Big Smile Coastline

 The 3000 km of South African coastline that stretches from Alexandra Bay in the North West to Ponta Do Oura in the North East is shaped like a big wonky smile. I customised my VW Caddy van, named Rodger, and spent 6 months exploring all the nooks and crannies, proving there's no place like home! 

The seed for my trip was planted years before it came to be. Seeing photos of van’s camped out in front of cooking waves, surf boards loaded on the roof, got me hooked on ‘the search’ and the endless pursuit of waves that we as surfers and surf photographers become addicted too. I lay in bed dreaming of exploration and the magic moments waiting to be captured in and around the ocean. Watching films like Endless Summer and The Salt Trail added to my growing addiction and pushed me into setting up a trip of my own. After doing some research and discovering the vast extent that is the South Africa’s coastline, and the potential for scoring remote, uncrowded waves, I knew I had to pull trigger and chase swells up and down the coast. 

My planned route would take me from my home town of Knysna, north through the Eastern Cape to the Drakensberg, to do some interior exploration. Then east down to Durban and the start of the much anticipated coastal section of my trip. From Durban, I would send it north to Ponta do Oura. This was as far up the coast as I would go. From Ponta I slowly made my way down to Cape Town and the West Coast, spending time on the South Coast, Transkei, East London and the Garden Route along the way. The trip took me 6 months in total, from March through to September.

I traded in my hatchback for a 2009 VW Caddy van. My dad and I spent a few months kitting the van out and turning it into an expedition vehicle. My dad’s very talented when it comes to DIY, so this was a great opportunity for me to learn from him. First we added a drawer and storage system that ran the length of the van, to store my wetsuits and diving equipment, food stocks, cooking gear and extra clothes. A wooden top that fitted onto the drawer, when fully extended, provided me with a kitchen counter and working space. On top of the storage system sat my fridge and pantry.

The hardest part of the build was the dual battery system. This would charge from the main battery while I was driving, and power the fridge. We added plug points for charging all the camera gear, which could also be plugged into the mains at a campsite. Then we insulated the side panels of the van, and finished the interior with carpeting. We MacGyver’d an awning from all the spare parts lying around my dad’s garage. Lastly, my friend Mark lent me his rooftop tent, and I was good to go.



 The point of the trip was to first and foremost, relieve my travel and wave addictions, secondly to build on my personal photographic portfolio and thirdly to capture the beauty of the South African coastline and showcase it to the world in hopes of promoting a sustainable future for our countries natural beauty. I felt as a South African photographer I was obligated to document my own country before exploring else where. The idea was to be on the coast for the winter swell season to maximise wave scoring potential. As much as this was a photographic trip I made time to surf as often as possible. My general rule was that if the waves were small and fun, I surfed. If the waves got heavier and barreling, I shot. Either way, I was getting into the water almost daily whilst on the road. 

As I left my home and set off into the unknown, the realities of life on the road started to set in. But as time went by, I got into a groove. I realised how enjoyable life can be when simplified. All my belongings were jammed into my van and that’s all I had. The comforts of the life I knew left behind. Yet, I was the happiest I have ever been. My days were spent, from sunrise to sundown, outside. My plans and movements dictated to by the mood of mother nature, this humbled me. Each day brought with it a set of new challenges and complete spontaneity. At first, this was quite daunting, but eventually it excited me and I woke up each day frothing to set off into the unknown. Discovering new things around every corner and not knowing what lies around the next is exhilarating. I got into a flow of just existing, letting happenings around be and then not. Not worrying about the future or the past but truly being in the present moment. It’s a freeing place to be! I learnt that life works itself out if you can be as positive as possible, love what you do, work hard and trust in the unknown.

A few highlights from my trip include a storm swell chase too Durban. I was in the Drakensberg and got a message from Twiggy that I had to be in town to shoot at 6 am the next day. I packed up camp and was in Durban by night fall. In the morning we were greeted to chocolate barrels throwing spray in all directions. Trees, zamalek crates and truck tyres crowded the line up from the previous days flooding. At this point, my eyes hadn't seen the coast for over a month. I had gone cold turkey to then seeing 8-10 foot barrels throwing themselves onto the north pier beaches. I started to wonder what I had been doing, lost in the mountains, for the last month. How many firing waves had I missed? I stuck to the coast for the rest of my trip after that swell chase! 

My Drakensberg section was incredibly beautiful and I kept asking myself why I had never been here before. I think as ocean creatures we tend to plan our trips around if a place has waves or not, and if not we give it a skip. As much as all I want to do is chase waves, I have realised its good to give that a break and explore what else is out there beyond the scope of swell chases. Although the pursuit of waves will always be at the core of who I am. 

The Transkei section of my trip was the most memorable and eye opening. From the rooftop tent I watched the chilly morning offshore breeze blow over colourful, thatched rondavels and over the ocean, grooming waves slowly rolling down the Mdumbi point making them glassy and beautiful. It has always been a dream of mine to watch cooking waves from my bedroom window, close enough! The Transkei is the most picturesque place I have ever been to in South Africa. There are endless points, headlands and reefs for the swell lines to land on. Life has a slow, peaceful tempo here. The early morning sun coats the land and sea with hues of pinks and blues. The atmosphere is quiet. Only the sounds of cooking waves hitting the point, mother nature and the local communities going about their daily chores echo between the hills. The local people of the Transkei are the friendliest I have ever met. This could be due to the giggle sticks that fog the sky and turn the air sweet. Every where I go I am greeted with big smiles and happy faces. Life is simple in the Transkei and yet, after chatting with the local people, I found that all are extremely happy and prefer life here between the hills to the concrete jungles most live in. Everyone knows everyone and are untied as a community. Many have left their homelands, but always return to the peace and simplicity of life among the rolling hills. It made me question what really matters in life and what one really needs to be happy and content. The pursuit of material things that our society has fallen trap too? Or the pursuit of experiences, genuinely connecting with the people around you, exploring different cultures and lands and seeing what this world has to offer? I choose the latter! 

After a few days of watching big swells and surfers towing into close outs across the bay, my froth levels were too high and I had to give the point a go. I had never surfed there before. I timed my first paddle out wrong, got worked all the way to the beach and had to do the walk of shame. My second paddle out went better and I just made it out to the backline. There were solid 6 foot sets hitting the outside point and I surfed for hours with no one else out. My most memorable surf of the trip!



The surf community in South Africa, I learnt, is extremely warm and welcoming. During my travels up and down the coast I met a variety of ocean characters. I was shown secret waves, welcomed into homes, given insights into the right conditions for reefs, points and beachies to work. All by people I had just met whilst on the road. The surf creatures I encountered were all so friendly and eager to share their stoke and froth for scoring waves. This collective energy that we all share when chasing waves connects us in a way that can’t be explained. I am so grateful to the people I met along the way, for welcoming me into your line ups and giving me local knowledge on all things surf and surf photography. Thank you Saffa surf community!

The trip was self funded, with some amazing brands coming on board in the form of sponsored gear for the trip, namely Veldskoen, Salt Life Clothing, Cape Union Mart, Back2nature, Nixon and Wazoogles. I am so grateful to my sponsors for supporting me and the trip, especially post pandemic when marketing and sponsorship budgets were tight. Due to the Russian-Ukraine conflict pushing the price of fuel through the roof and my van having a few arguments with the Transkei roads, holes were burnt into my pockets sooner than anticipated, I had to forgo some previously planned spots and cut the trip short. Even so, the experience was more than I could ever have asked for and I have walked away with a deep appreciation for the beauty and uniqueness of South Africa and its people.