At a remote spot far up the West Coast amongst a dazzling display of spring flowers, 20 top South African surfers took part in the Experience Northern Cape Namakwa Challenge, the first professional surfing event in South Africa since Covid began, and sowing the seed of what the future might look like if the treasures of this unique coast are used in the right way. Photos: Alan van Gysen
The Namakwa Challenge, presented by Billabong Adventure Division, was based on the Billabong Challenge events that ran in Australia in the 90s. The concept was to take top competitive surfers, a few hard-charging free surfers and some rising surf stars to a remote and wild destination, with testing, but perfect waves. They got that, and more in the pristine wilderness of Namakwaland.
After a local Covid outbreak in the area, organisers were forced two weeks before the event to relocate to an even more remote and isolated spot, which turned out to be a revelation. Logistics were very difficult for Contest Director Kai Linder and his team. There was no electricity, water, toilets nor any infrastructure at the contest site (and the closest town and hospital was more than an hour away). However, the beautiful landscape and incredible waves had some guys claiming it as the best event in South African history.
The youngest surfer in the contest, Luke Thompson, 17, had this to say: “Yeww! That was a mental event! Just wanted to say a huge congrats to everyone and a massive thank you to all the event organisers, judges, cooks, water safety, photographers, medic, and a huge thanks to Dutchie and Kai for managing all the drama and wild conditions like kings! Was one of the best trips I’ve ever done. I was honoured to be a part of such an amazing event!”
There was a long wait between Round 1, which ran on the first day of the one week window in large and testing conditions, and the rest of the event, which ran in the last two days of the waiting period. But the wait was worth it. The event finished in ridiculously epic 6-8ft conditions.
Nature, or Neptune, sure made the wait interesting. While the surf forecast chopped and changed, the small crew got hammered by 50km/h winds and a fierce rain storm that blasted the campers in their flimsy tents for two days, flooding the roads and normally dry river beds.
The surfers took it in their stride though and the older crew spent the days showing the youngsters the skills needed for 4x4 driving, vehicle recovery, how to change tyres and how to respect the natural surroundings and plants. The younger surfers also spent a morning cleaning the beach at the event site.
Northern Cape Tourism and the Department of Arts, Culture and Sports, brought six youngsters from Hondeklip Bay to check out the free surfing and meet the surfers. After a morning with their host, Angelo Faulkner, they were all very enthused with surfing and could not wait for the Amandla Surf foundation team to return to Hondeklip Bay later this year to do surf clinics with them.
Linder was relieved that the event ended with such amazing surf after the anxious wait: “My anxiety levels were growing every day as we watched the ocean go mental, and the charts kept changing. At one point on the second last day we even tried to test another slab point, but the two surfers, Adin Masencamp and Joshe Faulkner who paddled out to test it said it was way too big and crazy, and they thought they might get into serious trouble.
“That afternoon we had a slim chance of epic conditions for the final morning, so we decided to run the second round in slightly onshore and very big conditions at the beach. It was the perfect call as we woke to grooming offshore breezes and absolutely firing waves.”
The first semi-final had some testing moments as the waves were still cleaning up. Linder and the Head Judge made the call for no jetski assist and the surfers had to paddle for their 35 minute heats, with many having 5-10 minute slogs against massive white water and currents.
In the final, massive tubes had the crew screaming from the dune. Dale Staples, Koby Oberholzer, Slade Prestwich and Steve Sawyer battled it out during the 40 minute final. Sawyer, a world longboard champion, had one of the longest paddles of the event after an early wave, almost giving up at one point trying to punch through, but getting pinned down. However, he made it out and managed to snag a few, but finished in 4th place. Oberholzer got waves, but had peaked in the semi finals.
It was Slade and Dale who went wave for wave for the entire final with incredible tubes across the beach. Dale found two intense barrels, a left and a right and these helped him to just take the lead, which he held onto to take the win and the first winner's cheque of the Namakwa Challenge.
“This was one of the best events I have ever been to,” said Dale Staples, “This is one of my favourite places on the planet and to have a contest here, coming for the week with such a great crew of people, was truly a blessing. I came here to win the event and I am beyond happy to have achieved that goal. I was blown away by some of the younger surfers, who I thought would be intimidated by this wave.”
“Joshe Faulkner (Amandla Surf Foundation Star) especially, as I have seen him ripping in QT events and at home in Jbay, but here he did not hold back and was one of the surfers of the event in my opinion. I just want to thank all the sponsors, organisers and especially the people of the Northern Cape for having us and I really hope this stays as an annual event. We need more events in this format in South Africa.”
It was a very happy crew of surfers driving in convoy through the wild flowers out of the Namakwa. Everyone wants to go back next year.
CEO of Protect the West Coast Mike Schlebach said: "We are proud to be associated with the Namakwa Challenge because it is part of our strategy to build social and economic alternatives to mining on the West Coast. The Northern Cape Tourism board and the sports ministry want surfing to become a big part of the community through schools and ocean education. They see surfing as an excellent way to promote local upliftment, and boost tourism - all of which feeds into the PTWC narrative."
The organisers said a "massive thank you to the event sponsors, Northern Cape Tourism, Billabong Adventure Division, Thrifty/Britz/Maui vehicle rental and the Coffee Guy. Also thank you to Braam and his wife on the farm the event was based on for all their help, as well as the local Police, Police Search and Rescue and all the locals that supported and helped on the event".
Protect the West Coast was a partner to the event. Watch this space!
Posted by Steve Pike, Media Specialist, Protect The West Coast