Modern Day Jeffreys Bay: Surfing Mecca in the Eastern Cape


The legend of South Africa’s premier surfing kingdom began many years ago in the 1960’s when the little town first became a place of pilgrimage for surfers searching for the perfect wave.

By 2008 the little town has undergone an explosion of growth. International surfing contests offering R3,000,000 in prize money see the contestants pitting their skills against the world’s best surf stars. The ocean has always been the heart of Jeffreys Bay and always will be.

Once a sleepy seaside town, Jeffreys Bay now boasts the biggest shoppig mall between Port Elizabeth and Cape Town and the town is transformed into a maze of high-rise accommodation blocks and holiday homes for the rich.

But the roots were back in the seaside shack where Tony stitched his handmade boots, Kenny shaped his nine-foot boards and Cheron had just one sewing machine. Now our surfboards are shipped across the world to England and France and Billabong Clothing has become a household name in mass-produced quality clothing.

In the early seventies the Sunday Times ran a story about the hippie communes in Jeffreys Bay, where young girls lived with surfers, having run away from their homes in Johannesburg. There was a countrywide outcry, for morals were much stricter in those days; all movies were heavily censored. This write-up in the newspaper, however, had the reverse effect of making the town even more interesting to the outside world and the holidaymakers began to triple in number.

In the 1970’s the bulldozers and tractors moved in to flatten the 60-foot sand dunes and lay down new roads. The virgin bush land, where Wavecrest is now, was carved up into plots of land for sale and the real estate business began to boom. In 1972 one could buy a beachfront plot for R2000; today the same plot would fetch R2,00,000. In a few short years multi-million rand time-share complexes sprang up like mushrooms and it became fashionable for upcountry businessmen to build holiday homes in Jeffreys Bay. For many years the pattern was unchanging: the town would be dormant out of season, but in December thousands of holiday makers would come roaring down to live it up and transform the tranquillity into a raging whirl of parties. The main beach became so crowded you could not find a place to put down your towel; Tant’ Engeltjie’s “Skulpie Hoek” was crowded with people admiring her rare and precious local shells. But by the fifth of January the town had become deserted again.

One cannot help but shed a tear of regret for the simplicity and nobility of the past, which is disappearing so fast. Many of us sorely miss the sleepy, little country dorp of Jeffreys Bay where you could escape the crowds and park under trees for days, completely undisturbed by the outside world.

However it is the same outside world that has left its indelible mark on the town. The hard days of apartheid gave way to a new generation of power and the transition period gave way to the new “rainbow nation.” These radical political changes have changed the little seaside town forever. Soon it will become a fully-fledged city.

When the visitors go home to their big cities, when they return to the grind of their daily routines amidst the violence and the heartaches of the concrete jungles, that is when they remember with wistful longing the little town of Jeffreys Bay. From Gauteng to London and New York they recount all their marvellous adventures in this South African wonderland.

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TEXT:  R Hift

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The first mail order business started in Port Elizabeth in 1910.

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Last updated:
3 October 2012 7:51