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THE SHROUD | DOUGAL PATERSON

"Some shots from yesterday. You want some words and higher res?"

To the less informed, this would seem like a somewhat nonchalant and extremely humble statement when referring to the severity of waves pictured in the article below. Having come to know Dougal Paterson over the years however, this comes quite simply as a gesture of good will and an offering based on a relationship that has stood the test of time.

Coincidentally, the message (and the accompanying 1st swell of the season) arrived whilst in the middle of conversations with the South African Big Wave Surfer and Director/Surfer, Rick Wall as we were scoping dates for an exciting run of store events later this year (stay tuned for more).

We took Dougal up on the offer of some words, if not only for our own selfish reasons, that we love to hear him speak of his beloved 'Dungeons'. A wave that has instilled an incomparable fervour in the heart of our favourite Dragon Slayer.

 

The first time I heard the name it sent ghoulish shivers down my spine. “Dungeons.” It spoke of incarceration for heinous crimes against king & country. Death and terror. Torture and pain. Fear and hopelessness. Decay and darkness. The earliest footage shows bearded men who looked like vikings leaping over the side of a commandeered fishing boat. They clutched tiny blades. Blades meant for 8 foot barrels, not lurching 20ft closeouts. The shaky vhs footage looks like scenes from an open air torture chamber. Horrifying beatings accompanied by the camera man’s banshee yells of sadistic delight. Near drownings, twisted bodies and decapitated surfboards. The wave itself looked like a mutant from a black & white horror film and the accompanying literature in surf magazines only served to confirm that it was a place of desolation and despair.

Never before or since have I wanted to surf a wave so badly.

In 1999 they ran the first of many contests out there. It was an unlikely venue, and yet the best big wave riders of the era began making an annual migration to compete. The last of those events ran in 2008. Then the veil was drawn across Africa’s fiercest wave. It receded once more into a shroud of mystery. Slowly the vikings returned, but this time, they brought bigger blades. 

There are other big waves in close vicinity to Dungeons, but it remains Africa’s salt water Mount Everest. It is the thickest, the fastest, the tallest and the least predictable. It hides in plain sight by lying motionless for months at a time. Shouldering a 10ft blade and walking in over the mountain, has become a rite of passage. Yet, it entails a harrowing paddle past an ancient seal colony. The body of water between the land and seal island is known as….“shark alley.” Some Vikings still leap from large boats whilst others take the long journey across open water on jet ski’s and in small dingy’s.

I have long since renounced my early associations with this geographical miracle as it has come to represent a place of belonging and connection. Dungeons calls out the philosopher-poet in me.

“Mist hung heavy on the hills, spilling down like water falls through crags and ravines now towering over our heads. The ocean breathed in rattled hymns. Long low inhalation’s in ticking silence, followed by great violent exhales of salt water cathedrals that toppled into boiling cauldrons of bull kelp.”

Words by Dougal Paterson. Photos of Dougal by Caleb Bjergfelt, Deborah Paterson & Sacha Specker.