and walked away from big-wave tow-surfing
The Bellows Project
In 2005 the hunt was on for the biggest waves in the world, with several awards – The Billabong XXL Awards and the Billabong Odyssey project – as well as various other big wave contests like the Red Bull Big Wave Africa, in place.
Quiksilver was chasing a number of these awards and they had the pedigreed surfers to do it, to go out there and find the biggest waves and ride them.
Apart from Dungeons in Cape Town hosting their Big Wave event, there was a positive sighting of another wave in Cape Town that had been nicknamed The Bellows, and that broke somewhere near Cape Point.
Quiksilver South Africa's big-wave rider was Jason Ribbink, and he had been taking on some big wave adventures with his partner-in-crime, WSL commentator Gigs Cilliers. They were joined by a crew of big wave mongrels as never seen before in Cape Town including Peter Mel, Ross Clarke – Jones, Tom Carroll, Gary Elkerton and Anthony Tashnick. The project was to find and surf this 'Bellows' wave and to document it for a Quiksilver movie.
There was much secrecy around the mission, as there were certain by-laws that were proving tricky and some permits that were needed that were challenging to obtain at such short notice.
They scored, they got the clips, and they got the hell out of dodge before anyone even knew what had happened, and the results were shown in the Horoscopes movie and on the Tommy and RCJ's Storm Chasers channel.
Years later, around 2012 – 13, I bumped into Gary Elkerton at the Turtle Bay Resort in Hawaii and requested an interview. He had just released his book, and it was a good time to connect. Although I was keen on chatting about his book, which is a rollicking yarn, I wanted to hear about Cape Town and what went down on that trip. This is from that interview, previously unpublished.
CJ: You've had some good times in South Africa in the past.
Kong: Yeah, I won the Gunston in Durban.
What year was that?
Around '91 or '92.
Can you remember the contest?
It was running down the bank, and I was on a mission that year and I was on the back end of my career. I also surfed in that one in Cape Town at Kommetjie…
The Spur Surfabout?
That's it. I nearly drowned at Kommetjie. I nearly drowned in the weed there. I also surfed Crayfish Factory. Ooh, mate, there are some nasty waves down there.
I missed those early days in JBay when Occy won it, and that's because I went over and found this place called Cave Rock. I fell in love with it, and I couldn't believe that there was something better than that.
Then the big wave stuff in Cape Town…
In Cape Town, we did the Cape of Storms project with Quiksilver. I got invited down because I was pretty good at driving jet skis. The idea was to tow this wave at the end of the Cape, which had never been done before. We waited for over a month to get it because the weather conditions changed so quickly. When we did it, and we had to launch, two things happened that were amazing. When we arrived, we had seven jet skis, two big Zodiacs and a helicopter. That very morning an ab diver got hit by a 12-foot Great White.
Right there at the launch. He was just out there, spearing fish actually, and he got taken. And they had the whole area taped off and the cops are pulling out pieces of wetsuit rubber, and we're gearing up to go out to this wave, and everyone is freaking out.
Not the ideal prepping situation.
No mate. It took hours to get ready because we had to get miked up, and we knew the weather pattern was going to change, and it was our last window of opportunity. So, there's this big rock, a big round rock right beside the launch there, and I've climbed on top of this rock, and I'm big. I've got like 2 life jackets on, because I wanted to come up, and I was just massive. So I was doing the full King Kong thing, and next minute these fucking baboons come out of the bushes.
There are plenty of those at Cape Point
There were so many of them. There was this one big alpha male and he's over there like 'aaargh' and snarling at me and he's got his teeth out, and I was like, fuck this, and I headed back to the car. This baboon climbs onto the rock and he's sniffing right where I was on the rock. Tom and Ross just couldn't fucken believe it, right. The cops are like, they've fucked off, they're gone, and we're on our own. Then it got into the back of the car, so I bailed out and ran, and it just tore the shit out of the car. There was no food, so he just tore the car to pieces and just took off. We're all just standing there, like, 'what the fuck just happened?' vibe and we're like, yeah alright, we're going out to that wave on the Cape now.
How was it?.
It was heavy. The waves were so big that they couldn't get the zodiacs in to film, so it was only the helicopter angle.
Sounds extremely heavy.
Yeah. I gave up big wave surfing and tow-surfing after that. Done and dusted. Dead half-seals were floating around. I remember that it was just the stench of death out there, mate. We were towed into a wave that was inside, and that wave was 30 feet.
I remember looking beyond it, and about 3 kays out this thing detonated, and it was peeling, and I went to Ross and I said," Did you see what just happened out there?" We both looked, and it did it again, an absolute monster, and he said: "Righteo, let's go."
RCJ is one very strange chap.
Yeah, so, he gets one, and he's frothing, totally out of control, and then he's saying, "Give me the cord," and I'm saying, "Get on the fucking boogieboard mate, there's sharks!" So then he's on the cord and waiting for the pull, and I see this shadow and I see what looks like a Great White coming up behind him and I pulled him out of the water!
It sounds wild. A lot wilder than the standard big wave paddle stuff that was going down at the time.
Yeah, you have no idea. We were in the midst of this wild shit, and no one even really knew. I had a moment though, and I just pulled the pin on the big stuff then and there. You know, I thought about my daughter, and I have much respect for the guys who do that, but that was the end of that road for me.
Looking back, it is a freak situation, with sharks and giant waves at the same time.
Well, looking back, it was all weird that day. Out there, in between those massive pulses, these giant weeds would rise out the water like about 10 feet, and it was like a forest, dead set. I think because it was so big and such a strong period that the normal lift was exaggerated. There was just really, really weird stuff going on.
Maybe it was like a sign to you?
There were a couple of signs that day mate, and I got 'em, loud and clear.