The travelling doctor, Katie McAnena joins Boardseeker for the next installment of her adventurous and water filled year. From Maui and Barbados, Katie now recounts a very windy three weeks in Cape Town…
And so my friends, having just spent two months on Maui and a month in Barbados I decided it was time to trundle on home and catch some green Irish waves. It had been too long. Arriving back and flying over the lush, emerald fields and crisp blue sea, I looked out the window and smiled, I was home. The anticipation of seeing all my friends and family paired with the expectation of empty, clean, peeling waves had me frothing at the mouth. January was going to be a great month to be in Ireland, just magical. And as I stepped off the plane and took my first gasp of fresh Irish air a thought struck me…… what the bloody hell am I doing?! It’s FREEZING!!! Hail, snow, rain, clouds, minus wind chill factor and muggins here standing at the arrivals terminal in my shorts and flip flops…. clearly we’re not in Kansas anymore Toto!! Nope, Ireland in January equals hypothermia, frost-bite and an over-riding desire to find a warm, dark hole to sneak into and hibernate.
And that warm, dark hole came in the shape of the southern most city in the continent of Africa. Cape Town baby! All hail Sir Richard Branson and the Virgin empire, a few clicks of the computer and a quick sprint back to the airport and I was on my way to hot, sunny, windy South Africa for three weeks of windsurfing joy. Splendid. It was so great to get away from the sub zero temps of home but to give Ireland her dues, I did miss out on some fairly epic conditions while I was gone. Not only did the biggest swell of the winter hit just after I left, it played host to some of this year’s Billabong XXL nominees as surfers from Hawaii, Europe and Ireland charged at the famous Northern break of Mullaghmore. And then to top it off, the Red Bull Storm Chase graced our shores and saw the biggest names in windsurfing tackle the might of the Atlantic super storm which we christened, Hurricane Mikey. Gutted as I was to have missed that unbelievable forecast I had to remind myself, you can’t get a tan in Ireland in January… priorities, priorities.
So, back to bronzing. Yes, I was in Cape Town, surrounded by a who’s who of UK and European windsurfers and I’d be damned if I wasn’t going to assimilate some kind of water skills after three weeks of hanging with this crew….. or at least a decent appreciation of eurotrash dance music, speedo wearing and wetsuit booties. Oh I was very excited! Cape Town is up there with Maui, West Oz and the Canaries as a “must-do” for all roving windsurfing enthusiasts. Famed for it’s port tack jumping and riding and a little hill shaped like a desk , Cape Town has become the annual winter pilgrimage for scores of up and coming names in the sport. Luckily, from all my travels, I’ve bumped into the majority of guys and girls before which tends to take all the guess work out of coming to a new country and makes fitting in that bit easier. Need a gaff?….. Sam Neal sorted me out. Need a car?……Mike Archer had it covered. Need a lift from the airport…..Muzza to the rescue. Easy peasy!
And yet despite the guesswork being taken out of so much of my trip, Cape Town still remained a bit of an enigma to me. As with so many of my windsurfing adventures I found myself slipping into the usual routine of eat, sleep, beach, sail, surf and party. I think we are so lucky to have a sport that takes us to so many diverse, beautiful corners of the World, but sometimes I feel, what it offers us in terms of travel opportunities, it takes from us in terms of a tunnel vision view of where we are.
Despite the fact that I was in one of the most culturally rich, diverse, volatile and historically important nations in the world, all I seemed to do was drive from beach to beach with the odd glimpse of Table Mountain in between and a very blinkered sense of where I was. I had to remind myself that the purpose of my trip there was to improve my sailing and push my fairly average port tack jumping skills, but there was always this niggling sense in the background that this time, more than any of my trips before, I was missing out on the bigger picture. Cape Town, in a purely non windsurfing sense, is famed for its aesthetic beauty, its cultural diversity, its role in ending apartheid and to some extent, its violence. If you had asked me what was it I knew about South Africa before going there I would have said; Table Mountain, Robin Island, Nelson Mandela, apartheid, townships, great white sharks, rugby and crime. And of course, windsurfing and surfing. Clearly a shockingly ignorant summary of a country that is so multi-dimensional and culturally conflicted.
