26 July, 2016 26 July, 2016

When Preparation Meets Opportunity

Interview With SA Big Wave Charger Caitlin Moir

Caitlin Moir started surfing in Muizenberg when she was 15. She learnt to surf on a longboard, like most surfer groms do. She then moved onto a shortboard, like most surfer groms also do. She then progressed from cruising 1ft foamies to making 15ft drops at Dungeons, which most surfer groms don’t grow up to do…

Caitlin Moir believes in big dreams and a little bit of luck. She gets a mad rush every time she watches clips from Jaws, Sunnies and Puerto. She’s a qualified Chemical Engineer who loves beer and surfing waves, big waves, sometimes 20ft waves. Caitlin is one of South Africa’s few (female) big wave chargers who is preparing for something bigger.


SA big wave charger, Caitlin Moir, out at Dungeons. Photo by Kimmi Stewart

So how do you go from surfing Muizies to surfing Supers “just for fun”? Well, for Caitlin it all really started in her second year of uni where she was given the opportunity to watch some big wave action at Sunset on a friend’s boat. Bunking class that day was one of the best decisions she ever made. “I barely sat down for four hours straight I was so over-frothed and hooting from the boat, watching legends like James Taylor and Mickey Duffus sliding down these beauties,” Caitlin recalls.

SA free diving champ, Hanli Prinsloo happened to be on the same boat. She saw how amped she was and invited Caitlin to join the apnea swimming training she was doing with the big wave guys. She was then further encouraged to join by SA big wave charger, Jem Johnson. She did and soon “everything just fell into place,” says Caitlin.

We catch up with the determined young Caitlin Moir on big wave surfing in SA, the Striped Horse Challenge, epic fails, epic successes and doing it for yourself…


Caitlin cruises at Dunes. Photo by Richard Johnson

Zigzag: Let’s start out with the sunshine and rainbows. Tell us about the best big wave session you’ve ever had?

Caitlin: My best big wave session was late September 2011 at Sunset. I had surfed the whole day at Outer Kom but was struggling with the crowd and my borrowed board. It was super frustrating. Then Jem tells me he’s going to surf Sunset, which frustrated me even more because I wanted to join, but hadn’t brought a board with. When I got out from Outers, Jem was already at Sunset. It was perfect Sunset – 12-15 ft, not a breath of wind, warm weather and only five people out. So I decided “I have my longboard here, let me just paddle out on it so at least I can watch from the shoulder”. When I got to the backline, the waves were just too sublime not to get stuck into. I had five or six amazing waves that afternoon, the most waves I’ve ever had in a big wave type session, on my old beat up longboard, with five friends – it was beyond magical.

Big wave surfing is definitely not all magic – tell us about the worst?

My worst session was one where I spent most of the day in my wetsuit but didn’t catch a single wave [laughs]. I started off at Sunset as the sun rose, but the wind came up super fast, and after almost two hours of trying to get into a wave, I paddled myself back to shore, so kak. By this time, it was low tide so I decided to run down to Dunes instead. It was heaving. After an hour of trying to get to the back line, I gave up and walked over to Outer Kom… where I promptly broke my board paddling out. FAIL!

Sunset wipeout, 2012. Photo By Peter Lambert

One of Caitlin’s Sunset wipeouts, 2012. Photo By Peter Lambert

Where is your favourite spot to surf and what board do you generally prefer riding?

Dunes and Supers are my favourite spots – at both places I tend to ride bigger boards than most people my size might. If the waves are sub 6ft then I’m usually on a 5’7. Anything bigger than 6ft at Supers and I get out a 6’0 – 7’0 board; anything bigger than 6ft at Dunes and I’m happier on something in the 7’0 – 7’6 range.

What is it that motivates you? Big wave surfing, is particularly male dominated – is the fact that you’re a woman a driving motivation to keep riding bigger waves?

It does in some way, yeah. I’m a total tomboy so I’m always trying to keep up with the boys [laughs]. But doing it for myself motivates me more I think – it is an amazing feeling to do/achieve something you have dreamt of doing for a long time. Especially something that requires dedication, passion and a little luck.


Caitlin catches a bomb in J-Bay. Photo By Grant Scholtz

You’re inevitably taking risks in the water, especially when surfing big waves. Is there anywhere else in your life at the moment where you’re taking risks just as big?

