Thursday, July 2, 2009

Taylor's Travels: NOrWAY!

I met Steffi on the street in Morocco. A beautiful Norwegian, thought she was playin’ in the majors while I rode the pine in AAA—so cute and confident. Lucky for me she was a sucker for lame jokes and Moroccan bracelets; cause we hit it off, kept in touch, and I thought, Hell, Norway’s on the way home. Sort of.

It’s Norwegian

Norway is an awesome country, and Steffi was anxious to show me everything. Like when we saw deer cross the road one evening, she was floored that I was able to witness this unique Norwegian animal (obviously the U.S is just Hummers and high rises).

Or at breakfast the first morning, when I grabbed a knife to cut some cheese (grow up), she stopped me. Wait! Wait! Wait! She zipped around the kitchen opening and slamming drawers like she was late for a flight and couldn’t find her passport.

Ooo! Here it is!

She held up a cheese slicer (don’t know what its called in English, looks like a cake server with a slit at the base you drag across the cheese).

It’s a -- Ostehøvel! It’s Norwegian.

I felt bad saying it, as she held out the slicer like it was the Holy Grail…

Uh, we have that at home.

What? !
Her heart sank.

While Steffi was a bit naïve in thinking certain things were only found in Norway (learned the phrase burst your bubble too well), she showed me more than I could have hoped to see. Fjords, moose, and reindeer—the place was all that and a side of whale.

Lights On

Steffi didn’t realize it, but all she needed to do to carve a spot for Norway in my heart was draw the blinds. Not only did mountains dip the MLB’s steroid supply and bathe in green paint, but natural light glowed 24/7 to show them off. I couldn’t’ get over it. Steffi had grown up with it, so she was over it. But at 11:30pm, cruising through Vigelandsparken park after sneaking a peak at a Neal Young concert in Oslo, I explained my fascination to her. Imagine, in my 24 years, I’ve never seen natural light at this hour. Never, it’s always been dark. And suddenly, I’m taking flashless photos of statues and it’s nearly midnight.

She began to see my point as the trip continued (not much choice, I wouldn’t shut up about it). Day trips could start at three, no worries about running out of light. Feeling bloated after a late dinner? Go for a paddle. A few times we surfed til one in the morning. As we got out of the water, people would just be showing up.

Stand Up and Get Shot Down

Most of our time was spent in Hoddevik, a small village of about 100 people that sits in the cleavage of two green mountains and hugs a white sand beach. It was there that Steffi managed a three story white house turned B&B/surf shop/playground for the budding Norwegian surf community. We spent most days playing on the grass—mastering the Indo Board and slack line, maybe some beers to test our balance even more. Or skating down the single road that ran the length of town. When there were waves, we surfed. And when there wasn’t, I was keen on trying the Stand Up Paddle board—a twelve-foot surfboard you stand on and paddle like a Venetian gondola. I’d resisted the temptation to try it back home, fearing the ridicule from friends, as SUPs are a nuisance in the line up. But what the hell? I was in Norway, thousands of miles away from judgment.

The first day I took it out, I walked awkwardly down the path with the beast on my head, Steffi right behind me.

You’re lucky you already have a girl here, cause you look so gay right now.

Thanks babe.

Lil Lessons
Strange traveling with someone though, 24/7 with one person after five months solo. I’m surprised Steffi was able to put up with me for two weeks, that she didn’t just kick me out of the car and tell me to ride a reindeer back to Oslo. We made it work though, learning about each other and ourselves along the way. She learned to be friendlier to strangers (Scandinavians are more closed off than Americans) and stress less; I learned to take photos vertically and that I shouldn’t pee with the door open. Things we’ll carry with us.

Norway was sick. Loved it. Such an unexpected detour from my Africa mission, but exactly why I love traveling, why loose itineraries allow for the greatest experiences. And the fact that I got to see one of the most expensive places in the world for less money than I spent for running a red light made it that much better.

As much as it pains me to say it, that was the end. The trip is done and I’m back home to same old same old. No clue as to the setting of my next adventure, but after less than a week back home, it can’t come soon enough.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Taylor's Travels: Best of South Africa

Writing a Best of South Africa blog, I feel like parents do about picking a favorite kid. How am I supposed to choose favorites when the whole trip was so lekker? But in honor of those who slyly wink and nod at their youngest after telling their brood that they love them equally (thanks dad!), I’ll have a go.

