Being a big wave surfer in PE is probably viewed as the ultimate dichotomy. And yet, on those rare and special days, when the weather, wave and wind gods align, there can be some beautiful monsters that grace our shores. And not only on the wild side, in the bay itself.
Clubhouse, on it's day, graduates from being booger-pit heaven going left to a really serious big wave going right. At proper size 6-8ft there are a coupla takers, but bigger than that and there are very few guys willing to surf it. Just getting out to the backline is a feat in itself, and then dealing with the raw ocean power and the volume of water moving about is another thing all together.
Very few of us will ever experience what it's like to surf really really big waves. Like proper big waves with dire consequences. So that's why it's so insightful to be able to read of a first hand experience of what it's like, and what it takes, to step up into that realm. Especially when told by a local PE surfer about one of our very own big wave spots.
Gustav Lokotsch, one of the handful of local surfers who has dedicated himself to chasing the monsters, talks us through a very special wave he caught at Clubhouse during the huge January 2019 swell, and the preparation it takes to ensure you get it right when the stars align. But scoring a massive wall from Clubhouse right past the back of Avalanche and into the bay at Avo's, well - that makes it all worth while!
As told by Gustav:
"For the last 5 years odd I really have been putting focus on learning and understanding how to surf Clubhouse when its on. In my books when it’s on, it’s a solid 6 – 8ft (Consistent sets) with the semi-regular rogue 10ft sets that bend in from the South, sort of like a wrap. In my books, 10ft is a minimum 20ft face, just to put the size scale into perspective.
The problem is, it’s only really on once a year if you lucky and normally involves a shit load of paddling so your opportunity to learn and understand the spot is limited. Nonetheless over the last couple of years with some really solid swells we have had, and in collaboration with DVT (Dylan van Tonder), I was set into an inevitable course of “learning” which was a critical path that needed to be taken in order to have had the session I did on 14 Jan 19.
I purchased a 9’8 Errol Hickman Big Wave gun from Duncan Scott in 2008. A critical part of the equation - The right equipment! Having the right equipment is one thing, learning how to connect with it is another. From around 2011 I started surfing that board more and more. Sessions out on the wild side (Plat bank, Beachview, Maitland, Malay Pools, Cobbles, Back Reef, Gannetts) all in the range of 8 – 15 ft, forged a special connection with this board. It effectively became an extension of me. It’s difficult to explain how deep of a spiritual connection I have with this board.
Two years ago, due to not having access to any rescue ski’s, I decided to start putting a big effort into my fitness. Generally when I surf, its larger than average and its either just myself or in collaboration with DVT. If shit goes bad, best you have the backing to have a chance to make it back. My kind of max size for ace out missions for spots I have around the wild side of PE is around 15ft, anything more than that, the risk of not coming back is exponential, sort of like the Richter scale. Decisions need to be made then, like I said there is no ski fetching me…
From swimming to running to sessions of paddling my 9’8 4- 7 km’s of flat water, I remained consistent in building up the ability to paddle for miles and at least not be too gased to catch some waves and make it back to shore. Inherently where we/I go, you going to paddle a lot and probably taking a couple on the head if you not smart. If leash snaps, you in for a mega swim in some heavy moving water which may require beaching on some dodgy rocks…
Added to the above, I was in fact meant to be in Durban on 14 Jan! I had rented a flat and was planning to drive 14 Jan. My car went in for a service 2 weeks before that but because I was waiting for a part, the trip was delayed. I was so busy and actually was paying no attention to the charts. I only saw the swell on Friday and when I did, I got the semi nervous gut feel. It all looked the SAME as the swell we had in August last year but scaled down. I did think much of it till Monday. I planned to surf but forgot about it.
I woke up Monday and could year the Thunder roaring from my house. Direct distance to the Seaview is Approx 6km. Its as if a switch flicked in my gut and I knew it might be pretty large! I didn’t quite properly compute that feeling…. yet
Packed the car and off I went. I drive around Schoenies because I like to suss it out. When I turned down off Seaview road and got a solid glimpse of the sea and ONLY saw WHITE, I was like F**k, I thinks its code red, but somehow and for some reason did not quite drink it in yet.
When I got down to Schoenies and saw single lines right across from Sards to Schoenies 3 km’s out too sea (Cannon was a massive straight line white water), f**k I knew we are a go for launch control. That’s when excitement took (started nervous frothing at the beak) and “plan of approach” started being developed. ,
When I got to Summies (Summerstrand lifesaving club) at 11h30, I could see the potential. Still not the pulse yet. I did a lot of swell map investigations and with experience guessed the pulse would be between 12h00 and 16h00.
