How To Handle the Biggest Skeleton Bay Swell in Years

Matt Rott

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Updated 71d ago

I want to do a VO2 test on Andre Botha. They say that soccer players are the fittest athletes in the world, with all the running they do on the field, but I’d argue that the two-time bodyboard world champ might give them a run for their money.

When Skeleton Bay breaks, Botha is something to behold. A total maniac, really. He starts at first light, goes all day, and runs while everyone else walks. By the time he’s finished, he does at last two dozen laps up and down the 2km point. That’s over a marathon’s worth of sand running, plus just as many hours paddling against a raging current and getting barrelled off his head—multiple days in a row. As more than a couple people noted on the spit Thursday, that’s not exactly normal.

Here’s how it works in Namibia. First, you walk the 2km up to the top of the point. Once there, you wait for a break in the sets, and try to make it out through what is essentially a dredging shorebreak. Once you pull that off, the 10mph sweep will drag you to the bottom of the spit in around eight minutes.

If you are lucky, you will get two or three chances to paddle for waves in those eight minutes. If you are lucky and an expert at making impossible drops, you might get to the bottom of one. If you are lucky and rip, you might actually make a barrel. And if you are all of the above, plus an extra dose of lucky, you might just make the barrel of your life.

On the other hand, you could just as easily get swept the length of the spit without paddling for a single wave—and that applies to pros as well as average Joes. Having a shocker at Skeleton Bay is nothing to be ashamed of or to get upset about. It’s just part and parcel of the experience. Getting pitched from the mutant lip is too. As Anthony Walsh told me on our 10th hike up the point, if you aren’t getting pitched on occasion, then you aren’t going hard enough. And in that case, you probably shouldn’t be here, because you clearly aren’t interested in catching the waves that barrel.

The walk up the point is an interesting dynamic. You can show up with a car full of buddies, get on a different rotation, and not see a single one of them for the next 12 hours. On the other hand, at some point you will likely get in rhythm with someone in the lineup, and end up watching sets wrap the sandbar and losing your minds together while making the trudge up the beach.

These new friends are an important part of the experience, because not only do they keep you from giving up when your body screams stop, but they are also the people who will see your barrels if and when you end up making any. Well, them and the rest of the world, because these days a GoPro in your mouth is practically a prerequisite for surfing the world’s best wave.

Basically everyone in the water on Thursday was a pro or an experienced barrel hound, but nearly everyone struggled at some point, and really there were only half a dozen or so who have the place wired. And that half a dozen includes the usual suspects that you see posting clips after every swell—Aritz Aranburu, Anthonly Walsh, Koa Smith, Benji Brand, Natxo Gonzalez, and OG Skeleton styler Cory Lopez. Brett Barley showed up in Namibia for the first time as well, and he chose a good swell to get the lay of the land, because this was the biggest swell to hit Western Africa in the last few years.

Interestingly, the waves weren’t as big as everyone expected. The swell was 20ft@28secs, but it had turned pretty south by first light, which meant that it was more epic than enormous. But that’s not to say that it was easy. South swells tend to kick the current up a few extra notches, and dredge the waves out a bit more than usual.

 Andre's been busy making these brown water hollows his second home since the turn of the year.

Andre's been busy making these brown water hollows his second home since the turn of the year.

© 2017 - Naude Dreyer

Regardless of the direction of the swell, there is a sweet spot in the size scale when it comes to makeability. That sweet spot is somewhere between overhead and a little over double overhead, but even a small one can be completely unapproachable if it gets the crazy mutant warble. And that’s part of the allure, because the harder something it is to achieve, the more we want it. After 10 hours of paddling and walking and getting drilled, what keeps everyone going is the thought that their next lap could be the one where the Skeleton gives them the wave they’ve been dreaming about. If it’s not a total skunk, that is.

If anything's going to push you through the run back up the point, it's watching these drain on by.

If anything's going to push you through the run back up the point, it's watching these drain on by.

© 2017 - Trish Waters


Matt Rott

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