There are a few signs when JBay starts getting real. The first is that it needs to be a cold day. A biting morning and a booming fresh swell always seem to coincide. So there is less chance of a solid groundswell pouring through along with warm weather. Saturday morning was chilly. Around 11 degrees C, which is fresh for these parts.
The second sign is when surfers – locals, experienced vets, visiting pros and fearless warriors – show uncertainty about where to launch from. So there are three main entry points to Supers when it is heaving, and they all have their dramas.
The top gully is not much of an entry, but merely a break on the inside rocks that leads to a shelf over which you must clamber. Not easy. Especially challenging at low tide as on Saturday morning.
The bottom gully is easy as pie, if you have a mate who watches from the stairs and sends you out at the right time. Get it wrong, and you're heading down the point over the most notorious section of reef and probably losing fins and skin.
The beachbreak between Magnas and Boneyards. Either the most horrendous or the most effortless paddle out of them all.
The beach break paddle out was having a terrible day as close outs smashed across the outer bank. Some guys tried, and a few made it, but most failed and were washed in to try again elsewhere.
The top gully was no better. The rising swell was super-consistent, and there were very few breaks in the pouring sets. As surfers queued up, some got impatient and scrabbled over the low tide shelf. There was no real jump spot as it was too low, so it was more of a leopard crawl until it felt deep enough and then start paddling.
If you're scrabbling over the shelf and a set comes, you're in trouble. With not enough water to duck dive and hold steady, you will get washed down the point very quickly, as many can attest to.
So it was the bottom gully that was the better option. Loads of time to spot a set and time to get out. The only problem with this was that even if you got out with your hair dry, you still had a 300 metre plus paddle against a sweeping new swell current, before you were in the game.
We watched a surfer – never before seen at Supers – head down to the top gully in boardshorts and no top. At this stage, the sun was out, and the water was about 17 degrees C, but it was no place for boardies. The icy south westerly offshore would cut you in half if you didn't have any rubber. Fair play to them.
Local surfer Remi Peterson was having a field day on the six foot bombs on his backhand. Remi is a fixture at Supers and can always be counted on to do some stylish, extended backhand carves and get some of the best pig dog barrels of the day.
Former world longboard champion and JBay local Stevie Sawyer was another goofy footer who always impresses. Stevie's smooth, no-nonsense approach to Supers is pleasing to watch, and he always manages to snag a few of the best bombs on any given day of pumping surf. Tom Lindhorst from Gqeberha was another impressive goofy footer, with some big backhand hooks along the Carpark Section.
South Africa's Olympian runner-up Bianca Buitendag from Victoria Bay showed up and surfed a few bombs with her dynamic straight-up, straight-down backhand approach.
The local natural footers were not to be outdone, though, and Dylan and Ryan Lightfoot also showed control during the swell's peak in the afternoon. So while the crowds surged between 15 and 15 surfers throughout the day, the locals like these were on the bombs and carving their way down the line.
Supers is an easy wave to surf, but it is hard to surf well. This was the first legitimate swell of the winter, and it had plenty of push behind it. As a result, many people were struggling to read the wave, and there were too many people not making the sections. The rule of thumb on a fresh new swell with plenty of power is 'go as fast as you can.' You need to at least match the speed on a good one to get the feel of the swell.
Once you have ridden a few and felt the speed and power, you can slow it down, plan some moves, and have some more fun. However, so many people were carving when they should have been straight-lining, cutting back when they should have been gunning, stalling when they should have been pumping. As a result, quite a few groms hanging on the edges got their chances on a few Supers waves as guys fell or got caught behind, not letting any wave go unridden.
James Ribbink from Durban was here for the swell and showed some world class surfing. James has been surfing JBay as often as he can over the last year, and his experience is evident. For this trip, his dad, Jason, came along and sneaked a few sets.
Brain Furcey, the top Mauritian surfer, was also out there relishing in the perfect right-handers, the type of wave that is quite hard to find in Mauritius. Brian has been coming over to South Africa to surf some swells in JBay and Durban and has a solid group of friends that he hangs and surfs with. So he got his fair share of set waves and carved them, making some clean tracks on the open JBay faces.
After a few false starts, this was the legitimate winter opener for JBay. On Sunday morning, it was glassy and pumping, with a little less of the ferocity of the day before. The vibe also seemed a little less desperate for wave count and more friendly. By lunchtime, the onshore was up, and the swell had backed off completely. It was over.