Downwind Camp: Fish Hoek, South Africa
We’d been on the beach for just 2 minutes before the Mocke brothers started dropping nuggets of surfski knowledge on our international group of paddlers, underlining just how little I knew about the finer points of the downwind surfski padding. Over the next 2 weeks we’d be participating in their Downwind Camp at the famous Millers Run, South Africa, hosted by surfski legends Dawid and Jasper Mocke. The plan was simple … learn as much as I could and gain as much experience as possible from being in one of the global epicenters of surfski and led by two of the sports best paddlers.
Fish Hoek is located on the Western Cape close to Cape Town, South Africa and is the terminus of the famous Millers Run, the 12 km gold standard of downwind surfski paddling. This cute seaside town lies in a gap in the surrounding mountains creating natures own wind tunnel for perfect downwind conditions for a large portion of the year. As a result, you can’t throw a rock without hitting any number of the worlds elite surfski paddlers, including Dawid and Jasper Mocke themselves.
Dawid and Jasper are renowned for their surfski skills, but are also incredible hosts and educators, giving of their time and energy regardless of ability level and proficiency. They adeptly set challenges for each Downwind Camp participant as we safely navigated the turbulent waters of Millers Run twice a day as we gained confidence and grew our skill set. The Mocke brothers have truly created an incredible product with this Downwind Camp that will have a lasting impact on the sport.
But there’s more than just the paddling to anchor these athletes in Fish Hoek. Incredible guest houses, like our “Tuscan Villa,” gastronomic delights like those found at “SALT” in nearby Kalk Bay and perhaps the best coffee in South Africa at “C’est La Vie,” all make it extremely comfortable to be based here. Any town that you can walk thru wearing your paddling attire and not get a second look, gets high marks from me.
The Millers Run itself is a short drive from Fish Hoek, starting at one of two boat ramps at Millers point. From there, you simply paddle out a kilometer, then turn left towards Fish Hoek and it’s game on. On big days, that 1 km paddle was often the hardest part of the day as we battled into the conditions before turning downwind for home. Some days the wind and swell lined up perfectly while on others, the wind and swell were offset, requiring a more zigzag course as you used the wind waves to gain momentum before throwing the nose in the hole of a ground swell for some big booming fun. No two days were the same allowing us to practice our downwind skills in varying measures. The 12 km run would take most of us 40-60 minutes to complete. On the water, we’re accompanied by Dawid, Jasper and a couple of the other talented paddlers, Alex, Luc, Dale or Ian. Bottom-line, we were in good hands, so if we got out of our depth, it wasn’t long before one of them would swoop in for the assist, or simply accelerate onto the swell next to you to yell words of encouragement.
On the biggest days, we experienced ground swells over 4 meters and 45+ knot wind gusts, with Dawid describing conditions as “extreme.” On days like these, we also broke out the double skis for those looking for a different perspective. Reaching speeds in excess of 30kph with Dawid or Jasper at the helm as you dropped into the bottom of a mountain of a swell, was more exciting than any carnival ride I’ve ever experienced.
Downwind Camp participants also got a chance to compete in the #nevercancelled Sea Dog Race. On the day I participated, several hundred athletes raced at a level of competition you’d only find at a World Series or Championships. At the pointy end of the race, the competition was equally ruthless with Jasper Mocke and Kenny Rice going blow for blow all the way to the run up the beach.
So what did I learn? Too much to detail here, but confidence, speed, swell reading skills and perspective, all came up in significant measure. Heart rate dropped as did my times to complete the Milers Run. It’s no wonder that this area produces so many champions with this kind of training ground in their back yard.
The Downwind Camps are a unique opportunity to meet interesting paddlers from around the world as equally interested in downwind paddling as you are. The quality of instruction and leadership provided by Dawid and Jasper Mocke is unprecedented too. If you want to improve or learn to downwind like a champ, then surround yourselves with champions like Dawid and Jasper here in Fish Hoek and make the Downwind Camps a priority. I’ll be back next year to add more skills and experience to my repertoire.