Editors Note: Epic Moments is a series examining the most groundbreaking moments in surf history. Check out more historic moments (previously called the “Disruptors” series) here.
Place: Namibia’s Skeleton Coast…and the interwebs
Moment: Surfing magazine issues their 2007 Google Earth Challenge, asking readers to find the best “undiscovered” wave in the world. A software developer from Irvine, California answers with the best left on the planet.
The concept of “discovery” seems more the stuff of ancient surf folklore than an everyday possibility in today’s surf world. But seems is the operative word in that sentence. With so much of this globe having been driven across, flown over, mapped, and walked on it seems impossible that we could still find something new lying right underneath our noses. But that’s just lazy thinking, and Skeleton Bay’s story is proof of exactly that.
As for the wave itself…not that I’ve ever surfed it, but plenty of people who have surfed it have plenty to say about the barreling left. Imagine a wave so fast you can’t make a single turn. But if you pick the right line and can hold your speed inside the barrel without much room to maneuver you’re due for a ride longer than a minute. And that’s exactly what put Skeleton Bay “on the map,” so to speak. Surfers had ridden this wave for years, and some even say just about every surfing publication in South Africa got an invitation to drive up and see “The New Cape St. Francis” for themselves. But HD surf edits weren’t uploaded to the internet at a rate of eleventy thousand + per day by that point, so the skeptical editors ignored their invitations. Then a man named Brian Gable, a Californian software developer, submitted the location for Surfing magazine’s Google Earth Challenge in 2007. And for the first time a surfing publication was intrigued enough to see what the fuss was about. Gable was sent off to Africa’s west coast with a gaggle of professionals, but it was one fellow who stole the show.
Forever known as “Cory’s Left,” the moment the surfing world got a glimpse of one of its most beloved goofyfooters getting barreled seven times in one wave every other spot on the planet ceased to exist.
The logical explanation for that is the quality of the wave itself, peeling for God knows how long, churning out barrel after barrel, with surfers getting into the beach and jogging back up to the point to do it all over again. It’s part conveyor belt, part surf heaven. But summing up our infatuation by simply pointing out the obvious is to sell the whole story’s significance short. Think about the last time you drove more than an hour away from your regular, everyday spot. Or the last time you took a surf trip that wasn’t to a place in Mexico, Hawaii, Indonesia, Fiji, or any other land on the list of go-to’s. We flock to the places we know we’re going to score, just like those South African writers avoided making the trek themselves assuming there was no pot of gold waiting at the end of it all. The point is, we surf where we know there are waves, and spend very little time venturing out of those comfort zones.
Reading more about Skeleton Bay’s “discovery” (at least what we think we know about it) reminds me that I’m as guilty of this as anybody. I can’t remember the last time I surfed a spot for the first time. In a world where I can check cameras and reports the second I roll over in bed (did it this morning), flip through Instagram to see the waves I just spent all night dreaming about, and then onto Facebook where I get a comprehensive report of which waves are and aren’t working today thanks to my network of social media friends, there doesn’t seem to be much I haven’t seen. But Skeleton Bay popping into our lives was different. Once we knew about it we also learned about the legitimate journey it is to get there. Like there was actually some place out there we didn’t already know about. And if Skeleton Bay was waiting for us for who knows how long, what else is still out there? It was all something that had yet to be photographed, filmed and broadcast for the world to see…at least until somebody saw a little blip on Google Earth and thought “hmm, worth checking out.”