First Session at Jeffreys Bay

Matt Rode

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Updated 17d ago

Our First Session series peels back the legend on the first surfers at various famous spots from across the globe. We've already covered Teahupoo, Waimea, Anchor Point, Cloudbreak and Bali but let us know in the comments if there is anywhere else you'd like us to shine a spotlight on.

The right hand pointbreak at Jeffreys Bay has become ubiquitous within surf culture and lore, and the town’s very name is now synonymous with right-hand point break perfection. But decades before J-Bay found its way onto the world tour, another nearby wave was anointed the best pointbreak in the world—and as it turns out, the entire thing was a hoax.

The Cape St. Francis section of Bruce Brown’s Endless Summer was a pivotal moment in surf media. Not only did it drum up more hype than any wave that had come before, but it was also the first mainstream use of editing to create a blatant, intentional lie—a strategy that the surf media would soon come to perfect.

Spot guide: J-Bay

There's been many greats surfing J-Bay but perhaps Connor Coffin is the best modern display of what's possible here.

According to Brown’s narration, Mike Hynson and Robert August laboured across sand dunes for hours and had run out of water when they finally stumbled upon the ocean—and the most perfect waist-high wave anyone had ever seen.

It peeled for miles, broke 300 days per year, and was so far from civilisation that it had never been surfed.

In reality, after the boys checked into a beachfront hostel in Cape St. Francis, Hynson wandered a mile down the beach to check a spot he’d seen breaking in the distance, and they ended up surfing it for 90 minutes before it went flat—and stayed flat for the rest of their trip.

Our swell consistency chart for JBay, showing the best time to go.

Our swell consistency chart for JBay, showing the best time to go.

As it turned out, there was no death-defying sand dune expedition, the wave only broke a couple of days per year, and even its length was exaggerated by cutting-edge (for its time) editing.

Cape St. Francis was the biggest lie in surfing, and yet it didn’t really matter, because when Endless Summer hit theaters, it essentially kick-started the surf travel movement, which quickly turned into a global industry.

Ironically—and unbeknownst to Brown and company—the world’s actual best right-hand point break was less than 30 kilometers away, in a small town named for Captain Jeffreys.

When scurvy broke out on his cargo ship in the 1840s, he came ashore in the bay, and quickly realised the area’s potential. Jeffreys built a primitive port and the first house in the bay (later known as the “White House”), and over the years “Jeffreysbaie” grew into a bustling town and trade centre—one that just happened to have a consistent, freight-training, mile-long cobblestone pointbreak reeling right off the bricks.

Surf travellers flocked to Cape St. Francis in the late 1960s, feverish with anticipation and Endless Summer hype, but quickly discovered that Brown’s dream wave was little more than a clever mirage.

Even at mini-scale, J-Bay has some inspiring qualities.

Fortunately, they inevitably searched the rest of the local coastline for waves, and eventually stumbled upon the point break that would come to be known as J-Bay. Over the next decade, a burgeoning surf/hippy scene sprang up around Jeffreys Bay, and it eventually became the centre of South African surfing.

It is unknown who the first person was to actually paddle out and connect one from Boneyards through Supertubes and Impossibles to the Point, and it’s entirely possible that the wave was originally surfed before the release of Endless Summer.

But there’s no doubt that Bruce Brown’s Cape St. Francis mirage set the stage for the global exposure of J-Bay. From Occy’s iconic backside attack and Curren’s legendary first wave to Derek Hynd’s finless speed streaks and Fanning’s live-streamed shark fight, surfing owes many of its most historic moments to Bruce Brown’s South African film segment—even if it was total bullshit.

Cover shot by Deon Lategan.