Graham Howes: Kitesurfing and Surfing Namibia

An African Winter

As winter approaches in Cape Town, I am repeatedly asked “So where in the world are you off to next?”. In the past there has always been a fantastical answer ‘Bali, Mauritius, Dubai”, somewhere tropical… This year my answer was simple and a lot less glamorous.

Photo: Alan Van Gysen

“I think I’ll just hang around and explore Southern Africa.”. It has to be the most underrated place for a surfer or kiter to travel to, with more point breaks and lagoons than anyone could wish for. Offshore wind in the morning and cross-shore winds in the afternoon… you just need to be willing to spend many endless hours in a car. And with that mindset I was able to say yes to some great African adventures. First up was a photographic trip with my ‘instafamous’ brother @craighowes to shoot a campaign for Amazon Kindle #havekindlewilltravel. so we packed our bags and booked a 4×4 with roof top tents and hit the road. Stop 1- Blyde River Canyon, Stop 2: Kruger National Park, Stop 3: Mozambique, Stop 4: Kosi Bay, Stop 5: Durban. With a total of 3000 km in 6 days, we had our work cut out for us.

Ok, so this wasn’t a kite exploration trip.. it was a chance to get out of Cape Town and see a part of South Africa and Mozambique that hasn’t really been explored with a kite. During the first week I didn’t even pump a kite up. We did however, climb enormous tree’s, hung out with wild cheetahs (one stole my GoPro out my hand), canoed through hippo infested rivers, drank lots of R&R’s (rum and raspberry) and got lost for an entire night in the Mozambique jungle trying to navigate with the stars. I did however manage to get a 12m kite up for a 20 minute session in Mozambique with just enough time to snap a drone shot. It was just awesome. For so many trips I’ve been chasing the wind, chasing forecasts, chasing swells. It’s always hectic and can often leave you feeling really disappointed.

Having said that, that we arrived at the airport, 6 days and over 30 hours, behind the wheel later, we got the shots for the campaign. But I was left with this deep seated sense of yearning after seeing so much potential and so many world class kite spots. Then I bumped into a surfer who would send my world into a dilemma and my head in a spin, with that one question, “Have you seen the swell about to hit bru?” and with that I extended my ticket by another week and waved goodbye to my brother as he boarded the plane back to Cape Town.

I sat In my car on Google Earth mapping out potential spots (lagoons and point breaks) along the coast, and with friends’ recommendations from Instagram posts, I headed in the direction of the Wild Coast, via some popular surf breaks in Kwazulu Natal.

My destination was a friends spot on the Umtamvuna River (The Border Post) where he had set up the Ultimate playground including a 2.0 cable park, a blob, mini ramp, a wake boat, as well as 2 point breaks and lagoons within a 15 minute drive.

I’ve never been one to kite alone, I never really saw the point in it, as it’s more fun riding with mates. But on this particular trip I found myself discovering remote spots with not a single soul in sight. No cars, no beach access, no humans, just me and the wind. And in this particular spot a sandbar separating the lagoon from the ocean, surrounded by banana trees and cane fields, and some fallen trees in the water, made for a perfect and fun session. After the previous week of photographing 24/7 I had kept my camera packed away until now. Knowing that I hadn’t yet got any kiting footage (besides the drone shot in Mozam) and knowing that the kite mags were expecting a travel story from this trip, I totally kooked out. I figured that I could take my GoPro (with a half charged battery and a 32gb memory card) and strategically place it during my session and make the 1st ever selfie video / photo article without holding the camera. (I shot on 1080 so I could screen grab the video which would be adequate quality for the magazine article) This particular session will go down for me as the best session ever, with no one to hear my laughs and screams of joy or to be rescued when I was hanging from a banana tree. It seemed to amplify my every emotion and I felt like a kid trying a sport for the first time. (I do not recommend anyone kite alone, it’s dangerous and quite frankly stupid)

To be honest the rest of that trip was chasing waves and at this time of the year (April) the winds blow offshore all morning and you can get 2 or 3 surfs in before 11am, waking up at 5am. Each spot was better than the last, surfing in boardshorts (in winter) with endless barrels and a session with large pods of dolphins, only to come out of the water to pick some fresh banana’s before I paddled back out for session number 2. But Cape Town was calling and I had to get back to my overflowing inbox after being ‘off the grid’ for 2 weeks.

Winter in Cape Town is different, I barely touch a kite when I’m home.. I surf, drink lots of red wine and catch up with stuff I’m too busy to do in summer.. I love it, but I still get itchy feet… so about a month later I found myself back at Cape Town International airport, this time about to board a tiny 37 seater plane.. Too bad my boards wouldn’t make it onto the same plane as me, they were lying on the tarmac next to the plane and I was told that none of the bags (including Jordy Smith’s) would be traveling with us as there was no space on the plane for the surfboard coffins. I finally arrived in Namibia, over 24 hours later and 4 trips back and forth to the airport, the bags finally arrived, an hour before sunset, leaving not enough time to session the best day of the forecast!!

So why Namibia? Well, apart from the constant stench of rotting seals, the imminent threat of great white sharks and the bone crushing heavy waves, it is undisputedly the best barreling left point break in the world. If you have seen any video’s of this wave you’ll know exactly what I mean. 2 kilometers of dredging barrels breaking on knee deep sand.. Someone told me that I would need to see a psychologist after surfing this wave.. Boy were they right, it totally blew mind. Faster, heavier and shallower than everyone had tried to explain. To put it in perspective the wave runs down the 2km point at about 25 knots, so if you want to have a chance of making the wave with enough wind in your kite, you’ll need over 30 knots and then you’d still have to constantly loop your kite to keep it from falling out of the sky while you stall for the barrel. Granted, kiters have kited this wave before, but they all are 10m in front of the barrel and I didn’t fly this far to only do turns on the face of a barreling wave. The only footage I saw was of Hawaiian, Patri McLaughlin and that footage was enough to scare and excite me equally as much.

Whenever you plan a kite mission, there are risks and rewards. This particular mission would usually be considered a fail, I missed the golden day, lost my bags, slept on floors, waited around airports, when I should have been hunting barrels. But life throws you curveballs and you just have to knock it out of the park. There was only enough wind for an hours’ session, so i went balls to the wall and got stupidly barrelled at the end of the point, (long after my gopro batteries had died). Instead I ended up surfing this wave all day and got the best wave of my life.. Hands down.. And it made the trip worth every cent and has given me a new excitement to travel to new waves, in the search to get barrelled on my kite.

So as I write this I’m back in Cape Town and won’t have enough time to dry my wetsuit before I have to pack it again as I make my way to California for the Chapter One Movie Premiere… but as I drive to the airport, I see the first glimpse of the summer in Cape Town, the tablecloth is building above Table Mountain, the South Easter has turned on.. I can’t help but think, I might just miss the first summer downwinder with the Dirty Habits crew… this will have to be the last trip for me. There is no place in the world like summer in Cape Town! And I don’t want to miss a second of it!

‘We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us’