17 December, 2014 17 December, 2014

Dispossessed Up West – by Byron Loker

On what he thought would be his last camping trip to Elands Bay before moving to the United States, Byron Loker’s red bag filled with surf gear went missing. Stolen. ‘Dispossessed Up West’ is his re-count, which he has entered into ‘Write to Surf‘ – our surf journo competition with some epic prizes up for grabs (see below for details).




A few weeks before I left to go and try to live in the United States for reasons not very clear to me or anyone else, I made what I thought would very likely at the time be my last trip to Elands Bay, a beloved place to me. A small crew we were that trip; two old mates, wives (two) and children (three). We camped, as we always have since our very first trip there in 1988, at the campground down on the beach in front of the hotel. We pitched our tents, made our campfires, drank beer, told our stories to the children, and settled in for the night, spirits buoyed by the nearby rumblings of surf.

We woke early, looked to sea, walked to the point, checked the surf – nothing really doing yet – so we milled around the campsite, paid attention to the wives and children, thought about breakfast. Somewhere in all of that I looked to where I had left a bag of my gear on a fold-up chair and noticed it was gone. I looked in the tents, the cars, looked again, searched my memory for it. There was no sign of it, so I let it be known around camp: “Anybody see my red bag?” Nope. Nobody remembered it being on the chair in the first place, so there were at first questions of memory loss, old age, dementia, that sort of thing. Once that was mostly out of the way, Pat had the best advice: “Let’s have one more search everywhere, make sure we’re not going to make idiots of ourselves, then go and report it to the police.”


After another thorough search it looked like I had a good chance of not making an idiot of myself, so I walked up the hill, around the hotel, and made myself known to the duty officer at the local charge office. I gave a statement about a missing red bag containing expensive surfing equipment and heard that there was a good chance a Constable Gqoli would pay the camp a visit in the near future for further investigation. It wasn’t long before he did along with two colleagues, a lady cop and a junior male constable. They offered their sympathies, scouted the perimeter of the campsite for clues, and said they would check with the night-time security guard and get back to us after some police work.

On Pat’s advice I had a word with Constable Gqoli off the record and asked whether he could ask a few strategic questions around the nearby ‘township’. My gear would not go unnoticed: new Reef sandals (the Mick Fanning ones with the bottle opener in the sole that has not yet failed to impress at parties); Billabong long sleeve rash vest; hood; leashes; FCS fins; a few things I’d already forgotten about; a Canon EOS 35mm camera; and most concerning, the only set of keys to the house and car of a professor friend whose home I was sitting for a few weeks while he and his family were visiting New York and New England.

We went for a surf after the police left. The swell hadn’t really lived up to expectations. Still, it was classic Elands, but I was out of sorts, worried, thinking about how I would get into the house, the car, replace a camera that was very precious to me – I had saved up for it for months while living in London many years ago.


Back from the water, Constable Gqoli and his team were waiting for us. They had a suspect already, a delinquent-looking youth they produced in handcuffs from the back of the van.

“He wants to have a word with you,” Constable Gqoli told me. He had many words, this guy. Most of them had to do with me being persuaded to pay him money because he might just happen to know who had stolen my stuff. I played that South African trick favoured by politicians and ‘the media’: “disingenuity”. Or is it “disingenuousness”, the noun? Doesn’t matter because nobody knows what it actually means anyway, or even if that’s a real word, but if you want to have your way with the body politic in South Africa you must be disingenuous or accuse your enemies of such.

Huh?” I said to our suspect. “What? I don’t understand. What are you saying?” I turned to the lady constable, “What’s your experience of this sort of situation?” I asked, appealing perhaps to the feminine qualities of empathy and intuition necessary to defuse this tense situation. The prevailing masculine solution seemed obvious: torture this grovelling little captive until he spilled the beans. There was no immediate answer. In the end it seems my crime fighters had no precedent for this one, so I suggested that no money was going to change hands, and that if our informant had anything to say that had a bearing on the case, he would be best advised to offer it free of charge before I laid a charge against him for being an accessory to the crime. Constable Gqoli had heard enough by then, he banged the perp back into the cage of the van and he nodded to me, “I think we’re gonna get your stuff back. We’ll come around this afternoon and let you know any progress.”


