Don’t Blow Up The Spot

by Craig Jarvis February 20, 2022 4 min read

The South African coastline is rich with natural resources.

Waves are among these resources, and they draw surfers from all over the world to the country. However, there are many other resources — gold, oil, diamonds, and the lot — which draw the attention of a much less mellow crowd: international mining companies looking to turn a profit. 

Last year, Shell had a good go of seismic blasting around the Transkei [a coastal region in the southeast of South Africa]. They were then ‘fired at’ by Greenpeace before the government came to their senses and halted the messy affair with a court order, thanks in large part to campaigning by the public. 

Now, the pristine west coast of South Africa is being savaged by a marauding army of ruthless prospectors. They are systematically destroying endless stretches of beautiful beaches, waves, and local flora and fauna with giant machinery in a bid for mineral wealth with nary a single fuck given by anyone at the government level. 

The fight for the Transkei was won by the people. Photo: Nic Bothma/EPA

One of the more prominent mining companies in the area is Mineral Sands Resources, the South African subsidiary of Australia-based Mineral Commodities. Their staff has been blocking South African surfers from the beaches, which has gone largely unnoticed by the media. What has been picked up is that the former CEO, Mark Caruso, tried to sue South African lawyers and environmental activists for 14.25 million Rands (he lost). 

“Victory for activism and free speech,” said the judge when he ruled in favour of SA lawyers, activists, and social workers. 

For a platform like Stab, an essential question would be: Are there waves worth saving? The short answer is yes, absolutely. The problem is that these waves are all in the top echelon of secrecy, and to save them means to reveal them.

Outsider reactions to this scenario are often, well, ‘Fuck you.’ Which is fair. For years, even decades, those with the keys have been scoring empty waves in this area and not telling a soul. Now that these waves are under threat, we must all help? 

This bitterness might dissolve like sugar in warm tea when you start catching glimpses of the waves that need to be saved — and the local community is ready for the reveal. 

Yeah, it’s holding. Photo: Alan Van Gysen

“There is currently a slew of new mining applications, like 27 new mines or prospecting applications in the area,” said local big wave surfer Mike Schlebach. “Mineral Sands Resources have been given approval at the Oliphants River estuary. All the way from Elands Bay to the Orange River [approximately 400 km] is either mined or under the application. The Namakwa National Park and other bits and bobs aren’t under application, but otherwise, the whole coastline is pretty much open slather.” 

And the South African government is not helping. At all. 

“The government is greenlighting these projects whenever they come up. They have done nothing to stop the avalanche of applications. This is proven by the approval of applications by the Dept of Minerals and the Dept of Environment, especially around the Oliphants River Estuary. No one can understand why they have done that,” said Schlebach. 

“The best beachbreak in the area, one of the best in the world, is around the Camp 13 area, said Schlebach. “On its day, it is a very, very good wave. It’s where the Challenge was.”

That’s a lot of coastline to destroy.

Along with a few other local surfers, Schlebach founded the organisation Protect The West Coast. Last year, PTWC helped make the WSL-sanctioned Namakwa Challenge happen. Schlebach was well aware of the dichotomy of joining sides with a crew running an event in a ‘sacred zone’ but felt that the rewards far outshone the risks. 

“There really is no other way to deliver a vision of alternative uses of the West Coast,” he said. “There are so many outdoor tourism-related activities that are possible, or already occurring, that are being thwarted by the mining in the area. The magnitude is absolutely unbelievable.”

The Namakwa Challenge was the most noise that has even been made about the waves in the area, but what else is the west coast hiding? 

A source that wishes to remain anonymous — but that every Stab reader knows — reckons there’s plenty more on offer. “A world-class wave, three A-Grade waves, two slabs, one of the best beach breaks you will ever surf,” they said. And that’s just in a tiny sliver of the coastline with semi-decent accessibility. There’s plenty more to be explored. 

Ever heard of garnet, ilmenite, rutile or zicron? Those are the minerals that this is all about.

John John has surfed the area extensively, as has Kelly Slater. Twiggy knows it like the back of his hand, being part of many discovery missions. The inimitable Mason Ho has seen what the area offers. Even Mick Fanning has had a good look around and has surfed a few of the breaks. It’s a unique zone — largely unspoiled (at least not yet), but with not so much infrastructure. But when the waves turn on, it is literally unbelievable. 

Many of the set-ups are incredibly inaccessible unless you have a bunch of information. A location pin is almost minor. There are rigmaroles of security, permits, the occasional bribe, and some big waves that will bounce all but the best surfers out of the party. Finally, there’s the genuine risk of injury with no medical facilities nearby. 

The temptation of ignoring the problem because you’ve never been given directions to this zone might be strong, and fair enough. 

But what’s the alternative? Losing a slew of pristine surf spots to giant destructive machines before you even get a chance to surf them? That doesn’t sound right. 

One thing is for sure: If anyone is going to blow this spot up, it shouldn’t be a bunch of morally corrupt mining thugs.

You can get involved here. Even the simple act of signing the petition helps.

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