The South African Watersports Bucket List: 6 Awesome Things To Do Before You Die

The waters off the South African coast are stunning, especially on a crisp morning. It doesn’t matter what you’re about to do, whether you’re getting ready on the beach or racing across the waves in a boat — feel the salt air, watch the sun bathing the nearby mountains, and listen to the birds flying overhead. Everything in South Africa is alive. What better place for some adventure?

And, make no mistake. South Africa is jammed with opportunities to feel the adrenaline. Whether it’s hanging out with the “Big 5” game animals on safari inland or swimming with the sharks in Gansbaai, here, beauty and adventure go hand in hand. Let’s take a look at the water side of things — here’s what to do in South Africa‘s pristine waters before you die.

Shark Diving

Gansbaai — pronounced Haahns-by — is the unofficial Great White shark capital of the world. If you’ve seen Shark Week, you’ve heard the name before. It’s famous for Shark Alley, which is a waterway between the tiny Geyser Rock (home to thousands of Cape fur seals) chock full of sharks (who like eating as many seals as possible).

What’s more, Gansbaai’s sharks are some of the only ones in the world that jump. Keep your eyes peeled as you motor out to the dive spot, and you’ll probably spot a shark as it leaps out of the water.

When should you go? The best time to go shark diving in Gansbaai is in winter, which is when the sharks do most of their feeding. You’ll get into an expedition boat along with the rest of your group, and motor out to Shark Alley. (You’ll probably see some whales along the way.) Then, you’ll get into a wetsuit, be handed a mask and snorkel, and get ready to jump into the cage.

The cage isn’t what you may think. The cage is dropped off the boat and secured to the side (it doesn’t float free), so you climb into the cage directly off the boat deck. You’ll hold onto a (safe) internal bar in the cage and wait until the spotter sees sharks approaching and gives a yell — then you take a gulp of air, check your mask, and plunge under the water’s surface to watch the sharks.

Don’t worry, you’re not in danger. You have sturdy iron bars in the way as you get to appreciate the beauty, grace, and — yes — even the intelligence of the Great White sharks swimming right past your face. The sharks aren’t interested in you, they’re more interested in the bait which the boat is tossing into the water.

Watching from the boat deck afterwards, you may get to watch the fate of a wooden “seal” tossed into the water — and see the sharks leap up and try to take a bite of it.

Rafting the Orange River

If you’re looking for serious wilderness adventure, there’s also a 4-day trip down South Africa’s mighty Orange River.

The trip starts with an early morning drive out of Cape Town and across the border into Namibia (be sure to be up early, the border post can be crowded). After dinner at the base camp (usually delicious) and a night sleeping under the stars, you head off for 75km worth of paddling down the river in canoes or inflatable “crocs.”

The Orange River is full of variations. It has long straight stretches, where the water is so still you can jump overboard to cool off with a swim — and your boat won’t go far without you. It has deep stretches with fast-moving water where you have to beware of hidden rocks. And, of course, it has rapids. Rapids are the most fun, but they’re also the most challenging, and most likely to involve a capsize. (As long as you have a good paddling partner, you’ll be fine.)

Kitesurfing

Kitesurfing is relatively new in South Africa, but demand from overseas and absolutely fantastic conditions have fast turned the country into a major kitesurfing destination.

Cape Town, in particular has excellent seas and powerful enough winds to take you skimming across the surface. You’ll find the winds are consistent and clean.

If you’re not familiar with kitesurfing, it’s a combination of wakeboarding with paragliding. You use the power of the wind to speed you across the water surface, with just a board strapped onto your feet. If your timing is perfect and your speed fast enough, you can make hundred-meter leaps into the air.

Kitesurfing will take some practice and coordination the first time you try it — you have to steer the kite and guide your board at the same time. But there’s no better way to make the most of a windy day.

Besides Cape Town, Langebaan is known around the world as one of the best kitesurfing venues, period. It’s at the edge of a giant lagoon, and the winds tend to pick up just before noon. You can also try kitesurfing in the shadow of Table Mountain at Bloubergstrand or in the “windy city” of Port Elizabeth.

The South African kitesurfing season lasts from November to April, and some professional kitesurfers stay in Cape Town straight through those six months.

Surfing

No overview of South African watersports would be complete without mentioning the South African waves. Just about the entire 3000km long coastline offers world-class surfing. While professional surfers know South Africa for the galling trinity of awesome waves, shark encounters, and cold waters, there are plenty of more newcomer-friendly spots too.

South Africa’s surfing mecca is Jeffery’s Bay, one of the world’s most famous surf destinations and host to the annual Billabong pro surf challenge in July. Here the waves are best from June until August, and surfers say Supertubes represents one of the world’s fastest, most perfectly formed waves.

South Africa’s most consistent waves are at Durban, which also has plenty of waves for all experience levels. Durban’s beaches are a good place to do plenty of surfing, and the warm water off the Indian Ocean and hot weather makes surfing more comfortable too. Just be careful of the locals around New Pier, but don’t worry — waves are working in almost every spot on most days.

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