Favorite City

Cape Town gets a narrow win over Durban on this one. Anywhere that’s got mountains, waves, and wine within 50 sq. kilometers makes me want to get comfy. The maze of mountains and bays and roads made my senses spin—one of the few places where I completely lost my sense of direction. I’d drive around the corner to check the surf, decide to see what was over the hill only to be back where I started. A week driving in Cape Town and I was still saying damn it around every bend. Not a place I mind being lost though. Oh! And there were beautiful girls…everywhere.

Favorite Food
Meat Pie. The mystery of why we don’t have these in the States is up there with Stonehenge.* They’re so fricken good. Doesn’t take a genius (case in point, Australia) to figure out that putting our favorite slow cooked meats and veggies inside a hand held pastry is a winning recipe. I suggest a culinary exchange: we’ll send over our best burrito makers if they send the pies over. I’ll have a Pepper Steak, my good man.

Favorite Word

Lekker. An Afrikaans word meaning cool. Heard it used to describe everything from clothing, people, even the feeling of being inside the barrel. I can picture you now, if you’ve yet to visit SA, saying the word to yourself, LE-kk-ERR. Not so cool when we do it. Hell, I heard it every other sentence and I still couldn’t imitate it. Gotta say it quickly, out the corner of your mouth, LA-CKAr. And throw in bru after it, just for good measure. I’m not alone in loving this word. Friends who’d visited before wrote me while I was there. Dana wondered if I’d met any lekker locals or surfed any kif waves? Trevor asked if the waves had been lekker or lacking? The waves were lekker, Trev. And Dana, the locals couldn’ta been more lekker.

Favorite Saying
This came from a guard at the South Africa/Swaziland border. I’d been dropped off at night after being told by the receptionist at my destination hostel that there would be public transport at the border. I asked the guards with confidence where the bus was. They had a hearty laugh in my face and said the last one left a couple hours ago. Grab some pine kid, we’ll try and find you a ride. So I sat as they stopped each car, asking if they’d be willing to schlep a naïve American to Mbabane. They found me a ride like snap. Two actually. One was a semi-truck going all the way to my final destination, Durban. But I already accepted a ride with another car. And I reserved a spot at that hostel. I guess I didn’t’ put a deposit down. Shoot, it would save me money if I just went straight to Durban. Aaaagggh, I can’t decide!

Hey! One guard snaps me out of my mental struggle. Make up your mind, between two stools we fall on the floor.

I laughed and asked him to repeat it. He did, then explained the saying to me three times, just to make sure I’d got it. While he was proudly lecturing me on the pitfalls of indecision, the semi left.

Most Awkward Moment

Riding my host’s bike to the mall to withdraw cash to rent a car, my phone rang. I stopped on the corner (its dangerous to talk and ride, ya know?). Why hello Leslie! I’m fine, thank you. No, I can talk. Ya, Cape Town is AMAZING!


One man darts past me and I make a move to follow. Then I realize that another man running down the other street is the one who just ripped the phone off my ear. I head towards him, set on reclaiming what’s mine. But he’s halfway over the fence already and if I chase him, his homeboy will come back for the bike. What to do what to do? I got it! I’ll yell something at him. Ya, its perfect. Something so clever, so noble he’ll realize the error of his ways, lower himself from the fence, and return the phone with a heartfelt apology…


My new SA phone number is 073 986 7238.

Favorite Person

Ok, so I’m just as bad as the spineless parents who can’t get off the fence. Minus the phone bandits, South African’s treated me as family. Of the two months I spent there, I think I paid for lodging maybe seven nights. I spent the balance in the homes of friends, their friends, and strangers. People are SO hospitable down there. I could list all the legends that took me in, but lists are lame and they know who they are.

I’ll claim it: South Africa is the best country I’ve been to.

* After I wrote that I saw this on youtube, essentially solving the Stonehenge mystery. Unreal:

Monday, June 22, 2009

Bungy Jump - South African Adrenaline Fix (Part Two of Two)

”How long you think its been since they’ve done maintenance on this thing?” I asked nobody in particular as I peered nervously through the grated metal catwalk towards the river below—it was like walking wet plywood, giving under the weight of each step. The English guy in front of me turned and shot me a glare, ungrateful for my attempt to lighten the mood.