[Laughs] Yes I am, but I don’t really want to talk about it…

Fair enough! Who is your favourite big wave rider / surfer and what do you admire most in a surfer? Is it style, courage, skill, humbleness?

There is no way I can pick just one. Every guy from the Cape Town crew is my fav big wave surfer for different reasons. Mickey Duffus, Andy Marr, Barry Futter have amazing experience and knowledge in Cape waters, and were incredibly generous in helping me try and learn some of this when I was fortunate enough to surf with them. Mad Mike, Mike Schelbach, Jake Kolnick, James Taylor for their unmatched bravery. James Lowe, Matt Bromley for their almost reckless, youthful froth levels. Twig, Sean Holmes for their sweet-ass style and general legend-ness. Internationally – Dorian (for making it look easy) and Greg Long (for being so darn calculated and humble). But my favourite ‘general’ surfer is Adin Jeenes – because the waves can be a half foot and onshore, and I will still have a blast with that ou in the water, such a frother!


Caitlin continues to catch a bomb in J-Bay. Photo By Grant Scholtz

How has big wave surfing influenced your personal life philosophy?

Big wave surfing taught me to always be prepared. Luck truly exists in this world, but I once read somewhere that luck happens when preparation meets opportunity, and I don’t ever want to miss great opportunities because I was not prepared for it… Other than that, it has taught me the importance of living with passion. I found that when I really began to focus on big waves, which was my dream, everything else seemed to fall into place. I functioned at a level I didn’t know I could. Life is bland without passion. And life should not be bland.

New Pier, Durban 2013. Photo By Kit Bruyns

New Pier stoke, Durban 2013. Photo By Kit Bruyns

What do you think of the competitions and platforms out there for big wave surfing at the moment? Dismal or progressive? How do you envision the future of the sport?

Definitely progressive – not so long ago, if one big wave event ran in a year, it was a good show. Now there is an entire big wave circuit, and we get to watch it live on the web, yeeeeuw! It’s hard to say what might happen in the future, but I think the current big wave tour will become as main stream as the pro tour eventually. I reckon the toughest part of running a tour like this successively is making sure the waves are big enough to keep up the standard. I always said there should be a six month waiting period for all the spots in the southern hemi, and then another six month period for all those spots in the northern hemi, to better the chances of getting the best waves. Logistical nightmare I know, but the current structure is actually getting closer to this. Aside from that, I also think more expression-session type heats for women are on the horizon.

New Pier, Durban 2013. Photo By Kit Bruyns

New Pier, Durban 2013. Photo By Kit Bruyns

Since we’re on the fun topic of predicting the future, what does your own future in big wave surfing hold?

I predict that big wave surfing will become a big part of my life again sometime – soon, hopefully! I also predict that it will take me to Mexico one day – it is my greatest desire to surf Puerto.

What do you think about ‘big wave’ platforms such as the Striped Horse Challenge presented by RVCA and Hurricane Surf? Will you be entering this year?

I love the idea of the Striped Horse Challenge, especially in the absence of an event in South Africa. Simply because it will give recognition to those guys who deserve it. And furthermore, can aid in helping them to recognize a dream of surfing for a living – an increasingly difficult thing to achieve here in ZA. I followed the Striped Horse actives fervently last year and will definitely do so again this year! I haven’t entered before but if I get back in the big waves before the year is up as planned – then maybe [laughs].

Caitlin makes the drop at Dungeons, May 2012. Photo By Nic Bothma

Caitlin (left) watches James Taylor (right) fly at Dungeons, May 2012. Photo By Nic Bothma

Any neat nugs of advice for the up and coming chargers out there?

Only do it for yourself. To feed your own hunger. If you do it for other people or other reasons, you may find yourself making horrible decisions in the water and getting hurt. If you know what it is you want, get fit and get comfortable – get a board you feel good on, a leash you trust, and a buddy that will both push you, and look out for you. And then get out there every opportunity you have – there are endless lessons to be learnt in the ocean.


Training days on the river. Photo Supplied

Enter the 2016 Striped Horse Challenge presented by RVCA and Hurricane Surf HERE.

Lead Image: Caitlin Moir at Dungeons © Alan van Gysen

Report By: Robyn Perros

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