If you’ve ever driven into J-Bay from Port Elizabeth, you’ll know that as you approach the small fishing village, there is a certain point where the jewel in the African crown is revealed.
It’s about 15 minutes out of town, once you’ve taken the turn off the N2 highway. A spot where the road winds up a ridge and extends onto a wide African plain. In the distance, you lay eyes on her for the very first time. The majestic point break; from a distance, it looks like it runs for miles. And it does.
On every trip the anticipation would heighten as we tipped over the hill. How big was it? How’s the wind? We’d try to guess by looking for the telltale whitewater running down the rocky point, but it’s just too far away to tell accurately, unless it’s really heaving. That’s when the car gets crazy, grommets climbing over each other trying to put wetsuits on in the back seat while trying not to distract the driver even more.
Then, as quickly as it appeared, it’s gone. The clock starts ticking again as the car winds its way towards the final destination: Supertubes. The adrenalin kicks in and starts surging through every vein in your body. A few minutes later, another left turn alongside the Gamtoos River and another indicator – the beach breaks at the bottom end of town. Here you want to see closeouts. Big, wind-brushed close outs. Another box ticked and your head spins a little more.
By now, the car windows are misting up with all the activity as we enter town. We’d wind them down, and the icy southwester would deliver the fresh scent of the fynbos (translated “fine-leaved bush”) directly to our senses. It’s an unmistakable smell, raw and fresh. Familiar, yet it always felt like the first time, it was so distinctive.
We’d arrive at the car park, always the bottom one. The view was better, looking all the way up the point towards Cheron’s house. Then it would hit you. The vision, the memories, the dreams, the photos… the reality. Airbrushed corduroy lines marching down the point as far as you could see. You mind-surfed it so many times it was difficult to reconcile those thoughts in your head as you ran up the beach, screaming at empty waves rifling down the point.
We’d head towards the keyhole, guided by the beacon-like aloe flowers that rise out of the dunes like flaming torches. A few cursory stretches and then the plunge into the icy waters, but that wouldn’t deter us; we were off to dreamland again.
These are some of the memories that are deeply inscribed into my mind from growing up in South Africa. They are replayed every so often, but come this time of year, they loop continuously. Winter is coming in Africa, and oh, how my heart yearns for the motherland. Enjoy the spectacle, and respect the locals.