The bridge we were about to jump off was the Bloukrans. It stands 216m above a Garden Route valley floor, and proudly claims to be the world’s highest bungy jump. I was in route to Cape Town after a cooking weekend of surf at Jeffery’s Bay, and my South African friends, Terrance and Miles, agreed to stop and watch.

”Don’t you want to jump?”

”Not a chance in hell.”

Funny how every local I invited gave a similar response. As I left the parking lot to brave the bridge, Terrance and Miles discussed loudly how they were going to divvy up my belongings after I went kersplat on the valley floor.

I asked to be one of the first in our group to jump, since the boys were itching to get back to Cape Town. They said I could go second and told me to sit so they could prep me for the jump. Next to the edge, the reality of what I was doing sank in. I cursed myself for not setting out a clean pair of pants in the car.

A worker approached and introduced himself as John, and asked how I was feeling.

”I’m kaking myself, John”

”Don’t worry man, we do this everyday”

He wrapped some faded padding around each leg. I eyed them skeptically, the way you would a Muslim who boasted about making a mean pulled pork sandwich. My reservations proved warranted, as the Velcro of the left padding peeled off without reason.

”Not encouraging, John”

”Oh, I don’t worry about those, bru. My concern is the rope.”

Mine too. I turned and watched the girl in front of me disappear from the diving platform. My turn.

With my pads feeling like a beltless pair of size 40 jeans, John wrapped the rope around them. He explained the knot he was tying; I feigned attention and thought through the fear of slipping through the pads.

They do this everyday. Don’t think the pads feeling loose is unique to you.

Suddenly, I’m hopping towards the ledge with support from John and his accomplice. I hang ten over the edge and look down.

”You ready?”



Shit, maybe not.


What if I slip out?”


Look cool for the camera.


Oh my God oh my God oh my God!


Screw it.


I puff my chest out and throw a swan dive. Five seconds never felt so long, 120 km/hr so fast. I forget what I'm doing and become lost in the sensation of the ground rushing towards me. The wind peeling back my eye lids. Then I slow and the cord snaps me back towards reality. And the bridge. I let out a ”yyyyeeeew!” of relief that the cord worked, though I keep my feet flexed—I still feel I'm going to slip out of the pads.

As I settled into my new life under the bridge (kept an eye out for bats, bums, Anthony Keidis), a man in a red jacket and a bandanna over his face descended the rope. Before I could explain that I had left my wallet back at the car and had nothing for him (South African thieves have gone to greater lengths), he attached a new harness and up-righted me. The new position felt even more precarious than before.

”So where can I safely hold on here?” I didn’t want to accidentally clutch the emergency release or something.

”No, no need, bru. Just relax and enjoy the valley view.”


I let my hands dangle, trying to relax. About as relaxed as Bush doing long division. Maybe the scariest part of the whole experience.

Back on the bridge, flying from the adrenaline, I thanked the crew and rushed back to meet the boys at the car. They congratulated me and asked how it was? Amazing, so fun, yyyyeeeeewww!

Miles handed me the camera, I could hardly wait to check the jump sequence. With visions of Olympic Platform Diving 2012 seeping into my head, I turned the camera on and scrolled backwards to review my form. The swan in my dive must have had broken wing.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Taylor's Travels: South African Adreneline Fix - Dungeons (Part One of Two)

I don’t know what I expected, I mean, they don’t name a surf spot “Dungeons” for its dry-haired, carefree sessions. I knew it wasn’t going to easy. But still, the place was straight raw.

You feel so small out there. Cape Town’s mountains dwarf everything around them and block the rising sun’s light (and warmth) from reaching the water. And the water is no bathtub. It has an eerie blackness to it and the temperature lingers in the low 50’s, quite unsuitable for humans, but perfect for the sea life we saw out there: bull kelp as thick as my arm, jellyfish, leaping seals (I wonder what’s chasing them?), and Sunfish (whose fins stick out of the water and make them look like…uh…the “S” word). There were also penguins, which for me lightened the mood a bit cause as far as I’m concerned, nothing can go wrong with cute little penguins cruising the lineup.