I was left with my doubts. I entertained ideas about housebreaking and hot-wiring a Honda because I didn’t want to pay for emergency locksmiths on a weekend. Come what may then, I thought, but I took another piece of Pat’s advice and went back up the hill, around the hotel to the liquor store across the lot from the police station, and described the three investigators to the old man behind the counter. I asked whether he might know what they liked to drink: a couple of quarts of milk stout, lager, vodka-based fizzy drink – it turned out he knew exactly. I offered the drinks and they were received when the constables paid their return visit in the afternoon. Whether my bribe (I considered it a gesture of thanks) went any way towards greasing the wheels of justice, I couldn’t tell, but Constable Gqoli said he was almost certain then of getting my things back to me.

We finished up our trip and headed back to town. I nursed my doubts, spent a night in a gazebo with firewood for company, waited for the housekeeper the next morning, began calling emergency locksmiths, the AA, tow-truck drivers: the car situation was complicated.

Three days into trying to figure this all out, I took a call from a Detective Coetzee from the Elands Bay police station. He had good news for me. They had my stuff. They had a proper suspect. Could I make it up there for the paperwork? I hired a car (the most recent one of my own being sold to fund the airfare for my imminent trip to the States).


It turns out that under South African law when a suspect is apprehended in the possession of belongings allegedly not his own, he must face his accuser over a counter and a document must be signed in which he acknowledges his crime, inspects a check-list, and returns said belongings to their rightful owner. I spent a long time in Detective Coetzee’s office as a precursor to this. “Um, Quiksilver boardshorts—baggies—pants, size medium, red and white,” went the conversation. “Sex Wax. Sex Wax? Yes, wax for surfboards. FCS? How do you spell that?” That sort of thing. “Film camera?” Yes, film camera (the roll that I processed after the return of my gear turned up three frames that showed a remarkable grasp by the thief and or his accomplices of F-stop and exposure; composition not so much).

Back in the charge office, when it was time for the accused to ante-up the loot there was some confusion as to the protocol. “Ja, hy moet in leg-irons wees.” Yes, he must be produced in leg-irons, a constable suggested. But there was some confusion as to the whereabouts of these leg-irons. A large safe was opened. I could see two shotguns, a few boxes of cartridges, a pile of manilla folders. No leg-irons.

Miskien het iemand gevat vir persoonlikke gebruik?” Maybe someone took them for personal use, another constable offered helpfully. Elands Bay is a rather lonely place, who knows how many kinds of fun one can have with a personal set of leg-irons.


While I was doubled over trying to stifle laughter, it seems the leg-irons were located and the prisoner brought forward. It was rather an anti-climax, our meeting. I had imagined I would have a few things to say to this person who had temporarily deprived me of a few hundred bucks worth of colourfully branded, carefully moulded crude oil effluent, a few hours sleep and my faith in humanity. But, on confronting a very short, perhaps twenty year-old, down-cast young man by the name of Christopher Van Wyk, I had nothing much to say. Except to the sudden, shocking realisation that my Rip Curl rubberised headwear was smeared with shit, very possibly human. “Disgraceful,” I said, sounding like somebody’s grandad. Christopher Van Wyk said nothing, he didn’t meet my eye, he signed the paperwork and was remanded shufflingly back into the recesses of the police station.

Contrary to all my expectations, but much to my satisfaction, it was only about a year later that I made it back to Elands Bay. Things didn’t work out in Hollywood or New York, or anywhere in-between for that matter. There were, though, some glimmers of hope when I met a girl on the Amtrak somewhere near the border between Kansas and Colorado. She was pretty and small and dark; quarter Portuguese, quarter Mexican, all-American and the kind of girl I fall in love with all the time. We talked for six hours straight while the train trundled through Cormac McCarthy country and we said a lingering good-bye on a platform in Albuquerque where she got off to spend a weekend with cousins.


