The History Of Skeleton Bay: The greatest surfing discovery of modern time

Craig Jarvis

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Updated 29d ago

We always knew of great waves in Namibia, with spots like Guns, Cape Cross, Thicklip and Lockjoint always on the radar, back in the day. They're good waves but had little appeal to me at the time. I was living in Durban before the pier was extended, when New Pier was the best beachbreak in the world, where we surfed in board shorts all year.

Namibia was like a novelty, something that had to be ticked off the bucket list for any travelling surfer. There were some surfers in the area that seemed cool enough, but it was really quiet back then, around the turn of the millennium.

Forecast: Skeleton Bay

Koa Smith probably holds the title for longest barrels at the Bay.

It wasn't long after when the correspondence from Namibia got a little bit more insistent. A few guys were urging me to come and do some coverage of the waves in their home turf. While it peaked my interested, nothing gave me the impetus to go surf cold, gnarly reefs or soft pointbreaks infested with tens of thousands of seals.

One guy had mentioned a discovery of sorts, a sand bar, but he fluffed and fumbled the actual spot, calling it a ‘wave in the desert’ or words to that effect. No one from was interested, and we politely thanked him and turned down the offer. NOW do you want to come?

Over on the other side of the world the Surfer Magazine's Google Earth Challenge was in full swing back in 2008. It was an open challenge to use Google Earth to find the next perfect wave, the next Cape St Francis. Brian Gable, a software engineer from California, submitted his find and his map-work was deemed a very likely possibility of waves.

Region guide: Namibia

Gable was sent over to find the wave, along with a bunch of pro surfers and a media team of a photographer, videographer, writer and When the first wave was leaked it broke the internet.

A tiny surfer, in the distance, takes off on a small wave. It’s hard to see what’s really going on, because the surfer is so far away, but eventually you grasp what is actually happening.

And here we are today, South African charger/hellman Matt Bromley scores epic Skele Bay.

The surfer is on the wave of a lifetime, pulling into barrel after barrel on an unfeasibly long wave that maintains barreling perfection forever, literally. If Supertubes is 300 metres long, one of the best and longest waves in the world, this wave is about 8-to-10 times longer.

Corey Lopez was that surfer, and for a while the wave became known as Corey’s Left.

But keeping things a secret doesn't really happen anymore. Local surfers, realising the possible cash and tourism injection, which was much needed at the time, started filtering word out to a few friends. The surfers on the trip might have said a few things, the GPS numbers were soon available.

Cape Town surfers started arriving, and when they had it dialled in, they started inviting a few of their international friends, and before long it was a nice and warm crowd up there on most swells.

Jordy Smith hit it a few times, using it as a perfect venue to work on his backhand barrels, and a motley crew of barrel fiends and ferals from all over the world, sniffing otherworldly barrel time, began to investigate.

Short and sweet, Jordy's Namibian tube time.

They would pull in and suss out the lie of the land; figure out the best place to stay, the best restaurant to eat at, the best car hire to utilise and the best route to take.

It’s a place that easily handles crowds though, and as of yet, hasn't felt any heat from too many people. It’s fast, the sweep is incredible, and as previously mentioned, it is very, very long.

Some surfers would launch off the top of the point together, and not talk to each other again for a good couple of hours, maybe spotting each other riding past as they walked up the point. Vehicles used to tear up and down that stretch, ferrying surfers back to the takeoff spot from the very bottom of the run. This was subsequently banned

Vehicles used to tear up and down that stretch, ferrying surfers back to the takeoff spot from the very bottom of the run. This was subsequently banned. It’s safer and more environmentally cool to not have these big diesel vehicles churning up the sand anyway, and the walk thins the crowds out even more.

The backstories are that the place has actually been surfed since about the year 2000, when the wave was originally groomed to perfection, but the local surfers couldn't quite handle the power and the speed of it all.

The most successful people getting the barrels of their lives were bodyboarders, those that took after the Mike Stewart approach to powerful waves, of jamming a corner and performing a legitimate bottom turn into the barrel.

These guys were the first heroes of the Donkey, quietly getting spat out of the waves of their lives with no one around. No cameras, hardly any friends on the beach, and no one to share their find with.

A few surfers also hit it, and tried their hardest to ride the Donkey back then, but found it scary as hell, and no one really conquered it.

Randy Rarick was in the area back in the day as well, entering into Namibia on the early 70s and cruising that part of the coastline. Being a sand-spit, Donkey might not even have existed back then, so Randy might not even have seen it.

Related content: Skele Bay like Teahupoo on sand

Twiggy Baker was also sniffing around, and although not credited with finding the wave, was surfing it around the same time as the Surfing Magazine crew, along with Greg Long.

As with many epic discoveries, stories do pop up of strange subplots, of people claiming first rights, and of certain facts and dates shrouded a little by the mists of time.

One thing that I can remember was the next day after the Cory Lopez video broke the internet, I received a simple email from my insider in Namibia who had been hassling me for a visit to the ‘wave in the desert.’

There were no links in the email, and there were no images. There was just one sentence, and one word in caps. It read:

NOW do you want to come?

Cover shot by Marck Botha.