The penguin security blanket was of course to take my mind off of the larger animal I never saw but always thought of. Whitie, Johnny, the Man in the Grey Suit—I’m talking sharks. Never surfed a wave that felt so sharky. Every wave that broke whistled the Jaws tune. Every shadow was the landlord of the sea coming to collect.

Scared yet? I was. And I haven’t even gotten to the waves. Big, powerful, and unpredictable. It was like surfing a beach break with 20-30 foot faced waves detonating all around. That the wave breaks with little rhyme or reason distinguishes Dungeons from other big waves like Mavericks or Todos Santos, which break consistently in the same spot. The first time I got caught inside I felt silly (and short of breath), like I was kooking it by not reading the wave correctly. By the fifth or sixth time I realized it wasn’t just me; Dungeons has a personality all its own, and is quite obviously schizophrenic.

I was feeling fairly brave at this point, surfing at such a gnarly place. Wanna hear something funny though? With all of the uninviting stuff I just mentioned, it was unanimously agreed by the locals that, with the sun shining and little wind, the day was as inviting as Dungeons gets. Just a sec, while my ego deflates. Psshshhhhhh…

There we go.

Even with the realization that I wasn’t as cool as I thought I was, the day was still a blast. The locals helped make it so. Usually with a tight knit group of surfers, outsiders get a healthy dose of stink eye and drop-ins. Not the case at Dungeons. I guess they know the waves will keep people away, so who needs localism? Everyone paddled up to me, the sole unfamiliar face in the lineup, and introduced themselves. They welcomed me and offered advice that I was eager to accept. And like most big wave crews, there were plenty of characters among them.

When I met Frank Solomon in the dark parking lot that morning, he was noticeably hobbling around. I didn’t think much of it, I had other things to worry about. I hitched a ride out on his “rubber ducky” boat and paddled out with him. He then explained that he’d just had six stitches in his foot and it was killing him. He wasn’t about to miss opening day though, and proceeded to throw himself over the ledge of any bomb that came his way.

Then there was Andrew Marr. A bushy-faced big wave charger whose positive energy was so contagious it was almost overwhelming. We’re talking seven year old on December 25 happy. With every giant wave he (or anyone else, for that matter) caught you’d hear boisterous hooting and giggles coming from Andrew. Regarding riding big waves he said, “It just makes you feel good in your heart.” Now, I like to think of myself as a happy guy, but next to Andrew you may as well put me on suicide watch. He’s that stoked.

And as always, where you find big waves, you find Greg Long. The southern California nice guy is one of, and many would rightfully argue the, best big wave surfer in the world right now. He arrived a couple of days before the swell to spend his eighth consecutive winter in Cape Town. I flew in the day after him. He picked me up from the airport, lined up lodging, equipment, and a ride out to Dungeons, going out of his way and acting like he had nothing better to do than hold my hand through the whole process. Once in the water though, he let go of my hand. Then he paddled 30 yards deeper than me and everyone else and caught only the biggest waves that came through. It’s what he does.

We surfed for five hours. I caught seven waves, got spanked on two of them, and was caught inside more than I’d like to remember. But there were no injuries, no boards broken, and no sharks spotted—a successful day of surfing big waves. Everyone was buzzing.

That afternoon, Greg and I sat outside a café in Hout Bay, we ate a big plate of ribs and sipped two well deserved beers. Absorbing the hot fall sun on our faces, we recalled the day’s waves. My heart never felt so good.

For photos from the day, copy and paste the links below.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Taylor's Travels: Jeffery's Bay

When the guard opened the gate and I entered the property for the first time, I felt like Shoeless Joe Jackson emerging from the corn and onto the Field of Dreams. My version though, cause instead of being in Iowa, I was in South Africa. And instead of overlooking a baseball field, I was standing above a wave I’d dreamed of since I first stepped on a surfboard.

To call Cheron’s place a “surf house” is like calling Death Valley “dry” or Angelina Jolie “cute.” An understatement. Every adjective in the thesaurus couldn’t capture the degree to which it oozes surf.

