Dunlop World Cup 2011 – Carnage in Camera

Sunday, 03 July 2011 16:45 | Written by 
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Vicious shorebreak at the Durban World Cup Vicious shorebreak at the Durban World Cup Credits: All pics by Calvin Berry - thanks Calvin!

The Dunlop Surfski World Cup was held in Durban, South Africa on 26 June, 2011.  After a grueling paddle on flat water, the competitors were faced with surf breaking on the beach at the finish.  The huge crowd on the beach watched a series of spectacular landings…  here are some of them.

Flat water, big swell

As we paddled across the bay from the start at Marine Surf Lifesaving Club to the finish at La Mercy (no mercy today that’s for sure) beach, a succession of big swells rolled under the skis.  It seemed though that there would be a set of waves followed by a lull – and I became more confident as time went on that there would be gaps between the sets where we could sprint in through the break zone.  I figured that I knew (in theory anyway) how to deal with the shore break.  It was the backline that I was worried about.  And I was worried – I thought of nothing else for two hours…

The day before

The day before the race we’d tripped La Mercy beach.  The waves were huge – and very difficult to read.  The swell was coming straight in from the southeast and the surf was messy; jacking up and smashing onto the sandbank and on the steeply shelving beach with little apparent rhythm.

Local elite paddler Barry Lewin was on the beach and gave us some great advice: “Don’t come in straight,” he said.  “Come in at an angle so that you can watch the swell on your right and turn in at the right moment.

“The waves will be easier to read tomorrow,” he added.  “And there’ll be big gaps between the sets.  It shouldn’t be too much of a problem.”

True to his word and the forecast, the swell direction had shifted; it was now running from the southwest and it had cleaned up.  The pattern of the sets was much easier to read and the high tide meant that the backline at any rate was breaking with slightly less violence.

Shore Break

The shore break however was vicious.  The steeply shelving beach meant that even the gentlest looking of waves would rear up, becoming a head-high all-devouring monster in moments.  It was absolutely key to make sure that you weren’t in front of the wave.  Get on the back of it, paddle like hell and get out of your ski and sprint up the beach before you got taken out by the next wave.

Dunlop Surfski World Cup

Carnage on the steeply shelving beach

A mob of spectators and lifeguards were on hand to help out – dashing into the water to drag skis and bedraggled paddlers out onto the sand.

At times the sea was covered with skis, some upended and drifting and paddlers swimming in from the backline.   A couple of jetskis were patrolling in the break zone, checking on the swimmers and dragging them into the beach if necessary.  The jetskis drivers were clearly experts at their trade, navigating the breakers with relaxed confidence.

Dunlop Surfski World Cup

Dunlop Surfski World Cup

Top finishers

This gallery shows Hank McGregor and Matt Bouman coming into the finish.  Note how Matt sticks his legs out to slow the ski down and to get behind the wave coming into the finish.

Also check out the backline thumping behind Hank!


Tony Scott

The 62 year old Master paddler showed the crowd exactly how to get in without swimming, riding a small wave in from the backline and then maneuvering to come in on the back of the shorebreak.


Barry Lewin

Barry also showed his KZN pedigree.  Here you see him coming in at an angle, so that he can glance right to read the wave and select the correct moment to turn in.  The sequence doesn’t show the finish – but, like Tony Scott, he was deposited by the shorey gently on the sand; he hopped out and scampered through the finish.


Double Swim

This gallery shows how to get it wrong.  It looks as though the double tried to pull out of the wave, but just didn’t get it right.

The shorey was relatively small and I don’t think these guys suffered any real damage.


Flying Single

This Arrow, having got rid of its paddler, decided to surf itself in – not such a good idea.  I’m guessing a bent rudder if nothing else!


Now you see him, now you don’t

This doubles crew thought they’d made it – but then they looked back and saw a mountain about to break on top of them…  The guy at the back dived back into the water; the guy at the front got eaten up, with the ski.


Three sets

Another flying ski – with the lifeguard performing some lively steps to get out of the way.  This guy was brilliant – at one point he did a perfect backflip over a incoming ski… the crowd loved it.

The double is coming in perfectly – again, behind the wave and although it looks spectacular, they landed gently on the beach, got out fast and ran up.  Not even their hair wet.

The last sequence shows, again, what happens when you get it wrong.  Both paddlers try to ride the wave into the beach; both lose it.


More Incompetence – Helmet Cam Carnage

What can I say?  I was so pleased with myself for coming in from the back in one piece.  I’d approached the finish at an angle, as advised when I was overtaken by the double on the right in the first pics.  They were chatting to each other and sounded as though they knew what they were doing – so I followed them.

Through the backline and I was happily riding a small wave and was trying to figure out when to pull out.  I steered directly to the flags and then saw another double in front of me…

I reacted far too late – and was more worried that I was going to kill the paddler in front me than anything else.  Fortunately he was knocked over by the wave that I was on before my ski connected with his head.

The next few moments passed in a blur.  I remember standing up and the crowd in front of me yelling, “watch out!”   The next second I was on the sand, face down, under water, arms outstretched in an attitude of prayer as another shorey flattened me from behind.

As I finally staggered up the beach, it was to find my ski, in one piece, already there.  I looked around for my paddle, which was floating in the water.  “We’ll get it,” yelled a spectator. “Get to the finish!”

As I crossed the line with my ski, someone shoved the paddle into my hands.

I was thankful that I hadn’t broken anything – but my pride was definitely dented.

“Welcome to Durban!”


Awful Inevitability

This last sequence shows a double getting onto a huge wave; by the time they realize what’s happening, there’s nothing they can do about it but accept the inevitable.


Pride restored – to an extent

I chatted later to Nigel Stevens from Richards Bay, north of Durban.  “In all my twenty years of paddling on this coast,” he said, “I’ve never experienced such a nasty shorebreak.”

He navigated the break fine, but had his feet swept out from under him by the force of the back-wash on the beach.  Three of the twenty boats from his club were broken and more damaged.

So I figure that if such experienced locals also had problems, I shouldn’t be too upset with my own performance…  I’ll do better next time though!

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