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Ryan Janssens: West is Best

West is best!!!

The trip started from nothing, we had no plans to mission this hard, all we were looking for was a fun wave to shoot for the weekend. We hit up Windguru and started searching but our options were looking bleak. Everywhere was either too small, the swell direction was just a bit off or the winds were completely wrong.

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I am new to Cape Town so I still have a lot to learn in terms of swell and wind predictions for the various little bays and corners in and around the city. So I turned to my housemate for help, another Durban expat that has taken to the Cape like a house on fire. He took one look at the charts and his face lit up as he mumbled “if only we had a 4×4 Weskus is gonna pump”. That was all I needed to hear, West coast missions have been on the top of my bucket list since I was knee high to a duck and one of the main rreasons I left Durban for the icy Atlantic waters of Cape Town. I needed to find a 4×4 fast, so I turned to Facebook, “Who has a 4×4 for me, I’m hitting Weskus Hard!!!”  I left the status up for the most part of the day, and all I got in response was a few random likes from people who probably had no idea what I was talking about, and jealous comments from another photographer, apart from that I had nothing. Just as I started to lose faith in the Book I got a call from Donovan Wichmann, a grom I had travelled to indo with almost a year ago. “Bru my brother has a 4×4 and no drivers license, you wanna drive?” Hell yes!!! And we were on.

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The rest of the crew was made up of Iain Campbell, a travelling pro bodyboarder who competes on an international level & Charles Pass, a Durban hell man who has spent more time searching the West Coast than just about any one I know.

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The first minor hurdle I faced was whether or not the crew was going to work. Two brothers, both of them surfers and two bodyboarders who go way back. Were they going to get along or would they form alliances and kill each other in the desert? The two sports rarely mix and there will always be surfing/bodyboarding rivalry, but to be completely honest, I couldn’t care less, I was going on a mission I had been dreaming about for as long as I could remember.

Now came the hardest part, how do we fit 5 people and all of our stuff into a tiny Rav 4? 5 People, that’s 4 surfboards, 2 bodyboards, 5 wetsuits & 3 pairs of fins before we even begin to think about the tents and camping equipment.  To top it all off, I had so much camera equipment to take with that it looked like I was about to embark on a trans global adventure. We were headed about 3 hours west of the nearest shop or town, along a maze of sand roads that slowly make their way towards the Namibian border. I fetched the 2 surfer groms from Muizenberg at about 9pm and headed back home to where the rest of the gear and other 2 were patiently waiting to leave. When I looked at everything that we had to somehow pack into the car my heart sank, there was no ways that this was going to work. I gave up and about 20 minutes later, by some miracle we were locking up the house and forcing our tired bodies into our over packed car. Boards, clothes, wetsuits, tents and sleeping bags were forced into a large board coffin and then strapped tightly to the roof, everything else was then strategically packed into every little nook and cranny we had available. You couldn’t open a door without having something jumping out at you. There was no ways we could have squeezed one more thing into that car even if our lives depended on it, except for my trusty ODT Turtle Shell that replaced the faulty car radio that had given up the ghost a few weeks before. About 4 hours later and a couple hundred km outside of Cape Town we finally reached the tricky sand roads that were eventually going to lead us to our little slice of paradise.

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We made our way in the dark, guessing our way through the winding maze of soft sandy roads. After a few wrong turns and a couple close calls on the dark, seldom travelled 4×4 track Charles muttered, “I think this is it, well its dark but I guess this is about as good as it gets”. It was 4am, and pitch black, I could barely make out anything, all I could hear was the ocean and it seemed to be dangerously close, every thundering crash of the waves against the rocks seemed to get closer and closer to where we were sitting. It was freezing cold and there was an icy cross shore wind that was cutting straight to our bones, after warming up by a small campfire and a quick pot of coffee we set up our tents and got some sleep. When packing the car we were forced to leave a tent behind, there simply wasn’t any room left to squeeze it in, so the 2 brothers huddled in one tent, Charles and Iain in another and I was left to find a place in the car in amongst all our boards, wetsuits and firewood.  We woke just after sunrise to get our first glimpse of where we were, our car was parked a few metres away from a small cliff, with the beach about 10 metres below us, behind us a huge flat plateau stretched for as far as we could see.  The wind was cross shore and the waves were less than average, I couldn’t believe it, these were not the conditions I had been picturing in my head, is this what we had come all this way for, had the forecasts sold us lemons?  We sat around the remains of the previous nights fire, cursing the wind as well as Charles for making the rookie judgment on the forecasts… At least we had strong coffee and some good beats from the Turtle Shell to help deal with the freezing winds and somber vibes that we could do nothing to escape from.

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Halfway through my second cup of coffee I noticed everything start to get eerily quiet around us as the wind started to back off completely, a few seconds later and as if someone had flipped a switch, the wind had swung direction and was now perfectly offshore and whipping its way across the baron landscape around us.  It was not long at all before everything in front of us was transformed from a freezing nightmare to a hot perfectly groomed beach with some of the best waves I had seen in ages, it was safe to say that all faith in Charles forecasting was restored and he sat there with a smug look on his face as he finished off his coffee and the rest of us ate our words.  By now the wind was sweeping huge columns of sand across the dry terrain that surrounded us for as far as we could see, the sand being swept out to sea would almost completely block off the view of the waves every now and then, only to reveal a more perfectly groomed line up each time the sand storm subsided. We stood there; watching in awe as nature slowly transformed our surroundings right in front of our eyes. The waves were pumping and we were the only ones around, the mood had lifted drastically, the 5 of us stood there screaming and shouting as perfect 4ft lefts and rights rolled through all over the unspoiled beach below us. For the next 2 days, this was all ours, we didn’t see another sign of life the entire time, apart from the odd little bat eared fox or secretary bird scouring the dry shrubs looking for any unsuspecting morsel that calls this unfriendly territory home. It has been years since I have frothed this hard over waves, over the next 2 days we were in the water for a total of almost 17 hours, getting out occasionally to recharge and scoff down a bowl of noodles and tuna.

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All of our water we had with us was strictly for drinking and cooking so any time out of the water was incredibly uncomfortable. The stiff offshore winds would dry you out in a matter of seconds leaving a thick layer of salt and sand caked all over your sunburnt body. There was no shelter from the wind or sun, the highest shrubs or bushes were barely knee high and offered no protection from anything at all. Night time was bitterly cold, we had very little firewood to burn and burning the natural vegetation didn’t help at all either, it was so dry that it would go up in flames in seconds. We were completely out in the wild and there was no one else around to help us out should something go wrong. We are in the middle of nowhere and completely at Mother Nature’s mercy. It is one of the most liberating moments I have ever felt. I can’t remember the last time I was this far removed from civilization, our cellphones stopped working about 3 hours outside of Cape Town. At night there were no other lights for as far as we could see and we sat around our campfire underneath the most incredible blanket of stars any of us had ever seen.

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I came back from the West Coast dirtier than I had ever been before, a layer of salt and dust covered me from head to toe, my lips were cracked and bleeding and my eyes felt like I had a million paper cuts all over them. But regardless of all the discomfort and the physical state that I returned home in, my Turtle Shell was still going strong and pumping beats the entire trip home.

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My heart and soul came back as clear and as happy as ever, nothing could wipe the stupid grin off my filthy face. In just a couple short days I had fulfilled a lifelong dream, it was definitely one of my all time favourite adventures to date and to know that there are will be many more to come gives me chills up my spine. So next time you try call and cant get through it is very possible that I am out in that dry, baron, deserted paradise, sunburnt, chapped, malnourished and completely content.

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