Koa Smith Skeleton Bay

That’s Koa Smith. But would you go? Photo: YouTube

The Inertia

Any surfer with an internet connection has drooled over videos of the endless left-hand tubes at Skeleton Bay. Many mediocre surfers have likely boasted to their friends about how tubed they would get if they ever got a chance to surf the Namibian dream wave.

But would they be shredding as hard as they think? When you watch videos of pro surfers making it look easy, one can forget about the challenges. Most recently an all-star lineup of pros rushed to Namibia to get a piece of the action. The A-list lineup included the likes of Kelly Slater, Koa Smith, Benji Brand, Jamie O’Brien, Nathan Florence, and Craig Anderson, sprinkled among a hundred or so surfers.

To get an idea of what it’s like for a sticker-less surfer looking for waves at Skeleton Bay, I checked in with 23-year-old South African charger, Murray Armstrong. Murray made the long trek from Cape Town with his brother to experience the wave first hand. Murray, who is by no means a slouch in the tube (check out the brothers’ YouTube channel), was able to provide me with a picture of what one of the world’s most iconic breaks – on perhaps its most crowded day in history – is like for mere mortals.

What were your initial impressions of Skeleton Bay? Was it different than you imagined?

It’s much harder than it looks. You see the videos and you have this idea that every wave is perfect, all you have to do is make the drop and you’ll get the barrel of your life. But the reality is much different. It’s tricky to read. The first wave of the set tends to run through and not hit the sand that well, whereas the second one and third one go mental, really round.

The first five days of the swell the sand bank was really tricky, nothing like that mechanical speed and barrel that you expect. There were still some crazy waves doing the Skeleton Bay thing, but you could easily get closed out. You had to be on the bombs. My biggest takeaway was that it’s not every wave out there. You have to be dialed in and get an understanding of which waves break well. 

Tell me about your best wave?

The first day I was there it was pretty solid, really heavy. It was the most difficult day because the waves were really hard to get into and bottoming out. On my third run this bomb came through and I was in the spot. I started paddling and Koa Smith was screaming at me to go. I got to a point where I felt like the wave was throwing too much and I was going to get pitched in the lip. Under normal circumstances I would have pulled out, but I had to go because Koa was yelling. I just made it over the ledge, air dropped, and the wave pushed me out into the flats. I grabbed my bottom turn, pulled up into this thing, and got such a perfect five-second barrel. It spat me out and that was the first moment the craziness of the wave clicked for me.

Is Skeleton Bay accessible for the average Joe?

Benji Brand mentioned that the last two days of the swell were some of the most user-friendly Skeleton Bay he’d ever seen. Usually it is heavy top to bottom barrels. We got a taste of that the first few days. You had to be a skilled barrel rider to get a good wave. Typically if you are not good in the tube you won’t get barreled out there, but those last two days allowed for a little bit more variability in terms of skill level. The drop is still the gnarliest part. 

How was it with all the pros who flew in? Was it hard to get a wave?

I was pretty apprehensive when I heard all the pros were coming. But the nice thing about Skeleton Bay is the current is really strong and the wave is long. You get in right at the top and you start getting pulled down the point. You try to get a few waves on your way down before you have to walk 2.5 kilometers back up the beach. It’s a constant conveyor belt of people, so that helps manage the crowd. People were respectful of the chain.

There were a few days where the swell slowed down a bit and the current wasn’t as strong. Then it got tough because people were getting bunched up. But even though this was maybe the most crowded Skeleton has been, you can still get some waves. I was blown away by the pros; all good attitudes, barely hustling, and very good vibes.

Who stood out most?

Benji Brand and Koa Smith are two guys who have put in a lot of time out there and are synonymous with the wave. Koa had such a good read on it, Benji as well. Gabriel Villaran and Ivan Florence were impressive, too.

What board did you ride?

I went with a standard good-wave board – round tail shortboard with a thruster set up. When I got there I saw a lot of the goofy footed pros on asymmetrical boards and quads. Koa, for example, was riding an asymmetrical board. When it gets that round you want a board that won’t catch rail and will give you speed. The shorter quads accomplish that. It’s quite tough on the backhand to pull up and grab rail without a center fin, so I noticed a lot of the natural footers were mostly on standard thrusters. 

What tips would you give for those who want to make the trip?

It’s pretty affordable as far as accommodation. We stayed at this place called Lagoon Chalets. If you stayed further out, like 30 minutes away, it’s cheaper, but I would make sure you stay as close as you can because it’s a mission to get to the wave. You don’t want to add time. 

We took a two-wheel drive, but I would say if you can, take a 4×4. It’s a heavy sand track and there are a lot of changes in the road conditions every day because the land is low lying and really easy to get stuck. 

Jumper cables are important because for some reason car batteries kept getting killed. And an air compressor is nice to let the tires down for the sand and then pump them up for the tar road. 

Any plans to go back?

Definitely. The vibe was so sick. It’s such a cool adventure being in such a rugged place. The wave was mental and I feel like it could be even better than we got. The more time you spend out there, the more you dial it in, so I’m definitely going back.


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