All images by Kelvin Trautman
Mike Schlebach and Frank Solomon surveying the bay
“Big Wednesday”, as it will now be remembered. For most of us, last week's freak summer swell manifested as washed-out beaches, a flooded promenade and a host of social media images showcasing nature at its rawest. For a select few big wave chargers, it was a day of reckoning not to be missed.
For us, the story started when big wave surfer, Mike Schlebach, popped into our store the week before for a quick “howzit”. He drops into the conversation that there’s some monster swell about a week out and maybe we’d like to hop on a boat and check it out for ourselves. Mike’s an understated guy so when he mentions that he’s not sure he’s ever seen the forecast look so massive, we know we’re in for something special.
Before you know it the inevitable Whatsapp group’s up and running and we’ve hustled a boat, a skipper and a photographer. We’re ready to go just as soon as nature delivers.
Andrew Marr surfing giants
For a select few big wave chargers,
it was a day of reckoning not to be missed.
5am, Wednesday 19 January the voicenote comes in from Mike. “It’s looking wild out there. A lot of water moving around. I’m heading out from Kom with a couple of the guys. Frank Solomon is coming over from Hout Bay side. No one’s paddling today, but we’ll be towing in at Sunset for the next few hours. Get here soon. It will be a great spectacle.”
It’s on. By 6am we’re on the boat to meet Frank and Mike at Sunset. When we get there it’s carnage. Between the giant waves, massive rips and reefs, there is a soccer field’s size of safe space. Constantly drifting, circling, drifting, circling. This is our life for the next few hours, dodging waves, boats and jet skis for the privilege of watching master watermen ply their trade. (Hats off to our skipper, we doubt he’ll be taking us back there anytime soon!)
Witnessing Sunsets firing up close from a boat gives you a healthy respect for our wild oceans but there is so much you don’t see even from a boat. Hold downs are a part of big wave surfing, but in Cape Town's underwater kelp forest, you get stuck, your board gets stuck, not even your rescue craft can make a move and the waves keep coming. One such situation resulted in a broken rescue sled and quite a mission back to Kommetjie beach to retrieve a jet ski.
Simon Lowe and Mike Schlebach
Preparing for a day like this is a lot more than checking swell and waxing boards. Frank’s been dealing with recovery from a broken ankle just 12 weeks before and was advised by his doctor not to surf on it (!) A big day like this meant extra diligence and trust in his ability. It’s controlling what you can as well as you can; your fitness, your equipment and your mindset. The rest is up to mother nature.
For Mike, the best mental preparation is to dream. Think about the waves you want to get and visualise the best day for yourself. Slow your mind down and get a good night’s rest. Keep focused and clear, to be able to analyse the best outcome for each wave.
Frank Solomon and some essential prep
A swell like this in Cape Town is rare. In summer it is practically unheard of. There are only a handful of people in the world with the watermanship skills to navigate their way onto a huge wall of water. The deafening loudness of an ocean so powerful that it almost feels like a state of meditation. But for Frank, Mike and a handful of other guys, that is exactly what this is. A place to be completely present. Because you have to be.