No pulsing yet but signs are there, suited up, waxed the board, stretched and padded out right in front of the club at 45 degrees. Funny enough, I got out with my hair dry. When I got out, James Jones (body boarder) was in the water. We sat waiting in between sets but there some real solid one (6ft+ for sure) the odd 8ft set. A LOT of POWER… My second wave was very solid. Funny story, I was taking the piss out of James for pulling off the back of a cracker, he was slightly too deep. There was so much power and didn’t think he wanted to take lip on head, it would have been extremely unpleasant to say the least.
He then got one and on his way up a semi monster came in (my 2nd wave). I swung board to paddle in, was very late for the drop and was going to hit the kill switch, but in a split second I saw James down the line up looking up at me and I thought of my banter to him. All thoughts of option for “abort” nullified. I kind of chested myself into it. I made it but f**k me it was semi free fall into mach 50 engage and eventually pulled straight……. That set the tone for my confidence for the rest of the session
When I got back James had a laugh and I tuned him, Bro, guess I need to put my money where my mouth is hey.…..
James stayed out for a few more waves, reckon till about 12h45. It was about round 13h00 where it really turned on. A lot of water was moving. From when I got in at 11h50 to 13h45, I must have had about 10 - 12 waves or more already all the way nearly to avo’s rock going 9000 km per h on that magnificent machine that Errol spawned to life. A couple do stand out, those wide South Chunky ones, but I’m not here to tell you about that. All part to adding to this very special session.
I had to pull straight on one round 13h40 and got washed in, nearly went bad into the rocks. There was SO much water moving and sets were consistent as it was coming off the low and moving onto the 1st step of the high (I have a tide watch which has become probably the most useful tool ever).
I analyse data and design systems for a living, so its easy for me to break this session down from many different perspectives based on DATA. In order to process it, properly “drink it in “and plan for the next one, I have not stop analysing.
When I came in, I was quite gased and assessed whether I should paddle out again, it was MORE like "CAN I MAKE IT out again". That place on pulse, if you wash in, you aint going back.. that I can promise unless you jump off avo rock and paddle for 2km’s into a rip.
Sitting there I just saw these rights reeling in set after set and thought to myself f**k it… Plan of approach. “Up pipes ass then 45 degrees and hope for the best…..”
Stuck to plan, took me about 8 – 10 mins to get to kind of the beginning of where that backline actually is, problem is when I got there, a mayday set came it – horizon went semi black. The pulse was also a bit different to what I have had in past experiences. Sets were like this - a good couple 6ft'ers, with the last 2 or 3 in the set being solid 8ft, then a slight break, then like another 2- 4 SOLID 8ft'ers, then 1 - 4 mins and Rouge 10ft set from the South, so when it came, if you not where you should be its going to be unpleasant.
Anyway, I paddled my ass, made it halfway up the 1st one with my 9’8 then chucked, I punched through the back but the board was taken, reckon I was dragged 15 meters as leash engaged (8ft leash became 15 ft length post session). There really was a lot of power in that swell. Anyway eventually when my board was released and I got it half way to me tugging on the leash, the next one was on my head, I took another, got the board and caught the next white water angling to that lifesaving shack on the beach, by this time, I was starting to enter danger zone re those rock zone on the front there.
When the wave half faded, I had managed to ride sideways to line up with that shack on the beach. This in all ended up being 15 mins odd. I sat there thinking, f**k I’m not going to make it out. I saw these rights and I was like, Ok one more time. I paddled straight from the shack. Popped about 4 white waters, checked I was starting to draw into the middle of the impact zone and had to start making decisions again. Though to myself “bad place to be if set comes now”
One decent once came in, I thought "ok, I'll take this on the head but if there is anything behind in, its kill switch time", my body was starting to enter high orange zone with regards to reserves. I popped up after that with a lot of water moving and funny enough, she lifted her skirt for me. I put in a sprint at 45 degrees and as I got to the safe zone a massive set came in. When I saw that set reeling down the line my body all of a sudden was not hurting anymore. In all it took me 20 odd minutes to get back out and to be dead honest, I got lucky…. Comes to that word we call persistence/perseverance/tenacity – The WILL - not to give up so easily…..