But did I broaden my knowledge or change my impression in the 3 weeks I spent there? Probably, but not to any particularly larger extent. On its most simplistic level, I suppose my biggest concerns while I was there were crime and sharks, both of which, having been victim to hearsay and the media, I was genuinely worried about. So what of the crime? Luckily the closest encounter for me was a cheeky little lady trying to slide my iphone out of my pocket on a night out….. not exactly life threatening stuff, and I got the phone back… so pretty much just like any other standard night out anywhere really. To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure whether it was luck or whether it was a refelction of where I was staying and who I was staying with, but my danger level guage never simmered up to amber or red. That may have been the crux of the issue, as I was staying in the relatively wealthier neighbourhood of Sunset Beach and my social circle was dominated by my UK and European friends. However, though my circumstances dictated a more rose-tinted glass impression of the place, it’s fair to say I had found myself a safety blanket away from the real Cape Town.
My very good friend from home was working as an Anaesthetist in the biggest trauma hospital in the city and she was exposed to treating the highest number of stab wounds in South Africa. This, paired with the shocking statistics that emerged in relation to the exponential rise of home robberies, violent attacks and the rising culture of “self-protection” following the Oscar Pistorious saga, made my little bubble experience of Cape Town seem even less relevant.
And what of the sharks? Well, I refused to take my surfboard so as to avoid dangling my legs into the sea as tasty bait and my falling in to waterstarting reaction time was lightening fast. Michael Phelps had nothing on me when it came to sprinting after my gear in the white water! And so I came away unscathed and with a speedy Gonzalez approach to getting back up on my board, which in my head was saving me from limb loss but in reality was probably just teaching me to faff around less in the water and maximise my sailing time!
And so as usual, post non-windsurfing rant, I guess I should start talking about what I’m here to really write about…. the food and drink! Hahaha….. ok and some windsurfing too! The sailing was great, but not epic. I suppose everyone has their different impression of what awesome sailing is, and for me, I’ve always loved more wave riding in cross/cross-off conditions. Cape Town delivered lots of wind, but very little swell while I was there. So even though my idea of heaven is not hanging on for dear life to my 3.0m in cross-on port tack jumping, it was still a great training experience to try to push myself in and also to watch the guys and girls shredding and jumping to incredibly high standards. We mostly sailed up and down the coast in the usual trail of Sunset Beach, to Melkbos, back down to Hakgaat and then an evening session in Big Bay. The spots were always fairly packed but there was never any tension or agro and the atmosphere was generally one of everyone pushing each other and stoke for when a new move was landed. One of the highlights of my trip without a doubt was the session I had at Hakgaat when the waves picked up to just over logo high, the wind co-operated, and I got the chance to ride my new Hot Sails! I was inaugurated onto the Hot Sails Maui International Team while I was there and I got the chance to try the Firelights and sail with my other new team members, Katrien and Jonas. I absolutely adore the sails and I am so honored to be on the team!
The wind played ball for about 5 out of 7 days a week which left just enough time to dabble in some other non-wind activities with the UK crew. The craic was unbelievable! I was introduced to the South African tradition that is the classic Braai (BBQ for the rest of us) and the local beer Castle. So after a long day on the water, whether windsurfing or SUP, we’d all congregate at Bubble, Max Rowe and Muzza’s gaff and cook up a storm on the grill. Happy days. I also got the chance to climb Table Mountain, as led by the Afghan goat herder Chris Muzza Murray. I literally put my life in his hands as he led a group of eight of us to practically SCALE the mountain on all fours and try to avoid certain death with one misplaced foot and a sheer vertical drop down. Thanks for that buddy, a real highlight…! I also ventured down south to the Cape of Good Hope to sail with my room mate and general legend, Mike Archer. He earned the nickname Simple Jack from me within about 24 hours of being exposed to his absolute lack of organisational/key finding skills. But what he lacked in common sense he made up for in great laughs and mad skills behind the camera lense and the wheel of our no-power steering tin can of a car. Cheers Mike! The rest of our time was filled with venturing to rugby matches in the city’s stadium and recounting our day’s adventures in Doodles bar, nursing an ice cold beer and watching the sun set over Table Mountain. Not a bad trip, not a bad trip at all.