[Photo Feature] The Road to Skeleton Bay

Over ten years ago while tediously searching and scouring almost every corner of the globe on Google Earth, I stumbled upon a unique setup like anything I had ever seen. Staring at the repeating lines of white water running down this mile long stretch of sand was all I needed to see before knowing this place was holding something special. News quickly spread throughout the surf world that this remote sandbar somewhere in Africa was dishing out some of the best barrels in the world and I made a promise to myself that I would one day make the lengthy voyage to Skeleton Bay.

Fast forward to the summer of 2017. One of the best swells of the year had just hit the area with potential for more of the same on the horizon. It was refreshing to see the wave was still very much alive and well. Yet with rumors of the shifting sand which would potentially turn one of the best & longest left barrels into a giant closeout, I knew the time had come to make the journey. I knew just the person to join me on this rare expedition: my childhood friend and longboard extraordinaire, Justin Quintal. I’m pretty confident there isn’t a surfboard (or wave) out there this guy can’t master. While the longboards were left behind for this trip, we quickly filled the bags with a wide range of Black Rose Mfg. surfboards and step-ups that would excel at the challenging wave.

searching for desert tubes with @jquinny in 🇳🇦

A post shared by Ryan Watters (@wattersryan) on

With a solid purple blob forming in the far South Atlantic aimed towards the region paired with some reasonable airfare, we were off on our 38-hour mission to Namibia. This wasn’t our usual two-hour jaunt down to Central America for a week filled with palm trees, rum spiked coconuts & warm water tubes. This would be as physically and mentally demanding of a trip as any that have come before. The grueling cross-Atlantic flight became a fairly easy obstacle to overcome after a few vodka sodas and two Benadryl later. Upon landing, it quickly became clear why this is one of the most remote regions on the planet. Namibia is essentially a giant sandbox surrounded by towering dunes and barren deserts that expand across the entire nation. The country is loaded with exclusive native wildlife and even though it is mostly known for its coastal diamond mines than surfing, it still holds a few liquid gems along the coast for those willing to search.

Equipped with a brand new 4×4 Toyota truck, Justin and I felt ready to take on anything the African desert was going to throw our way. We passed the sun-scorched dunes that appeared to us as fiery orange swells stacking across the horizon. This only made us wonder in anticipation what was waiting for us on the other side of them. Due to the raw and harsh African environment, the drive out to the wave is a mission, to say the least, and was one of the biggest obstacles on our trek. If you happen to make it through the foggy gauntlet packed with thick sand, rusted shipwrecks, endless piles of bleached white bones, and starving jackals, you’re finally rewarded with the end prize of one of the best waves on the planet. The wave is truly in a league of its own. Some of the things this wave does along the mile long stretch of beach are unexplainable and unlike anything we have seen before. We gazed in awe as the machine-like waves consistently barreled down the ultra shallow point with lighting fast speed while taking down most challengers that tried to stand in its way. The wave that seemed perfect from the comfort of social media was a completely different story once in the water.

The wave that seemed perfect from the comfort of social media was a completely different story once in the water.

After jumping into the freezing cold water and making the relatively short paddle out, the raging current basically drags you down the entire point at unimaginable speeds. Fighting it is pointless and leaves you scratching to find a decent wave before you are sucked towards the end of the beach within a few minutes. This cruel process gives new meaning to the phrase “walk of shame.” As for the marine life, there are inquisitive seals constantly popping up next to you and waiting to share your next wave with you. These curious little creatures are the true locals of the break.

Once you get past what else is lurking under the water (yes, seals aren’t the only beasts around), the drop-in might be the hardest aspect to surfing here. The water sucking up the face of the wave is sure to punish you for any mistake you might make including an instant trip to the sandbar just a couple feet beneath. If you do manage to time everything just right and lucky enough to make it to your feet, the wave is so fast that pumping down the line and pulling into the ever-changing sections should be the only thing you are focused on. I quickly learned this to be one of the most challenging and humbling waves I had ever surfed.

Walking back up towards the top of the point one evening, it was surreal to watch on as Justin quickly figured out the intricacies of this complex wave and began to stylishly drive through multiple desolate drainers. Being able to share tubes with my best friend at what I believe to be the best wave in the world is a huge check off the top of my bucket list. Even though we didn’t score the place as good as it gets, we had just enough of a taste to leave us craving even more. Without giving out too many details on what makes this unique little zone turn on, I will say that it is very fickle. Luckily with a little exploring, there are tons of other setups and waves in the surrounding area including little to no crowds. As I sit at my desk inspecting even more coastlines, I’m beginning to wonder just how many waves like Skeleton Bay have yet to be discovered. So my search continues.

Keep up with Ryan on his Instagram (@wattersryan) and check out more of his work on his website, ryanwattersphoto.com.