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letters from africa, nine months with shannon switzer Letters from Africa - Nine Months with Shannon Switzer

jettygirl photographer shannon switzer (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 too.)

November 29, 2007

Dispatch No. 5: ODE TO SURFING

Bon zu, Bon apre migi, or Bon sua!
(Good morning, afternoon, or night- whenever this e-mail finds you!)

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 that night.

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 all!




Shannon's Previous Letters: Bachelorhood and the BBC - 2007.11.13
  She Sells Sea Shells - 2007.10.23
  Unexpected Flight Delays Lead to Unexpectedly Good Times - 2007.10.05
  Whale Sharks, Sea Turtles, and Chimps- OH MY! - 2007.10.01



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 SURF, Walking 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 --Chris Grant

whale shark under brilliant light
Perfect Reef

underwater view of whale shark
Ladigue Left

whale shark food
Shannon Switzer surfing

whale shark silhouette
Palm Tree Lineup

whale shark and friends
Little Ladigue Left

divers swim in for a close up view of whale sharks
Grande Anse

airborne  view of mahe
Grande Anse from above

mahe from the air
Turqoise Palms

airborne  view of mahe

mahe from the air
Peter Pan

All Photos ©


Photo: Gabe Rogel


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