Thanks to surfline.com
The surf zone known as "J-Bay" to virtually every surfer on the planet is as complex as its name is simple. Not only has it been a perennial contender for world's-best-wave status; it's seen extraordinary social development in recent decades, with massive growth of its tourist industry matched by similar growth in the importance of surfing to the local economy.
Jeffreys Bay lies on the southern South African coastline, around 45 miles west of Port Elizabeth and several hours' drive east of Capetown. The township and most of the surf sits on the western tip of the bay, which stretches off to the east in a massive 15-mile arc of sand and rock- and fish-filled ocean -- strangely similar in dimensions and character to Grajagan Bay, its great Indonesian rival.
J-Bay's surf demands analysis. It relies on a long, curving lava reef that begins as a jagged south-facing outcrop and continues for at least a mile down the inside edge of the bay. Gaps in the reef line are supplanted by sand flow from beaches to the west, occasionally altering the character of some of the sections. From the top, J-Bay consists of Magnatubes, a peaky right and semi-left, more exposed to swell than most of the stretch, yet never linking to the major lineup, instead fizzling into a small sandy bay between it and the next section; Boneyards, a quick hollow right reef that predominates on smaller days and an occasional left, begins to close out toward the start of J-Bay's splendid premier section; Supertubes, an aptly named long slabby powerful wall, drawing larger swell energy from the upper reefs and funneling it for around 200 yards, letting the skilled surfer dictate the terms of a ride without ever seeming weak or unchallenging; Impossibles, often also aptly named, a series of shallow lava beds with long deepwater holes interrupting the wave, except during times of unusual sand buildup when the whole 150-yard section can become an extended barrel; Tubes, where the wave begins to slow and ease into the final connected section of wave; the Point, a mellow, playful wall flowing down into a final closeout across weed-softened reef and Albatross, farther across the bay, which is another piece of reef featuring a quick right. Some diehard J-Bay surfers claim that Albatross operates as the end section on extremely rare giant days.
J-Bay's main sections are not open to everyday swells. A strong storm from the southwest, or the unusual southeast, is needed to push waves into the bay. Such storms are almost always accompanied by offshore southwest winds.
The christening is thought to have occurred around Easter of 1964 when a crew of Capetown surfers, in route to a contest in Port Elizabeth, stopped for fish and chips at Coetzee's Fish Shop and stumbled on The Point. By then Jeffreys Bay was also a town, but a pretty sleepy little one - just a hotel, a few stores, and some vacation houses built by wealthy inland farmers who'd come down to the coast for Christmas. Aside from the harsh dusty township on the northern fringes, where apartheid held the black African population in check, it must've looked a bit like some little coastal town north of San Francisco, or maybe Lennox Head in Australia. In other words, a perfect escape zone for South African surf hippies looking for a way out, and as J-Bay's reputation grew, down they came; guys like "Shorty" Bronkhorst, Bruce Gold, Ant Van Den Heuvel, and others who decided that if being a surfer in 1960s South Africa meant going feral, then feral they would go.
In 1978, the Santa Barbara filmmaker Greg Huglin released his great surf movie Fantasea, complete with perhaps the best Jeffreys ever shot: roaring 6- to 10-foot walls being massacred by a classic lineup of the day's champions, who'd raced down from the Gunston 500 event 700 miles north in Durban. The movie cemented J-Bay as one of the must-visits on the steadily growing world good-wave adventure tour, coincidentally just as Grajagan was slowly coming to public light.
J-Bay's remote aspect and lack of development made it a favored escape route for a new kind of surfer: the shady expatriate. Miki Dora and Mike Tabeling were just two Americans who decided they'd found somewhere with two key attributes -- excellent right-breaking waves and no U.S. Embassy for thousands of miles. But Jeffreys today is a somewhat far cry from Hippie Central. The point is lined with houses and well-maintained parking lots, and literally thousands of big holiday apartments and summer homes have sprung up all over the place in the past 15 years. Surfers are important citizens in J-Bay. Cheron Kraak -- owner of Country Feeling Clothing and Billabong South Africa and the only female senior surf industry owner operator in the world --employs more than 200 people and runs the biggest business in town. If you surf on good days, you'll run into members of the Jeffreys Bay Underground, the heavy locals, who wear white rash vests with their insignia over their full suits. And if you go surfing on smaller days, you'll run into a pack of incredible pint-size grommets, soon to be leaving arguably the world's best wave in search of validity on the WQS. -- Nick Carroll, January 2001