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AAt certain times of the year, a mammoth wave builds up off the coast of Western Cape province, at a spot called Dungeons Beach near Hout Bay in Cape Town. This is a signal for the big-wave surfers to gather and take on a swell that is considered epic in board-riding circles.
This isn’t surfing, it’s an ocean battleground, and that wave at Dungeons on Sentinel Reef is not a super-tube, it’s a liquid apocalypse waiting to happen.
The build-up for big-wave devotees is monumental: days spent tracking weather by satellite, watching shifting wind and wave patterns. If the storm swell makes landfall, you have the makings of a big wave: a rolling mass of wind-borne energy that grows exponentially stronger, travelling at 30 to 50 knots, before it curls up over itself and detonates with all the ocean’s explosive power.
Until recently, Dungeons was the location of an annual professional big-wave surfing competition known as Red Bull Big Wave Africa, open to just 24 contestants by invitation only. Although this competition has since been suspended, big-wave surfers from around the world still gather when the news gets out that weather conditions are perfect for Dungeons to start pumping.
This is certainly not for the average surfer: it’s a tow-in venue only, meaning surfers cannot paddle out; they need to be towed into the area by jet-skis. Even if all you want to do is watch the action, you'll have to hitch a ride on one of the charter boats.
Alternatively, you could get a bird’s-eye view of the surfing at Dungeons and combine it with an exhilarating spiritual hike in the mountains above Hout Bay: The Sentinel and Karbonkelberg.
A word of warning, however: opportunistic muggings of small groups are a danger in many hiking spots along the Cape Peninsula, so visitors who would like to hike in the mountains should do so with trusted local tour guides. Local tourism information centres will direct you to accredited programs.
TTravel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
Watch the local media for news of Dungeons or check online surf reports.
How to get here
Dungeons is not visible from the beach, so anyone wishing to see big-wave surfers in action will have to get into a boat.
Best time to visit
The big wave at Dungeons depends on prevailing weather conditions – usually these develop in late winter (late July and throughout August), when large cold fronts move through.
Where to stay
Cape Town has ample accommodation and many friendly surf spots.