(Publisher's Note: Our biggest apologies
for the delay of this Letter from Africa. Shannon sent
it to us over a month ago and we didn't get it posted
until today. Sorry Shannon...and sorry to you readers
November 29, 2007
Dispatch No. 5: ODE TO SURFING
Bon zu, Bon apre migi, or Bon
(Good morning, afternoon, or night- whenever this e-mail
Yep, it's time to dedicate one of my novels to the most
radical sport of wave riding. Long overdue in fact.
Let's face it, the Seychelles don't exactly rank up
there with elite surfing destinations like Indonesia,
Tahiti, or the North Shore. In fact, I had serious doubts
there was any surf to be had here at all. I think I
was overly pessimistic as a defense mechanism against
sheer and utter disappointment at finding no surf whatsoever.
A glimmer of hope emerged when I met Johan, one of the
two South African pilots. He is from Wilderness (yes
that is actually the name of his hometown), and is a
40-something-year-old hang glide, kite board, and Microlight
instructor, who also happens to surf. He has passed
six whale shark seasons flying for David and the MCSS,
and has accumulated a bit of local surfing knowledge
during those years.
I perked up a little at learning this and my fear of
losing all ability to stand up on a surf board started
to fade. I began to wonder why I had worried at all,
after all the Seychelles are composed of 115 islands-
the odds were in my favor. The inner islands of the
Seychelles, 41 of them to be exact, are unique in that
they form the only granitic archipelago in the world.
Johan enlightened me as to the dynamics of the swell-ology
around Mahe. Although plunked in nearly the middle of
the Indian Ocean, most South West swell is blocked by
Madagascar, so we would often head to the South East
side of the island and try our luck there.
My first two sessions were rather unsuccessful and left
Johan boardless and sand-locked as he only had one board
and was gracious enough to lend it to me. The waves
were pretty much closing out 4 inches above urchin dotted
reef. Promptly after catching my third wave, I ended
up flat on my back scraping along the reef nearly all
the way back to shore. As I had miraculously avoided
becoming an urchin pin-cushion, I figured it was time
to call it a day and not tempt fate any further.
The next opportunity to go surfing something changed,
which was very heartening. A Kiwi named Glen, one of
Johan's flat mates, and their French friend Aurelie
both came along too. I instantly liked Aurelie. She
body boarded but had an extra surf board that I could
borrow during my time on Mahe (did I mention I instantly
liked her?). A solid swell had shown up, and we were
off to check out a new spot.
We pulled up to a stunning bay that dwarfed the distant
reefbreak peeling left and right at least half a mile
offshore. We were in for a long paddle. The distance
actually seemed to grow as we continued paddling, but
once there it was clear the effort was well worth it.
What followed was one of those rare sessions that is
forever etched onto the folds of my brain. Just the
four of us trading long rides, gliding over an aquarium
full of curious fish and coral, every now and then being
enveloped into that sweet spot, where the wave allows
you to enter its belly and feel time suddenly halt.
Of course it took me a while to get the hang of the
place. I spent the entire first half of the session
stuck on the inside, taking waves on the head, wondering
"How did I end up back here AGAIN, wasn't I JUST
here a few seconds ago?"
Over my four years of surfing, I've learned that I'm
unusual in my preference for fast, large, shifty beach
breaks over the more popular consistent reef or point
breaks. I can only attribute this to learning how to
surf at Sands during my years at UC Santa Barbara as
well as back home in beach-break-blessed Oceanside.
That is why I'm always getting caught inside on reef
breaks- well that's my alibi anyway.
I was able to surf this spot twice, the second time
just as surreal as the first with a little less time
spent on the inside, thankfully. Then the swell left
as quickly as it came, forcing me to get my daily saltwater-fix
by free diving, scuba diving, or doing some long distance
ocean swimming (not bad alternatives, but not quite
on the same plateau as surfing).
When whale shark season ended (a few weeks back now),
I had the chance to do a little island hopping and found
a place where I could spend the rest of my days. La
Digue is the third largest island in the Seychelles,
but being on it versus being on Mahe is like swimming
in a lake versus the Pacific- I loved it. Everyone gets
around by bike or ox-cart, and with a brisk pace and
half an inkling you could walk around its entirety and
be back in time for lunch.
The best part about La Digue is that it has, yes you
guessed it, surf! There are three beaches connected
to one another by footpaths crossing steep hills and
each glorious one had waves. The first beach was the
most exposed, picking up swell from nearly all directions
and getting the biggest waves. Framed by immense black
granite slabs, the beach appears to be wedged between
two formidable bookends.
I never made it past this first beach, I had a quick
look at the others, but surfing-wise there was no need
to go anywhere else. After biking uphill and downhill
along the rainforest-shadowed path with surfboard tucked
under my arm, I reached this first beach. My jaw dropped,
I threw down my rental bike and hit the water paddling.
Shoulder-high nuggets were rolling in over soft sand
and holding long enough for me to race down the line
before they closed out. Once again no one was around!
This time I was really alone. I surfed all day long
and was satisfyingly crispy and sore to show for it
My second day there, the swell had gotten bigger and
after a solo morning session, some locals made their
way out in the afternoon to join in the fun. At first
I thought, "Finally, it's about time." I was
beginning to suspect that NO Seychelloise surfed as
I hadn't seen a single surfboard, excluding Johan and
Aurelie's, since the day I arrived in the Seychelles.
Then my second thought, was "Great, now I won't
be getting any waves."
After receiving a few surprised looks, I was beamed
by quite possibly the friendliest smiles I've ever seen,
followed by shouts of encouragement and arm waves to
catch the next big one rolling in out the back. My second
thought melted away. As I dropped in, it was replaced
by a third thought, "I'm never leaving this place."
Thanks for making it through another edition! I miss
everyone as usual, and getting a message from home always
makes my day!
Love and prayers going out to you
About "Letters From Africa -
Nine Months with Shannon Switzer": JettyGirl photographer
Shannon Switzer left a few weeks ago on the trip of
a lifetime. Although not necessarily a surf trip per
se, we think her adventure is a story well-worth sharing
with others. Before she departed, a few surf companies
jumped on board with sticker donations for Shannon's
trip. Her plan is to pass stickers out to the kids she
meets as she travels throughout Africa. Special thanks
to all who answered our call for stickers: Transworld
on Water, Mutiny
Media, Leucadia Surf Shop, and Dal Sarcos. The kids
are going to be stoked! If you or your company is interested
in donating stickers to Shannon, please contact me at
email@example.com --Chris Grant
Shannon Switzer surfing
Palm Tree Lineup
Little Ladigue Left
Grande Anse from above
All Photos ©ShannonSwitzer.com