I came to stay there the same way I came by most of my good fortune in South Africa—Twiggy. Well, actually Twiggy’s girlfriend, Kate, cause he’s never around (this time he was in Chile winning a big wave competition). Kate connected me with Chio (Twig’s cousin) and Gumby in St. Francis. When the surf picked up Gumby and I relocated to Chio’s mom’s house—and oh my, what a house.

For a surfer, there are few homes in the world with such perfect location, location, location as this one in Jeffery’s Bay. It sits proudly at the top of the point at Supertubes, the most famous point break on earth. So close, in fact, that when the waves are big the water reaches the base of the property. Wake-up to first wave takes ten minutes. I mean, it’s so close you could throw a bar of wax at the people about to paddle out! (Seriously though, why would you do that? Not cool). Beyond Supers, through the floor to ceiling windows, you can see Magnas and Boneyards, Super’s sibling waves that, if not for their overachieving older sister, would likely be destinations by themselves. Yep, doesn’t get much better.

I’ll spare you the bedroom and bath numbers—in part cause I couldn’t be bothered to count, but mostly cause it doesn’t matter—the place transcends standard real estate specs. With its location (right on top of Supertubes, I mentioned that, right?) I woulda been content curling up in my surfboard bag fighting off Puff Adders. But this house, as one can imagine (especially one who skipped straight to the photos), was more than a slight upgrade from Dakine digs.

The two-story compound shapes a U so that every room faces the ocean and accepts the rising sun’s warmth like black pavement on a summer afternoon. I’ll tell you, waking up to the sunrise over a six foot set at J-Bay is as good as you’d imagine. In the living room there are two sets of couches; one overlooking the waves and one facing the T.V. If the waves are pumping, there’s no way you’re in the latter set. In between wave watching, you can flip through any of the latest surf mags from around the world. Or delve into the dozens of signed and numbered coffee table surf books that don’t fit on the coffee table, so they’re spread around the place like little treasures waiting to be discovered. Don’t feel like reading? Me neither. Just stare blankly at wooden collectors surfboards that hang out in the corners, or up at the stunning chandelier—no crystal here, it’s made entirely of beach glass.

Not that you’d want to, but you simply can’t escape the sand and surf at this place. Digging into what would be an Apple Upside-down Cake anywhere else is “Jordy’s Pudding” at Cheron’s, named after South Africa’s best surfer, because he once came back after a party and ate a whole pan of it. Or playing a game of foosball, about as far away from surfing as you can get, and your opponent mentions the tense matches that go down between heats when the contest is in town. Freddy P. is unbeatable. Occy is hopeless. But it doesn’t matter if you’re good or bad at foosball, a surf star or surf bum, if you are lucky enough to visit this magical house, Cheron will care for you like family.

Cheron came to Jeffery’s in the 70’s, fell in love with the sleepy, hippie town, and never left. She learned to sew and began making boardies and shirts for local and traveling surfers; the clothes were such a hit that she began her own brand, Country Feeling. Later, she brought Billabong to South Africa, building it so successfully that she beat out companies like Coca-Cola and Nike to receive South African brand of the year. Billabong has since bought her out, so she now splits her time running Country Feeling, a furniture store, and the town itself (the book, Jeffery’s Bay, calls her the unofficial mayor of Jeffery’s). Cheron and Jeffery’s are akin, both built around surfing.

On any given day, when the surf is pumping, people are constantly coming and going. Suiting up. Showering off. Snapping photos. Sipping tea and snacking before another surf. The chatter of great waves caught today and predictions for tomorrow is incessant. It’s like your local surf spot’s parking lot, only for VIP’s and VLP (Very Lucky People, I’m in this category).

In the evenings, people stop in to have a glass of wine and discuss logos and slogans for the Supertube Foundation. Cheron seeks everyone’s input and offers her own like “Make the letters thinner on that girly print. Girls won’t wear anything fat on their shirts, even letters.” Or a WCT surfer on break from the tour will come for dinner. Cheron seems to love the flow of people through the house. She is a consummate hostess, making sure everyone is well fed and comfy. It’s her hospitality that makes this surf house a surf home.

When the waves died and the wind switched onshore, it was time for me to move on. I said my goodbyes, hugged Cheron and thanked her. In her laid back, no worries sort of way she said, “My pleasure, you’re welcome back any time!”

I’m going back this week.