St Helena barrels out as a surf destination

a surfer on level water with a wave breaking behind him in a mass of foam, four times his own height

Surfer Jamie o’Brien probably won’t be heading for Sandy Bay. Picture: Susánica Tam

All hopes of St Helena becoming the Bondi Beach of the mid-Atlantic have been dashed. Not that anyone on St Helena thought it was ever going to be a surfer’s paradise.

An article on The Surfer’s Path – spotted by Swindolena Saint Aneka Williams – declares what the Saints already knew: there is no mystical barrelling right hand point break on St Helena.

“When we arrived after 12 days at sea, we almost fell over ourselves getting off the boat, into a rental car, Sitka boards on the roof, Globe sandals on, and driving to the beach,” says writer Bryson, tongue in cheek.

The first requirement is waves. In the South Atlantic, they’re born in the wild tempests off Patagonia, says Bryson: “In the case of St Helena, the swells have almost 4000km to organize themselves into a perfectly groomed long period ground swell.” As any surfer could tell you, that means the waves are consistently far apart.

Where the island suffers from a lack of planning and foresight by tourism bosses, though, is in bathymetry. They completely failed to ensure a curved section of reef, beach or coral for waves to travel along.

“The slope up to the reef cannot be too steep or too shallow, it must be just right,” says Bryson. “St Helena rises like a tower straight out of the South Atlantic.”

Interesting footnote: St Helena is only six miles wide at the surface, but about 80 miles across at its base on the ocean floor. But that’s a long way down. Even so, some bays offered possibilities – but the wind didn’t look good.

But surfers are determined. “We were going to find surf no matter what anyone told us.”

Click here to find out how Bryson and friends got on – and also see some fine shots of surfing.

About Simon Pipe

I'm a former print and BBC journalist, now teaching journalism at university. I run St Helena Online, a news website about the remote British island in the South Atlantic at as well as other sites related to journalism teaching.
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