I got to the take off zone 14h18 Had another 4 absolute crackers in a row all the way to Avo’s rock.. My body was really starting to semi fail now but could NOT accept going to in. The excitement of the experience and having NO ONE but me out there was negating body failure/shutdown messages. After the 4th wave I paddle back to the take-off zone, knowing that the next would more than likely be my last. I registered a MASSIVE set off bell buoy, I have kind of worked out how long it takes for that to hit clubhouse within a tolerable error range and put on the timer. The set had landed.
I was too excited. The set was similar to the structure I mentioned above, I ended paddling for the 2nd last one in the set, sort of missing it because I was bit too much up towards Pipe, then the next one behind it was a f**kin monster, reckon easy 10 ft, because I paddled sideways for the last one I was in a better position but too far in and missed it too. I went over that one and there was nothing, F*ck I was bleak. “I didn’t calm down”. “F**ket why didn’t I calm down.”
Anyway I sat there mulling over missing that last BOMB and from the deep south wrapped this double up 10ft+ monster with ALL the 18 second period it could have had on that day It just popped up in my face from nowwhere…..
I literally took 4 strokes out to sea towards it, jumped on the back of the board, swung it around and hardly took a stroke, I virtually “chested” myself into it. When I hit my feet, that 9’8 hit engaged. Very late and vert take off, I remember it clearly, full survival stance engagement, kind of weightless for a few seconds, until I could feel the board starting to properly engage.
I drew that momentum from the super later drop off the bottom and set my line down the 1st section of the cracker (Conti Flag to end of Clubhouse, pre-danger zone rock section). I remember that piece from the end of the lifesaving club to Avalanche rock very well. I had to decide at that point, it was lock and load or abort.
The wave was such that if you decided to take that path its best you make it. I locked and loaded and drew my next line for that section. Felt as if the board was planing on a flow rider, there was so much water drawing, I kind of had to angle the board a bit to land in order I manage the draw up the face. When I got to Avalanche rock, it gased behind me which added to my already ridiculous momentum and speed (that 9’8 weighs 8kg’s),
The wave was doubling up just on the outside of avo’s rock - sort of if you look at it from shore, just behind it and 45 degrees. I thought to myself, wait I can make this, I re-angled my momentum, engaged the so called step’s just off that rock and managed to get kind of over it just on the outside of it, as I did, it re sucked for re engagement, which is effectively the TOP TOP of avalanche right on the inside of the rock. I then drew my 3rd line for that section, By this time the wave was probably 6ft+, it started at solid 10ft+ up until avalanche rock engagement.
I made it passed that boil section, where the guys paddle out (avo’s parking lot), then drew my line for that next piece, I rode till half way to between avalanche and millers rock and pulled straight…. The whole ride being 65 - 75 seconds at most I reckon. So that’s from just inside the conti flag at Summies to the middle of avalanche. Been dreaming about that wave for a long time. That’s excluding the 14 absolute crackers I had before this one
One other person I know has had one possibly even further, that’s Jason Van Gruenen. I think he too knows how special that wave is and I believe we both share a deep connection with that wave. I think the red board he had that wave on is hanging in Denis’ shop. He will never sell that board, I know that cos I wanted to buy it!
Lots went into getting this special wave. I had to work really hard for it. What made this a possibility? Time spent surfing there, efforts put into learning equipment, FITNESS and most of all the universe directing me in ways that you can only understand if you one that likes to analyse and understand things slightly deeper than the average person.
Every surfer who lives in PE is aware of what we have in our back yard. Every surfer knows what it can produce. Not every surfer in PE is willing to accept conditions in order to have the chance to get what it can produce. For those that I know and are willing to accept, I’m sure they will appreciate the above account. It’s something I would appreciate.
Jason wave’s back in 98’ or ’99 or ‘01 is what inspired me. I did even see it but I was there for that swell. I saw the swell and could believe that it happened. I saw him surf Clubhouse on a few occasions and I really have not seen anyone surf it better on size, meaning proper 8-10ft+. Many nights I have thought about his wave. Many nights I have thought of how you can make it past Millers. Many nights I have thought of other breaks that we have that can be surfed.
For those who are not faint-of-heart and have their sights set on building their own special relationship with the ocean, Not for fame, not for money, but for love, passion and pushing personal boundaries, this story is for them.
I see the her (the Ocean) as my other girlfriend.. on the 14th of Jan 19, man did she put out for me in a big way. But as noted above, it can come at a price. A price I would pay any day, in a “pound of flesh…”
Thanks to Gustav for his engaging account of what it's like to ride the big one. Unfortunately there were no known shots taken of the session. So if you do happen to have taken some that day - or know of anyone who did - please drop me a mail on email@example.com