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A Magic Run

Twiggy Baker reflects on an all-time winter in South Africa

Tell us about the run of swell South Africa has had over the past two months.

Yeah, South Africa has been getting pounded by swell since the beginning of July, with 20 foot surf hitting the Cape Peninsula one after the other and then reverberating up both the East and West coasts. We have never seen a winter like it and obviously when it’s in your backyard you go hard and get as much as possible.

So you’ve been bouncing between the big wave spots of Cape Town and J-Bay?

Kind of between Cape Town and Angola up the West Coast and Cape Town and Mozambique up the East Coast. Everything is a short flight and then a 4×4 mission away, so if you have some time and a budget you can pretty much surf a big wave on a Monday and a new spinning sand bottom left or right on a Wednesday.

What has been the most memorable session so far?

We had a week up the West Coast with offshore wind and perfect swell about 10 hours north of Cape Town and then the week in J-Bay of 6 to 10 foot surf were both pretty mind-blowing.

You claim that you rode one of the biggest waves of your life at a big-wave spot called Sunset. Tell us about the session and that wave.

That session was the day after the clean Dungeons day when we all got some beautiful waves with Albee Layer and John John Florence in town. Unfortunately for Dungeons the swell was about six hours late so it didn’t really get over 20 foot, and I knew the next day would be massive but the conditions looked sketchy. But it was going to be a XXL day and we had to get out there and give it a go regardless. So we checked Dungeons early and it was as big as we had ever seen it, but very messy, so we went out to Tafelberg and tried to tow out there but again it was just too bumpy to surf.

From there it’s about a 20 minute PWC ride across to Sunset and when we got there the wind had swung offshore and it was just perfect and touching on the 30 foot mark for sure. Jeremy Johnson and I where the only guys out for the first hour or so and he towed me into a few at first before I tried to paddle with Jeremy, who was injured, as my personal water safety.

The wave pictured was my second paddle wave before the other teams of Simon Lowe, Andrew Marr, Mike Schlebach, Jake Kolnik, Mickey Duffus, and Jacques Theron showed up. They all tried to paddle at first but the current was doing about 12 knots directly into the peak, and after a short while they called it off and started to tow.

It was definitely a tow day but I had a new magic 11’0″ shaped by Spider Murphy and was feeling confident with Jeremy helping me so I kept paddling all morning and got few more pretty big waves while watching the most amazing show from up close.

By all accounts Sunset is a premier big-wave spot, but it’s somehow always been in the shadow of Dungeons. Why don't we see more of this wave?

It doesn’t photograph that big because the peak tapers down really fast so it’s tough to get a good shot out there so the magazines don’t generally run shots from Sunset, hence its lower profile. That being said, everyone who surfs out there when it’s big will tell you its an easier wave to ride than Dungeons because it’s more perfect, but the hold downs are insane. The reef pushes in on itself and two-wave hold downs are common when it gets over 20 foot.

Derek Dunfee told me about a gnarly session out there where it was almost too wild to surf.

[Laughs] Yeah, Derek came to South Africa at a crazy time and had a baptism of fire down here! He went straight into Hermanus which is the sharkiest place we surf in South Africa, then went up the West coast for a week of heavy slabs, then back to Cape Town for the sessions I mentioned before, and then to J-Bay for the week of cooking surf up there. He didn’t even have time to breathe before he was back on a plane home.

The session he is talking about, he paddled out with four other guys towards the end of the morning and they all just got sucked into the pit by the current and pushed to the beach within minutes. The tow guys all stopped and had to save people left and right. It was a very dangerous situation.

You recently lost your main sponsor, though that clearly it hasn't dulled your desire to ride big waves.

No, it's given me passion and drive I never knew I had, I was always a crazed surf Nazi but now I'm even worse. I think anyone who gets told they're not good enough for a company they have been with for 20 years will get a bee in their bonnet to prove those same people wrong.

What's the next step for you?

The goal now is Mavericks, the Eddie, and the Jaws events. Every time I go surfing in big waves is another step toward doing well in those events and I can’t think of anyone else besides my mate Camel in South Oz who has had more XXL paddle waves than I have in the Southern Hemisphere this season. So I should be the most prepared for the upcoming season and the whole ASP Big Wave World Tour that’s about to kick in.