Written by Matthew Staff
It is heading for mid-winter and while much of mainland Africa braces itself for the colder seasons, South Africa has the coastlines to encourage people to get outside as much as they possibly can.
From March to December, a comparatively long period within the industry, South Africa’s surfing season takes centre stage, in terms of tourism, community projects, competitive events and just generally larking about.
The consistency of the surf across the 3,000 kilometres is world renowned, while the range of options available to surfers, world class safety facilities and spacious areas combine to provide the ultimate riding experience.
Negative stereotypes that have been thrown about down the years include the sometimes chilly waters, urban crime levels and shark infested seas. In reality, none of these theoretical hindrances are enough to deter the die-hard enthusiasts.
In fact, thanks to the East African current along the coast, many of the hotspots remain fairly warm, even through the winter months. From Richards Bay down to cape Infanta, you will get away with wearing as little as a vest and trunks. It is only Cape Town that may call for a snug wetsuit as you run in off the beaches.
The winter months provide a great opportunity for South Africa to maintain a strong tourist income all year round, thanks to the surfing season’s influence. Everybody is aware of the beautiful, hot summers, but with a 6-15 foot wave range the very least a surfer can expect between March and September, a whole new audience is catered for away from the sunshine period.
Not only does South Africa benefit weather wise, but also geographically. Sitting at the bottom of the continent, the country has three coastlines to work off of, resulting in an incredible 270 degree swell response, which in layman’s terms means just one thing – huge waves!
Across these three coasts, sit 13 different surfing zones, each with their own charms, and nicely spread out to offer locals and tourists alike, a fantastic variation of scenery, conditions and after-surf quirks. It is the towns and cities themselves which cater for the huge influxes of people each season, and their land activities and facilities complement the tourist environment just as effectively.
The legislative capital city, Cape Town houses 148 surfing posts on its own, while the Cape South Coast hosts another 78. Garden Route’s picturesque stretch features a further 68, and taking into account all the zones’ surfing hotspots, a grand total of 580 board spinning, adrenaline junky enticing and tourist attracting surfing paradises can be found.
A particular favourite of many surfing connoisseurs is St Francis Bay, located 90 kilometres west of Port Elizabeth. However, its location is far more significant in relation to its nearest surfing sister site, as opposed to its nearest city. Right next to St Francis Bay sits the one of the most revered surfs in the world.
Jeffrey’s Bay not only caters for surfers but is a massive money spinner within the community and surrounding region in general. Its sporting environment is a haven for tourists and fitness freaks, with the surf as its figurehead. The surf shops, schools and training is testament to its watery heritage, but the knock on effect that this has on the surrounding industries is indicative of what makes the surfing season so important to South Africa’s economy in general.
From retail, healthcare and dining to hotels, cinemas and education, Jeffrey’s Bay thrives on the exposure and income that the surfing season generates. Furthermore, it is aided by extra sports and activities to prey upon the established active atmosphere in the area. Sand Boarding is another massive attraction throughout the dunes of the country, while its numerous nature reserves and wilderness regions stage many an exciting hike or orienteering adventure.
Elsewhere in the country, Durban provides a more competitive edge to proceedings. With numerous tournaments taking part in the region, more money is generated as a consequence of the events. The water also gets critical acclaim, firstly for its warmth, and especially for its shark-clear notoriety.
Both local and international events lure large numbers to the shores, adding a professional element to the trend. Its good name also stems from the work done with disadvantaged youths in less developed communities, giving the industry a good name and townships role models to aspire to, rather than simply prospering from a health and financial perspective.
However, given South Africa’s rich sporting heritage, it perhaps should not be surprising that the industry plays such a huge part in the country’s wealth structure. But with the stunning coastlines and emphatic waves to compliment such an active nation, it is no wonder why the surfing season is so important in their continued economic growth.