Words: Sandy Clunas
Pics: Heidi Jabbari, Christie Bushnell, Kitty Gregorelli
Where do you head if you’ve spent the whole sun under a scorchio Greek sun, where wind is served daily (well, most afternoon’s at least) and you need your endless windsurfing summer of fun to continue? The answer? Cape Town, SA, of course! Sandy Clunas spills the beans.
Winter can be a daunting time for us windsurfers. Sure the wind picks up, but it gets colder, darker and everything just becomes a bit greyer and more miserable. For myself and the rest of us that choose to spend our summer’s sunning ourselves and sailing in the clear waters of the Ionian Sea it’s even more daunting. So, there is only one real place that offers everything a windsurfer could want during the darkest months of the northern hemisphere. And that place is Cape Town my friends.
I migrated south for 12 weeks from the 6th of December ’16 till the 1st of March ‘17. It’s the perfect amount of time to really enjoy everything Cape Town has to offer, and it gets you away from the worst months on the UK calendar.
About 24 hours, four films and two cardboard meals later I arrived at Cape Town International Airport. From there it’s a short half hour drive to the guest house we were staying at in Table View, an area right by most of the main beaches for wave sailing and ‘the lake’ for freestyle is a mere two minutes down the road. In order for all these spots to work though you need the legendary wind, affectionately known as the Cape Doctor, to blow through in the correct south-easterly direction.
As we all woke up on our first proper day we were greeted with cloudy, showery weather with a north-westerly wind direction. To the uninitiated this would seem a bad thing, however, due to local knowledge we knew of a spot about an hour and 20 minutes inland called Brandvlei. It’s a large lake formed by a dam in the middle of the mountains and with this direction you get consistent strong winds which combine with knee to waist high chop making it a great place to bang out some moves. If there was ever a place to get some airtime on the shakas, it’s here.
Our first road trip took us there and we scored it! It was perfect 4.4m, 4.0m full power freestyle. After taking the scenic drive back we landed at a bar on the seafront by our house to watch the legendary Cape Town sunset. A perfect way to welcome us to the mother city and really set the standard for what would be an incredible trip.
From day two the ‘Doctor’ returned in full force, and pretty much stuck around for the next 82 days! The first port of call each morning was the lake or ‘the vlei’ as it is the first place to get windy. It’s a great spot with a grassy rigging area, shower facilities and a cafe. The conditions are quite similar to Vassiliki only a wee bit choppier and gustier! I guess this is what makes it such a cracking training ground for so many of the PWA freestylers that come here – it’s not an easy place to sail. We used to say: ‘if you can do it here then you can do it anywhere.’ Despite this though, sailing in my boardies with all my best mates and the sun on my face makes it very hard to complain, as you can imagine. As the day wears on the wind just gets more and more powerful and around 2pm the lake becomes nearly unsailable. I weigh nearly 90kg and I can barely hold onto my 4.0m by this time!
After a pit stop at home (or Burger King!) to get some lunch, it was time to swap out our freestyle gear for the wave stuff. What’s odd is that I’d spend all morning sailing in my boardies, absolutely fine, before donning the rubber. The cold Atlantic takes no prisoners. In fact, I wear the same wetsuit in Cape Town as I do at home in Scotland! It’s a strange feeling rigging up in the car park in 30 degrees only to sweat your way into a 5/3 steamer and get down to the sea as fast as possible to cool down.
My personal favourite of these wave spots is Big Bay. This legendary location feels like the centre of windsurfing in Cape Town. The car park is always rammed with small VW Golf’s crumbling under the weight of kit.
The bay itself is enclosed by rocks so the surf is usually a bit cleaner. When the waves were small this was the best spot for busting out some freestyle on the sea, my favourite kind of windsurfing. I had a couple of really memorable sessions at sunset or ‘golden hour’ throwing air flakas, big shakas and trying paskos with all the boys. It was the most fun I’ve ever had windsurfing and was perfectly followed up by a couple of sundowners in one of the great bars overlooking the bay.
When the waves were a bit bigger though it was all about riding and jumping. This year all of us in the Club Vass crew sailed out the front of a restaurant called Doodles. It tended to be quite messy and isn’t great for riding but you could get some great ramps for jumping, which is what most of us all prefer anyway. There were a few sick sessions with everyone going for pushies and backies. It’s a lot of fun seeing all your mates flying through the air and whether they stomped the move or crashed it, it was always entertaining.
With these crashes however, there are always casualties. Some people, like myself, ended up with a trip to hospital and a bad concussion. Some others just ended up with a lot of broken kit! From ripped sails, cracked boards and snapped masts all our gear took a bit of a beating. I think at one point we had the ‘hybrid’ mast in play – half Tushingham 400 and half Gaastra 370 I believe! Poor Bruce sailed on that thing for the last week of the trip. Any notion of being upset about kit being broken swiftly disappeared after the afternoon session though as thoughts turned to empty stomachs and dry mouths.
Once we’d picked up a crate or two of Castle Light and a couple of kg’s worth of steak it was back to the house to be met with the smoky aroma of the Braai being lit. Braai is the South African word for BBQ which they take very, very seriously. It always involved a lot of food, beers and most importantly, banter about the best crashes, stacks and fails of the day.
We did have a small period of no wind in the middle of the trip – about 10 days of on and off sailing. Not that we complained. It gave us a chance to recuperate, rest and explore the amazing city. There’s just so much to see and do. These days usually started with a surf at one of the beaches. My personal favourite was Derdesteen which was five mins drive up the coast. As an exceptionally average surfer I really enjoyed the chilled out beach breaks. If anything my surfing improved more than my windsurfing this trip!
South Africa is famous for wine, and wine tasting in the vineyards surrounding Cape Town is a must. One day we had a tour of a crocodile farm which yes, is as scary and amazing as it sounds, before heading to a vineyard and gorging on cheap vino and cheese, before ending with yet another Braai at a friend’s villa in the middle of one said vineyard. Not a bad day all in.
Wherever you are in Cape Town you can always see Table Mountain, one of the seven natural wonders of the world. It looms over you and takes up the frame of every picture you snap so it was essential that we climbed it. Instead of taking the usual hiking route, like every other normal person, we decided to go up the ‘India Venster’, signposted as only appropriate for experienced rock climbers. We felt it was something that had to be conquered. After three hours clambering up sheer rock faces, using chains and metal rungs in the midday sun, we were greeted by flat plains of the summit. The view was definitely worth the blood, sweat and tears and the rotating cable car on the way down was sick! It sure beat walking down in the dark like the previous year.
It wouldn’t be a Club Vass trip without a few parties and Cape Town really delivered. We had a couple of sick nights at Shimmy’s Beach Club which is a massive outdoor club on the waterfront showcasing live DJ’s with a sand dancefloor. These always ended with a fair amount of chaos, the less said about this the better!
It was always typical the days after these nights were the windiest and whoever managed to make it out would always return home giving it the big one about how epic it was and how we had missed out. But it didn’t matter, because we knew that the mother city would deliver something just as epic the following day.
As I write I’m waiting to head back to Greece for another windy Club Vass season. With Cape Town but a memory I’m sure there’ll be more adventures over the coming months. If you’ve never visited Cape Town, or Vassiliki, then I highly recommend both – you won’t be disappointed.