Earlier this year i went to Namibia with an epic crew including myself, Josh Redman, Edward Millatt, Andre and Marc Botha as well as Trish Lynn. It was just one of those trips where everything seemed to work out including the waves. I asked my good friend Edward to write a couple of words on the place as he used to live there and has been more than most.
”It has been weeks now and I’m still tripped out by the Donkey swell. Truth is; it has been eight years of annual tube anxiety and stoke alike. I still find it hard to believe that this little industrial town in the middle of Namibia would yield a wave capable of drawing souls from every corner of our planet. The fact that I lived in this place around the turn of the millennium is even more bizarre to me. Donkey bay was actually a bay at this time. Not the beautiful straight sand spit that grew and closed the bay, forming a lagoon currently situated behind the wave. I haven’t been able to figure out exactly when the wave started working but my money is on 2002 as the spit joined the bottom of the beach around this time. This is based on my limited access to aerial photos and reports from a great friend I made while living there.
Considering that Cory Lopez’s viral skeleton bay video was posted in 2008. It makes me sick at the thought of how many empty waves have fired off and drained furiously down the point without a mortal in sight. I kick myself sometimes for not realising what my friend was describing to me. Though I don’t think any one of us realised what was occurring on those couple of perfect days a year when it all lined up. Not surprising considering the best stuff often happens under a thick blanket of fog. Needless to say I was there for the first swell I thought would be good the next year.
I flew in for what I thought at the time would be a big enough swell to bend in. Having very little knowledge of swell direction, period, height and wind angles etc. But wow, I remember standing in the fog and watching a head high barrel drain past us so elegantly it was surreal. That to me will remain a special day. A handful of guys getting perfect waves and getting driven up the point after each drift down. Lifting has now been banned, as it kills the flow in the lineup. I got one crazy pit that trip. I ran up to the closest and only car at the bottom of the point, presumably to ask if what had just happened was real, only to find a couple having a good shag. I think I just had a chuckle and ran up the point in my newfound wave euphoria.
Since then I feel like I have got to know that strip of beach better each year. Learning to work with the crazy rip, pick better waves and paddle in harder. Walking up that point as many times as your body allows and putting yourself back in the running for one of those crazy kegs that crack all the way down the point. I maintain that you can hear a good one thundering before you even see it.
It’s the greatest surfing lottery of all time and the more you play the more likely you are to win.
The wave requires full commitment in every respect. Over the years it’s forced me to get fitter, lose weight and come back to try better my last ‘best wave of my life’ which is now very much a cliché on the beach. From the food you eat, clothing you bring, the equipment you choose and finally when trying to catch one of those deranged wormholes. Failing full commitment, it will quite literally mow you down. Merrily winding its way down the point without you. Often mowing down multiple riders fancying their luck along its way. It must have broken a thousand boards already in its short life. Occasionally though someone will tame one for as long as their mind or the point allows. That place is just harsh in every way.
Unless you entirely lack the ability to manoeuvre your craft of choice through a heavily barreling wave, you will get the best tube ride of your life here. Strangely that might not leave you feeling as satisfied as you might have hoped. Well at least not when you’ve seen most surf ridings royalty, get some of the rides of their lives. The evidence of which is archived in GoPro clips and land filmed edits gone viral over the years. Without a GoPro in your mouth you are the odd one out these days. The place can be as demorsalizing as it is inspirational. As for most things in life it is best to compete with yourself at this wave. I try every year to get a handful of waves that feel are monumental or on par with the best I’ve had. You really only need one crazy one though.
I think of this first trip in 2016 and how the decision process has evolved.
Tracking swells over a week out. Observing the character of storms and swells on charts. Monitoring the exact degrees of the incoming swell and wind. Comparing them to past trips. Hypothesizing what you might encounter on that beach. The results have been everything from splendid to down right plain scary, everything from 4’ to 12’(Most peoples worst nightmare). I’ve always said it should have a different system to measure its size/power. It’s almost as if with every foot it grows it increases exponentially with power. Which in simple science means 12ft equates to what can only be described as a nuclear powered cement mixer.
Good waves, the special ones, are a sheer wall of water folding clean in half. A chain reaction lasting 2km that varies in speed and intensity. Often it becomes very large and unplayable towards the bottom of the point. The grower either lets you out straight onto the beach if you are lucky. Or closes you out at the end of the spit. The latter results in a very unpleasant rip ride post your nuclear detonation. Leading you into a straight hander that seems to enjoy relentlessly kneading surfers. Making it near impossible to reach the shore at times. SHABOOMS we have fondly come to call her. Best to be avoided on bigger swells.
The panic that ensues the few days prior a swell event has become a global fever.
6 hourly swell updates, deciding to book tickets, organizing 4×4 vehicles, finding accommodation or getting in your car and driving the +- 2000km an option for South African’s. There is always huge hype. However, only once or twice can I remember a freak show crowd littered with surfing’s greats. When it is solid it will regulate any size crowd, you really have to want it! Skeleton bay had its peak in popularity a few years back now. It just happened to co-inside with some mega west swells. Which almost eroded the spit away one year. If it disappears back into the ocean what will those of us that have drunk from its holy grail do? I like to take comfort in knowing that I’ve returned each year, these days more than once if I can. Just to know that I was part of it, that it was real if it does vanish. For the moment the beauty is still alive and well. Ever finite, ready to produce the next ‘best wave of my life.’ A pursuit I plan to continue.”
By Edward Millatt
A short video of the waves we had