at Dunes or the Hoek?
AK: Definitely, I always fly as quick as I can to the surf spots and spend more time over them bullshitting about some fact of Cape Town whilst getting a bird’s eye view of where the waves are, or looking for sharks, schools of yellow tail etc. It’s quite funny cause I always say to them “I’m doing this really special thing for you, but you must promise not to tell the boss” and then shoot down to about 600ft to have a look. Or on private flights with friends flying low over Derdesteen I check the waves, or catch a few myself. Haha.
Carving in Indo on a recent trip
Clay: Last year you popped up to the Xcel Pro Showdown at Supers when the waves were going absolutely mental. I remember checking you get a sick barrel in one heat. You still get down there much?
AK: Eish, I try get down to J-bay as much as possible, but I’m working three jobs at the moment, so whatever time off I get I definitely take down there. Last winter I missed the best swells that were around. So this year I’m training hard and going to make a way bigger effort. The Excel was the best I got it all that year, and before that I’d been in Joburg for two weeks writing exams. So I came down the evening before the contest and went back up there as soon as it ended. It was as quick as a daydream but what an incredible day!
But surfing is still number one to me and I try get in the water as much as possible. Especially because it gives me a chance to get out of the concrete jungle and get back to the roots.
Clay: Lekka bru. Shot for the tour, your time, and take it easy!
AK: Shot bru! No worries.
I’d like to say a Moerse Big Thank You to Ari and the ous from Civair (at Cape Town’s V& A Waterfront www.civair.co.za/) for letting us fly in one of their sick choppers! It was bloody amazing! – Clay