There is a school of fish 15 square miles wide swimming frantically just off the coast of the southern Transkei. It is heading north at a fairly brisk rate, followed by hundreds upon hundreds of sharks of assorted shapes, sizes, dietary requirements and levels of aggression. There’s a pretty good chance that it’s going to hit the south coast of Durban quite soon, just as the 6-star Mr Price Pro WQS gets into gear at North Beach, Durban. There is also a chance that it could veer out to sea at any point, but Murphy’s Law dictates that this year the sardine run is going to hit with a vengeance. Either way, the pristine South Coast is soon going to be a no-go area for local and visiting surfers; a bitter pill to swallow. On top of that it currently is prime time for the south coast during an already epic year. The south coast of Kwazulu-Natal has some of the sickest point breaks in the world, and they only come alive for a fairly short period each year. Surfers the world over should be extremely jealous of this stretch of coastline’s current offerings.
Firstly, the land breeze blows every morning now, and for the next month or so she’ll carry on whistling off the land, brushing the faces of the waves for long mornings with her cold fingers. The swell is consistently generated from far away deep south, a heartland of South African swell formation. The waves are well groomed, powerful and from the perfect direction for east facing right-hand pointbreaks.
About 10 of these regional pointbreaks are excellent, and five world class. There are enough of them to spread the crowds, and this number doesn’t even include the really secret spots. Plenty of waves can be had for people with the time or the fortitude to do the coast mission; until the sardines arrive that is. Then it’s pretty much chaos out there.
It would be assumed that the sharks following the shoal would be pretty well fed; but sharks can eat a lot more than what they actually need. A good visual that comes to mind of the sardines and sharks together comes directly from the Natal Sharks Board – “The sharks swim with their mouths open, just eating everything.” Not the best time to be dangling your feet over your board. On top of this, many of the beaches that have shark nets have their nets lifted for a few weeks, as they get completely clogged up with the hundreds of thousands of tiny silver fish. So it’s open season for the sharks in more ways than one.
Once in my life I surfed during the sardine season. It was towards the end of the season a few years ago, and the shoal was breaking up into little pockets. They could be recognized by patches of ruffling water, and hundreds of birds flying above repeatedly diving into the ocean. We were at a lesser – surfed spot just around the corner from Cave Rock, and the waves were sick. We checked a patch of sardines just north of us, and assumed that they would go further north and away from where we were sitting. It was quite tense, but we decided to go for a quick surf in the barrels. Within a few minutes the lifeguards were up on their feet and gesticulating wildly at us. Strangely enough, they were signalling for us not to come in, but to stay out the back. We stayed, nervously, until they signalled for us to come in. We quickly paddled in and walked up to their watchtower to see what the deal was. There was quite a deal. Three white sharks had come inside of us on a feeding trawl along the shoreline, and had hung around for a while, taking their pick of the choicest morsels in the area. They weren’t that big apparently, probably large enough to bite a leg off as opposed to biting us in half. That was the last time I surfed during sardine season.
So it’s all happening now in Durban. While the Mr Price Pro has apparently got the most entrants ever for a WQS event in the history of the tour, and the millions of fish are swimming in a northerly direction as fast as they can, possibly to join them all for a joyous occasion at North Beach, the south coast is about to become a ghost town of perfect, reeling point-breaks and no takers. I don’t really give a damn though – I plan my life well. As all the garbage hits the fan I’ll be on a jet plane off to Indo.