Go There: Cape Town, South Africa

Looks cold, but you won’t notice when you’re stuffed in the barrel. Photo: Cameron Nelson

The Pot Of Gold At The End Of The Rainbow Nation.

Words: Craig Ritchie
Where: Pretty much the southern tip of the African continent, Cape Town sits in the heart of the Western Cape, right where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet.


What: The beautiful and bustling city is the legislative capital of South Africa, and its generally liberal-minded citizens have seen Cape Town become the forerunner of post-apartheid social integration. It’s still got a few kinks to iron out, sure, but the city’s striking vistas and cultural mélange coupled with a full house of reefs, points, and varied beachbreaks make for an incredible holiday experience.

Photo: Cameron Nelson

When: You can find surf all year round, though the best bet would be to come any time between March and October, when there’s usually a bit more swell and conditions are also more in tune with what gets the Eastern Cape point breaks firing (you surely wouldn’t head to South Africa without setting aside a couple days for J-Bay, right?).

Why: Because it’s regarded as one of the most beautiful cities on the planet, with world-class waves to boot. From the barrelling right-handers of Dunes to the monstrous twenty-foot behemoths of Dungeons to the high-performance skatepark of Long Beach, with a bit of effort you can find surf no matter what swell and wind direction. Also, as the country’s southwestern-most city, Cape Town, makes the ideal starting point for a road trip along the South African coast.

Photo: Cameron Nelson

How: There’s a basic public transport system in place, but it won’t get you to and from the surf. You’ll no doubt be flying into Cape Town International (CPT) where you can take your pick from a wide range of rental cars. They might come in a little pricey depending on what you’re hoping to hire, but you’re going to need your own transport if you want to get to the different spots around the Cape Peninsula. Grab yourself a road map and follow the coastal drives from the City Bowl to False Bay, or head along R27 and explore the many beaches just north of the city.

Places To Stay: Cape Town has everything from the swankiest hotels to the most affordable of hostels. For something middle of the range, you can get comfortable and homely bed and breakfast accommodations right on the main surfing beaches from around $40 a night (split between two of you). Some Googling and a bit of chatting with the locals and you’ll have no problem finding a place to stay that’s within your price range.

Places To Eat: If cuisine is your thing, you’ll be spoiled for choice. This truly global city has everything—McDonald’s, mieliepap, sushi, samosas, Italian, Portuguese, Chinese, you name it. For some great traditional Southern African fare, however, stop off at the popular Mama Africa in Long Street where you can try kudu, ostrich, springbok, and even crocodile. Rad.

Photo: Cameron Nelson

Babes And Dudes: As a tourist hot spot, there’ll always be a slew of fellow travellers, and, of course, loads of available Capetonians. There’s more than three-million people in the city, so come on, do the right thing, meet some locals and milk your accent for all it’s worth. Plus, Cape Town is the country’s film and fashion capital, so who knows who you might end up with if you’ve got your suave on.

Crowd Factor: Crowds can get pretty heavy in Cape Town. When all the conditions are pointing to pumping surf at one of the more popular beaches, you can expect half of the city to have the same idea. During school and office hours, however, you can have it cooking all to yourself. Some spots have heavy locals, so show respect wherever you go.

Stuff To Bring: A good 4/3mm fullsuit is a must. Unfortunately, this is the main drawback of surfing in the Cape Peninsula: the Atlantic can get freezing after a south-easter has pulled into town for a couple of days. As in any major city you’ll be able to buy sunscreen and everything else to suit your needs. With the exchange rate sitting at around seven rand to one U.S. dollar for a while now, dollars will go far here (a beer costs anywhere from seven to fifteen rand depending on the bar). As well, boards, clothes, and wetsuits are all considerably cheaper than in the States—and with some world-renowned local shapers, it might be in your interest to order some boards to be waiting on your arrival. Also, bring your camera and loads of film or memory cards—you never know when you might run into some insane scenery or random African wildlife (when driving into the City Bowl from the southern suburbs, for example, the road runs along the fence of a nature reserve. Yes, there’s wild game smack in the middle of the city).

Photo: Cameron Nelson

If The Surf Is Flat: Again, you’re totally spoiled for choice. Take a trip through the nearby wine routes of Stellenbosch, catch a ferry over to Robben Island (Nelson Mandela’s “home” for 27 years), ride the cable car to the top of Table Mountain, whatever. Cape Town was the first European settlement in Sub-Saharan Africa, and as such is steeped in history and boasts one of the most diversified cultures in the world. Take a drive, open your eyes, meet some of the locals, and listen to their stories—a guided tour through one of the townships will be unforgettable.

More Information: Wavescape (wavescape.co.za) is South Africa’s premier online surf resource and has tons of information for visitors. Cape Town tourism and marketing sites tourismcapetown.co.za and cape-town.org have everything you could possibly want to know about satisfying your non-surfing needs.

Damien Fahrenfort sets up for a fat South African tube. Photo: Alan Van Gysen