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Shark Island…

by Andy Davis / 22.05.2009

Chris Bertish is unsound. Unhinged some might say. One of South Africa’s highest profile big wave surfers has made a name for himself by consistently pushing the envelope. Not content to take off late, backdoor sections as big as suburban homes and pull into huge gaping close-out maws, Chris also likes to be the first oke to do something. Remember he was the first guy to paddle into Jaws / Peahi in Hawaii and the first to paddle big Ghost Trees in California. He pretty much single-handedly re-established modern big wave surfing in the UK when he paddled out at the Cribber to catch some close-outs, and made the front page news. Then he was the first guy to catch a wave on an SUP at Dungeons. There’s a picture of him in his office, burning Simon Louw and streaking across a huge backlit wall that looks ready to close out. He tells me he got into the barrel and tried to touch the roof with his paddle but he couldn’t reach. Then it closed down on him. His pioneering big wave pursuits have led him as far as Easter Island and as close as Whale Rock, off Robben Island. Always looking for something new to ride. Well that’s Mr Bertish.

So it comes as no surprise to us at Mahala that on that recent big swell to hit Cape Town this ladt weekend, after surfing dodgy, lumpy Dungeons bombs in the morning he raced across the Peninsula and went to check out a couple of waves on a particularly dangerous triangle of pinnacles just South of Seal Island. Home to what local shark expert Chris Fallows believes is the most active Great White breeding ground in the world.

sharkisland2
Dave Smith gets shacked… not snacked

Anyone who got wind of the idea, tried to talk him out of it. Not because the waves were particularly dangerous. The waves were inconsequential really. It was all about Johnny. While they were doing a recce of the first spot they saw 3 feet of fin chasing two seal pups right in the channel where the one wave would end. Lurking. Waiting for a man-size nibble. But not to be deterred, Chris and tow partner Dave Smith gave the spot a break for twenty minutes and went to check the waves breaking on the other pinnacle. The second spot was a left and aptly got dubbed Bertie’s Landing. It slabs up and bends around a gnarly series of exposed rock slabs and in Chris’ words, “breaks very hard, with evil intent before it dissipates in the deep water”. Chris was the only one to get towed into this thing because no one else wanted any part of it.

Shark Island
Chris Bertish, full-on loon, gets slung into another one…

He got 3 or 4 before calling it quits and they decided to head back to the other reef with the more realistic A-frame peak, they dubbed Sharkbait. In order to minimise their time in the water, Chris put three big loops in the tow rope and basically launched from the back of the ski. He got slung into five or six waves before trying to convince tow partner Dave Smith that it wasn’t that sketchy. Dave had a go, but after snagging four or five of the set waves heaving over that slab, Dave yelped, “stop, stop, no more! I think I’m going to have a flatline, my heart’s beating so fast”. So they called it quits and came home alive. According to Chris, “any surf where you come away with all your limbs still attached is a good session.”

Read the full story at Zig Zag surf mag

All photos © Richard Johnson

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