But there’s much more to South African surfing, and the real gems show up once you escape the most popular beaches.
From emerging towns along the Garden Route, to rugged communities of the Wild Coast, and chill spots just outside Cape Town, South Africa is bursting with excellent places to catch a wave – and, of course, there are two oceans at your disposal. Here’s our pick of the best lesser-known spots.
The Wild Coast is home to some of South Africa’s must-visit undiscovered surf spots – including Mdumbi, an isolated beach in the rural Transkei region. When conditions are good, its famous wave can run as long as 1km. This is a simple, protected and secluded beach, far from the masses. Without many modern amenities, some surfers come for a few days and stay for weeks.
Mdumbi offers easy access to other beaches of the Wild Coast. Advanced surfers can find their way to Ntlonyane and Mapuzi. Need to reconnect with civilisation? Head for Coffee Bay, a popular backpacker spot where the parties last all night and the waves are gentle enough for novices. Take advantage of your time on the Wild Coast by getting to know the friendly Xhosa community that calls this region home. You’ll get a glimpse of African life as it’s been lived for centuries.
Mdumbi Backpackers offers budget accommodation in traditional Xhosa-style huts just steps from the beach. Stay longer and they’ll show you their projects helping the local community – as well as unusual surf spots yet to be discovered by the masses.
Highlight: Mdumbi’s seclusion ensures that you’ll see more wildlife than on more developed beaches. Keep your eyes peeled for pods of dolphins or even whales in the distance. If you’re really lucky, you’ll see wild horses roaming the beach.
How to Get There: Mdumbi is a 4.5-hour drive from East London, which you can fly to from Cape Town or Johannesburg with SA Express from £100 one-way. The ride from Coffee Bay is a 23km journey over a rough gravel road. Mdumbi Backpackers offers a shuttle service from Coffee Bay or the Mthatha/ Umtata Baz Bus stop.
Victoria Bay, just south of George in the heart of the Garden Route, has long been known as a surfers’ pit stop halfway between Cape Town and J-Bay. Flanked by a coastal forest and suitable for all levels of surfers, Vic Bay has grown into a standalone destination guided by fiercely loyal locals.
The waves are consistent, and the scene is quiet and serene most of the time, but expect busier days when the surf is good, especially in the summer. Novice surfers paddle in slowly; more advanced surfers jump straight off the rocks.
Vic Bay Surfari offers budget lodging just along the beach along with surf camps and trips up the coast to other hot Garden Route surf spots. With a location so close to the Garden Route, Vic Bay is perfectly situated for further exploration. Of course, there’s always surfing in Mossel Bay or Buffalo Bay – but check out the adventures on dry land in Knysna or Sedgefield as well.
Highlight: In a country known for its incredible natural beauty, Vic Bay is especially stunning. Surrounded by cliffs and lush green forest with mountains in the distance, this may be the most beautiful surf spot in all of South Africa.
How to Get There: Victoria Bay is a 15-minute drive from George, which you can fly direct to from Johannesburg or Cape Town with SA Express from £75 one way.
Elands Bay – also known by its Afrikaans name, Elaandsbaai – is a small, quiet town located on the Western Cape’s remote northwest coast: a zone relatively unknown to backpacker masses.
Elands Bay is a small town, with little more than a few small stores and places to stay. But while it may be quiet here, it’s not obscure. Surfers from around the world make the journey to Elands Bay to experience the world-class left break. The surf is at its best from October to March, when summer winds create ideal conditions. Still, thanks to the chilly waters of the Atlantic Ocean, you’ll need your wetsuit year-round.
You won’t find endless parties in Elands Bay, nor surf camps or schools, and the town is becoming a popular family travel destination. But the core of this area is still surfing – and, when it’s good, you’ll have to fight for your space among locals as well as weekend-tripping Capetonians.
While cheap accommodation can be difficult to find in this tiny town, Vensterklip offers simple self-catering cottages and campsites 5km from the waves. With lots more surf spots a short drive away, including Sours and Standfontein, this is one place where it’s best to have a car.
Highlight: Good luck finding a better left break – Elands Bay has one of the best on the African continent, making it a must-surf spot in South Africa. This wave is ideal for intermediate to advanced surfers.
How to get there: Elands Bay is best accessed by driving. Head north from Cape Town on the 7 until Piketberg and keep going on the 366 until you hit the ocean. The journey should take about three hours.
Do you have a death wish? Dungeons is where you go for the most epic waves in Africa – in fact, on the planet. This is definitely not for beginners.
Dungeons, located in Hout Bay, just outside Cape Town, is only accessible by boat and only active in the winter months. Here you’ll find icy swells of four to 14 metres caused by waves coming from Antarctica and the South Atlantic.
It’s divided into two sections: the slab, the easier of the two; and the 2.5, the one whose waves are always pictured in “extreme surfing” photos. Don’t expect much of a vibe here – few surfers make it into these waves, and most are content to simply watch from a boat.
For nearby budget accommodation, check out Hout Bay Backpackers, where you can rent boards and check out the more humane beaches. Hout Bay, just minutes from Cape Town, has a suburban, small-town atmosphere.
Highlight: Do you really need to ask? It doesn’t get any more extreme than this. Between the enormous waves, freezing cold water and fellow maniacs surfing the waves, this is something only professionals should consider. But what a badge of glory.
How to get there: Hout Bay is a short drive from Cape Town. Dungeons is accessible by boat or jet skis leaving from Hout Bay Harbour. The journey takes about 15 minutes.
Fly from London Heathrow to Johannesburg from £522, or to Cape Town from £654, both via Dubai, with Emirates.
More bad-ass sports
Sick of surf? Never! But if you’re looking to recharge your batteries with a land-based adventure, try these:
Crocodile cage diving, Oudtshoorn
Get into a cage halfway submerged in water as crocodiles slink around you. Cango Wildlife Ranch, one of the few places in the world that offers this unique wildlife encounter, charges from £22pp for 15-minute crocodile cage dives.
Bungee jumping in Stormsriver
This isn’t just any bungee jump – this is the world’s highest commercial bungee jump! Not a bad achievement to add to your resume. Leap from the Stormsriver Bridge into the forest as the river thunders ominously below. Face Adrenalinoffers jumps from £50pp.
Blokarting in Cape Town
Speeding along Muizenberg Beach, harness the wind and use it to power your own personal sailboat on wheels. Sail circles around your friends without touching the water. Blokart Muizenberg offers 30-minute blokarting sessions from £6.65pp.
Photos: Cango Wildlife Ranch, Thinkstock, Whitsundays Jetski Tours