In our previous installment, we covered some of the land activities for you adventure-sports lovers, from sandboarding (a uniquely South African sport that blends snowboarding and sand dunes) to mountain biking the country’s vast, rugged expanses.
Today, however, we’ll discuss watersports, an area for which South Africa is particularly suited, given that it sits at the intersection of two major oceans (the Indian and Atlantic) and countless rivers. As such there are no shortage of options for those drawn to the water, from kayakers seeking serene vistas to surfers riding the waves.
Here’s a small snapshot of the water-based activities available in South Africa.
Little compares to the thrill of the whitewater–foaming rapids made by the confluence of angry rivers and rocks. Thankfully, South Africa has both–in abundance.
Though there are plenty of candidates, the Vaal River, an hour away from Gauteng, is a great option. A popular destination for families and groups of friends, Vaal River has Class 1-3 rapids, and are best visited during the rainy, summer season, which takes place from November through February. Most trips are about three hours, and though there are large, six-eight person rafts, most of the rafters paddle downriver in smaller, two-person craft.
Advanced paddlers, surprisingly, have some excellent options close to big cities. The Molenaars River is something of a rarity: beautiful scenery and Class IV rapids, all less than two hours away from Cape Town. Because of the advanced difficulty, only experts should consider kayaking the river–and with a guide. The river is most active after plenty of rain, so be sure to check in with locals and experienced watermen before going down the Molenaars.
South Africa is one of the world’s greatest–and least-known–surf destinations. Given that it sits at the confluence of two oceans and their associated weather patterns, the country also boasts plenty of choice for surfers: 2,000 kilometers of coastline, split between the colder, unforgiving waves of the Atlantic in the west, or the warm, balmy waters of the tropical Indian Ocean in the east.
By far, the most dramatic, best-known of South Africa’s breaks are in J-Bay (Jeffreys Bay) in the Eastern Cape; there, legendary locales with terrifying names (Supertubes and Boneyards, to name two) are home to prestigious surfing competitions, like the Corona Open or the Winterfest. Other notable spots include Umzumbe, a white sand beach fringed by turquoise water, and a locale that seems little touched by
There have been shark attacks in the past, most notably Australian surfer Mick Fanning, who has fended off one shark attack (punching his erstwhile attacker in the nose) and escaping yet another. Nonetheless, it should be noted that shark attacks are incredibly rare: the chances are 1 in 3.7 million–which means you’re far more likely to die from heart disease (or even fireworks) than from a shark. All the same, if you’re still concerned, consider using shark repellent; though many of these substances remain untested, there are some promising preliminary results.
Thanks to South Africa’s long coastline and abundant wind, windsurfing (as well as other, wind-and-water adventure sports, like kitesurfing and parasailing) can be done at plenty of locations throughout the country. Cape Town, in particular, is famous for windsurfing; Bloubergstrand, a wide stretch of teal water and yellow sand beach, is often dotted with the translucent, wing-like sails of windsurfers. It’s best to visit Bloubergstrand in summer; then, the winds pick up significantly.
On the east coast of the nation, other seaside towns, such as Durban and Umhlanga, have year-round windsurfing. KwaZulu Natal, the province under whose jurisdiction Durban falls, even has a statewide windsurfing club: Stormchasers, a community that seems to be equal parts weather forecast, club, and repository of windsurfing knowledge.
Chances are, whatever your taste in watersports, you can find it in South Africa. After all, few other nations can boast of straddling two oceans, their associated climates, and countless rivers.