Edge of Africa: Field Notes

Edge of Africa: Field Notes

Pat Gudauskas discusses finding inspiration on the road and why Africa is the pinnacle of surf travel

In Edge of Africa, we follow Pat Gudauskas on his three-week journey from Durban to Jeffreys Bay to Namibia, and watch as he scores two of the world’s best waves on back-to-back swells, while also competing on the ‘QS and spending time with the Surfers Not Street Children organization. To get some more insight into the adventure, we rang Pat up the day after his fifth-place finish at the US Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach, and asked him to talk us through his magical African Elixir now that’s been home for a month.

Interview by Zander Morton
Photography by Ted Grambeau / Tanner Gudauskas

In three short weeks in South Africa, you competed in two ‘QS events, scored firing J-Bay and Namibia, and spent time hanging with kids in Durban from Surfers Not Street Children. Does a trip get better than that?

It’ll be a hard one to top, for sure. One of my favorite parts from the trip was going to Namibia. Going there has always been such a far-off idea. I’ve always thought of it as a bucket list spot, but I haven’t necessarily been hunting it. Heading into this trip, and knowing I’d be spending a few weeks in Africa, I was hoping I’d get the chance to go, but, realistically, there are endless months without waves over there, so it still seemed like a long shot.

Sure enough, a swell lined up on the charts after Durban ended, so I flew over there with Dylan Graves, Tanner, and Brendon Gibbens. Sometimes, with surf trips, things just click, and it seems to happen more often when you have a good crew. On this trip, we went from scoring to scoring to scoring. The swells lined up without a day off for three straight weeks, from J-Bay to Namibia to Ballito. It felt so good to be in that rhythm.

In the edit from your trip, you say: “I have the choice every day to be positive, or to be bummed and negative. I choose to see life through a filter of stoke and optimism.” How much do you think that attitude helps when it comes to traveling?

It doesn't always click [Laughs]. Those three weeks were definitely special. We were feeling the mojo for sure. This year, I’ve had a few trips go that way, like the Fever Island trip down to the Caribbean with Dylan and Dave Malcolm. It was kind of the same vibe. Which is why I like traveling with people like Dylan. I feel like, going into a trip, if you get the right group together and everyone is on the same page, that’s when things just fall into place. You can totally manifest it. Whereas, when things start off on the wrong foot and you’re with a crew that falls into that negative mindset, that’s when things can really go downhill.

How did it feel to see Skeleton Bay in person for the first time?

It’s freaky. It feels like the entire thing is out of a movie, and it is—it’s out of Mad Max. They literally filmed it right where we were surfing. When you fly in, you feel like you’re landing on Mars. And then you just drive through empty sand dunes and desert. I’d seen it in all the surf movies, and I already thought it was the best wave in the world, but I still didn’t understand it until I actually went. Even though Skeleton has been plotted and it’s not hard to find, when it comes together and you’re there with your friends and it’s firing, you feel that Endless Summer spirit. Its hard to describe.

On a trip like this, where you’re competing in a 'QS but also doing so many other things, is it difficult to bounce around between mindsets?

There’s definitely a balance. I like waking up in the dark every day before the sun comes up, and either doing yoga or a warm-up with headphones on. Just to visualize the day ahead. For me, that puts me in a really great place. A relaxed mental space. I definitely get excited about a lot of things, and with that morning routine, I’m able to focus on one task, whatever it is for that day.

From the rawness of the coast and ocean to the dichotomy between the upper class and the townships in South Africa, Africa is full of perspective. As far as surf travel goes, where does the continent rank on your list?

The raddest part about Africa is the depth of variety. The culture, lifestyle, landscape…everything is so varied and different. It’ll humble you. And as far as the surf goes, it has a bit of everything. It’s definitely one of my favorite places in the world to travel to.

Talk a little more about the Surfers Not Street Children organization, and spending a day with them.

Those guys are so rad. They’ve created this library of boards for kids off the street to use, and they have a communal home, where kids from the age of 15 to about 20 can prosper under cool guidance and mentorship. It was punk rock. Those guys are really committed to making a difference in a tough area. Durban definitely has its challenges, but those kids are finding that surfing is a great outlet for their energy. It was really moving to surf with them and hear their stories. I also saw that Michael February is a huge inspiration over there. He’s hopefully going to qualify this year and he’s just an incredible ambassador for kids from South Africa. I think organizations like Surfers Not Street Children and surfers like Michael will inspire the next generation to focus on surfing as a positive outlet. Being around those kids definitely gave me a lot of gratitude for being able to do what I get to do. And also a lot of stoke for the future.