As it happens, Jordy Smith was in the water at Elands on that return trip. I drifted over and said howzit. We’d shared a few waves and words in the surf at Huntington Beach (where I’d tried unsuccessfully to light up with an old flame). Jordy remembered me, we chatted a little. I was riding a prototype hollow wooden single-fin that Pat had made for me. Jordy was rather bemused. I said Pat and I would make a wooden board for him to surf on the World Tour. He laughed and a set started showing higher up on the point. Jordy paddled further out and a little over, while I stayed where I was and the first wave of the set, a solid six-footer, tracked my way perfectly. Jordy paddled for it but was off priority and there was no way to make this one look like a right (in Huntington I reckon he snaked me on a wave by using some contest smarts). I paddled in and made the drop, haunched on my home-made wooden surfboard in a poo-squat while a potential world champion looked on from the top of the wave, hands on rails, ready to drop in if I kooked – a likely scenario – but a rail bit and I took off racing down the line. Later, back on the beach, Jordy came over for a closer look at the board. “It goes,” he said, giving it a quizzical look.


I made another new friend that trip, the manageress of the campsite, Liezel. She had been witness to the crime and punishment of Christopher Van Wyk. We had a chat when she came to collect the rent and I asked her about Christopher.

“Slums, we call him,” she said. “He was taking drugs. Tik.”

“Do you know what happened to him?” I asked. I had heard that he was tried and sentenced almost immediately – very rare in South African justice circles – to eighteen months in jail.

Hy is tee plaas toe gestuur.” He was sent to a tea farm. “Hard labour,” Liezel said.

“Do you know about his family?” I asked.

“His father is weg.” Gone. “He has one young sister, fourteen. Sy ma,” his mom, “Aunt Jeanette,” Liezel said, “Sys,” she’s, Liezel made the slack-armed, weak-kneed, swaying from side-to-side motions of a very drunk person trying to walk, “ge-paralysed.” Paralysed. “Epilepsy.”

There was not much to say to that. “I hope it works out for him, for Christopher, and his family,” I said. “Tell him if you see him, tell him we’ll have a beer, I’ll buy him a beer and maybe we can have a laugh.”

I laughed. So did Liezel. “OK,” she said. “He does come home for weekends now. It’s going better for him. He has stopped with the drugs.”


I’ve made another trip since then. I went on my motorcycle. I custom-made a surfboard rack from Y-bar and cable ties because my little bakkie, owned for only a month or so after my return to the country, had been properly stolen by someone or someones infinitely more adept in the methods of criminality than Christopher Van Wyk. I hadn’t got around to insuring it.

I forgot the tent poles, so I made a plan with sapling stems woefully inadequate for the task. So much so that when Liezel came to collect the rent (I was out surfing) she and a colleague were compelled to spend some time bent over the smothered bundled of my bag and bedding under the tent nylon, daring each other to test with a toe for my corpse. We had a good laugh about that when she told me about it later. I asked her about Christopher.

“It’s better with him,” she said. “He is off the drugs for good, it looks like. He is quiet. He’s back home now from the tee plaas.”

It has been some months since then and I’m already hankering for another trip. In a month I take delivery of a new used car. It’s insured. There’ll be spare sets of keys lodged in various places. I think I’ll leave my Mick Fanning sandals and Quik boardies at home in the cupboard. I think I’ll lock everything in the boot if there’s any chance I may turn my back to check the surf. I’ll take the tent poles. I may even see if I can buy Christopher “Slums” Van Wyk a beer, or perhaps, if he prefers, a cup of tea.

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Send your stories to calvin@zigzag.co.za. One submission will be selected every six weeks to appear in Zigzag magazine. The selected submission will also receive a hamper from Billabong. Zigzag retains the right to use any work submitted for the Zag Surf Journo competition on zigzag.co.za as outlined in the rules and terms of the competition. Zigzag reserves the right not to award a published winner in the magazine every six weeks, depending on the quality of entries. Zigzag is not obligated to run any and all entries submitted, either online or in print. Zigzag retains the right to edit all work submitted for brevity and / or clarity.

For the next three issues the Billabong prize hamper includes: 1 x Billabong Wetsuit; 1 x Billabong Boardies; 1 x Billabong Cap; 1 x Von Zipper Sunnies; 1 x Set of Kinetic Racing (KR) fins. After which the hamper will get a shake-up with new product of equal value for the following three issues.



  1. stu
    17 December, 2014 at 3:36 pm · Reply

    Wonderful story!

  2. Raymond Ninow
    17 December, 2014 at 4:22 pm · Reply

    Coll story man 🙂

  3. Kev
    18 December, 2014 at 7:08 pm · Reply

    You know the drawer above the top one? That’s the one this yarn came from.

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