Everybody's gone surfin'

24 May 2021 | Tourism

Miles of sandy beach all along the top of False Bay, balmy shallow water and the gentle wave are perfect for longboarding at Muizenberg.

Pictures of bathers riding prone on wooden belly boards were taken well over a hundred years ago. Muizenberg was at the heart of sur?ng in South Africa long before Durban and Jeffreys Bay became surfer hotspots. A young Cape Town woman, Heather Price, was the country’s ?rst stand-up surfer back in 1919.

The previous year the annual brochure of the Cape Peninsula Publicity Association raved that surfing had become a cult at the Cape: “The wild exhilaration is infectious. It steadies the nerves, exercises the muscles and makes the enthusiast clear headed and clear eyed. Life and good spirits are qualities of the surf bather.”

Muizenberg was featured as a year-round surfer’s paradise in the 1966 movie The Endless Summer. It was the heyday of the hippie era and in the early seventies the ratepayer’s association decided that surfers were a bad element. Surfing was banned, but only for about two years. Muizenberg remains synonymous with surfing.

These days surfers do their part to raise awareness of the threat of global warming and its effects on the oceans. Among the various events is the annual Earthwave Global Surf Challenge, a Cape Town initiative which attempts to break the Guinness World Record for the most surfers riding one wave simultaneously. The challenge takes place in September, not only in Muizenberg but on beaches from Australia to Tahiti. The record currently stands at just over one hundred.

When Muizenberg was connected to the Cape Town railway line in 1882, it became the favourite summer holiday retreat of the wealthy from Johannesburg. Their mansions, most of them along Beach Road, have been well preserved over the decades. Famous architect Sir Herbert Baker (e.g. Union Buildings in Pretoria and Groote Schuur in Cape Town) left his mark in Muizenberg, too. There is also a touch of Italian elegance: Casa Labia, a small Cape version of Palazzo Labia in Venice was the family home as well as the official residence of Italy’s diplomatic representative in South Africa. Today it is a cultural centre with an opulent Venetian restaurant.

At Muizenberg the Zandvlei Estuary opens into False Bay. Zandvlei is part of the False Bay Nature Reserve, a popular water world of lakes and pans. The largest lake is Zeekoevlei which true to its name is inhabited by a small number of hippos.