The Last Camper

The moonrise over Jeffreys Bay throws a spotlight across the water as twilight fades. A steady flow of waves crash and peel down the point just below me, a stone’s throw away from where I sit in the bush. Overhead clouds sail by, glowing in the white light. It’s a gorgeous, albeit chilly evening in this campsite, and bundled in my warm jacket I’m feeling a little awkward since both Doc, the frail old legend of Jeffreys Bay, and his young Xhosa friend, Gary, are struggling to find comfort in the cold.

“Gary, where are the matches?” The old man asks. “We’ve got to build a fire man, I’m f—king freezing.”

“Behind you, boss, by your pipe.”

“Ah, good.” he says, relieved. “But Gary, I need you get some more wood for a nice fire tonight. We have a guest this evening. While you do that I’ll spark this bit up and prepare our smoke.”

“No problem boss,” the young man replies. “I’ll get some good branches for us.”

A few moments later we’re alone, and as he strikes a match I notice for the first time the deep creases on his face. Crouched over his tiny consignment of twigs he immediately begins talking story in his throaty voice. It’s merely a loud whisper really, and he’s constantly interrupted by extended bouts of coughing and hacking from lungs that are clearly wanting. Time hasn’t been kind to Tony Van De Heuval. His whiskers are gray, his skin leather and his body bent and easily broken. Watching him turn his collar to the wind I can only wonder how many winters he has left. While the man in front of me could easily pass for 70 or even 75 years-of-age, this winter is only his 60th.

The two of us are inside a large fynbos bush atop the dunes overlooking Super Tubes, the best 100-yard stretch of reef at Jeffreys Bay. The clearing inside is about twelve feet long, and eight feet wide, with a tiny secret entrance that requires skilled yoga moves to pass through. It opens up on the inside, with a blue tarp serving as a retractable roof. This is Tony’s home, where he’s spent much of the past “35 years” he says proudly. “Actually, I’ve been in this site since 1997.”