When it comes to quality surf breaks there is little dispute that the surfers in the St. Francis Bay area of South Africa have it pretty good. If there is any doubt you can ask Mike Hynson or Robert August whose score of reeling tubes at Cape St. Francis in "The Endless Summer" spurred generations of surfers to search for "the perfect wave." After years of development, however, the area has seen many ecological changes, and not all of them positive. Although the area in general still has great waves, there have been serious problems with erosion. Enter the development of artificial reefs and an ambitious plan to build several in the area over the next couple years.
With construction beginning early this year, the St. Francis Reefs project is an attempt to rescue the beleaguered beaches and a host of multi-million Rand beachfront houses from washing away into the ocean. Excessive development in the bay over the past 20 years has resulted in significant changes to the bay's ecology. For surfers, the most notable of these changes is the loss of sand flow across the bay. This flow not only fuelled the funneling tubes of the world famous Bruce's Beauties (and the numerous beach breaks in the bay), but was also responsible for keeping the beaches stocked with sand, and the fierce Indian Ocean at bay.
"Amalgamates Solutions and Research" (ASR), a New Zealand based company that specializes in marine consulting and research (asrltd.co.nz), and is responsible for building a number of reefs around the world, has been commissioned to tackle the problem in St. Francis Bay. According to Dr. Shaw Mead, one of the leading designers at ASR, "Our primary objective was to combat the coastal erosion, but we were always keeping in mind things like peel angle and breaking intensity of the waves on the reef."
The reef, which will be made of giant geotextile fabric bags filled with sand from the nearby Kromme River estuary, will form a split peak that will have a short, intense left hander and a fast, hollow, but more makeable, right hand breaking wave.
If Dr. Mead's other projects are anything to go by, the surfers in St. Francis Bay are in for a real treat. "In good conditions the right will be a very good barreling wave," he says, adding that, "If you look at the Mt. Reef project in New Zealand, once it was completed we've seen 50 meter long barrel rides on that wave. And we are looking at probably a 100 meter long wave in St. Francis, so there will be a section in that which will be a high quality wave for competent to expert surfers."
But that's not all. The first reef, which is due for completion by the end of 2007, is only the first of three and possibly even four reefs due to be placed into the bay.