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TheKiteMag Feature The Point of no Return North 5 copy 1200x800 - The Point of no Return

The Point of no Return

Take four of the world’s most extreme kiteboarders – Cohan Van Dijk, Graham Howes, Jett Bradshaw and Luca Ceruti – pair them up with a handful of the most creative and capable camerapersons in the scene, and sprinkle some Dutch spice over the mixture… A recipe to triumph over disaster… A recipe of legends… An expedition to go down in the kiteboarding history books… And a cover for TheKiteMag…

Videography: Adam Sims, Kyle Cabano and Maarten Molenaar

WORDS: Kyle Cabano
PHOTOS: Andy Troy and Miles Taylor

Renowned for rough windswept seas and sinking ships, the ‘Cape of Storms’, as it was known by seafarers, has wrecked a total of 26 ships that can still be seen strewn along the rocky peninsula. The first modern rounding of the Cape was done in 1487 by Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias and his crew in an attempt to establish direct trade relations with the far east. Dias called the Cape ‘Cabo das Tormentas’, the original name for the Cape, which directly translated means Cape of Storms.

Growing up around Cape Town, even before being a kiter, I was aware of the rough ocean conditions induced by the gale-force winds in the summer and battered by Southern Ocean storms during the winter months. Tales of shipwrecked sailors and explorers were great fantasies to envision at an early age. I would stare at the ocean and wonder what it was like for these early explorers. These brave sailors had no way of knowing what type of oceanic and environmental conditions they would face, only good faith and trust in their Captain’s decisions and the integrity of their vessel.

Fast forward several centuries to the year 2023, and we find ourselves living in a far more developed iteration of the same destination. Modern advances in navigation, weather forecasting, and water safety measures have softened the demeanor of this treacherous coastline. The submerged mountains of rock that caused many a shipwreck are now well plotted on GPS coordinates, and the weather forecast is never more than one click away on our smartphones. Safe passage around this coastline is now far more common, and the waters are well-known tuna grounds for keen fishers. The key is to go when the weather is fair. This is where our mission first grabbed my attention. We were planning to head out there in the same gale-force winds and ocean conditions that earned this place its notorious title.

The trip came together at the end of the North Kiteboarding Big Air shoot in February 2023. After a successful week of shooting at some spots up the west coast, we turned our focus to Cape Point. While Cape Point is technically not the southernmost point of Africa, which lies 150 kilometers southeast at Cape Agulhas, the warm water of the Agulhas current meets the cold water of the Benguela current and turns back on itself at a point that fluctuates between Cape Agulhas and Cape Point. The idea behind the choice of Cape Point was its nautical significance as a point where the mighty Atlantic and Indian oceans join and where powerful forces of nature collide, symbolizing the evolution of North Kiteboarding’s brand identity as part of North Sails. We would not be the first kiters to ride and perform jumps off the coastline of the mighty Cape Point, so our objective was the most extreme Big Air in the strongest possible wind that anyone has ever done.

February 2nd was our first attempt to achieve our goal of Big Air kiting out at Cape Point. I was the first crew to arrive to check the wind at Platboom Beach for an indication of wind strength. It was blowing east-southeast as we needed it to. Unfortunately, it was only coming in around 20 knots. Nonetheless, we gathered at Buffels Bay and ran through our plan of action for the mission ahead. It was about 12 kilometers directly upwind from our launch location to where our riders would need to be, so Jett suggested towing the kites upwind in the boat, a technique he had learned while teaching kiting in Greece. In case this technique backfired on us, we split up the riders using the old rock/paper/scissors gameplay technique, which granted Jett and Luca a free ride on board the vessel while Graham and Cohan would attempt the launch from Diaz Beach on the Atlantic side. In addition, the camera team also split up to ensure we had all the angles covered. Miles, Maarten and I were to be onboard the boat along with the riders and Alex Vliege, Athlete Manager and trip coordinator. Adam and Andy would hold the fort on terra firma to capture the land angle.

When Graham and Cohan arrived at Diaz Beach, they were faced with the grim realization that there was no wind present at the beach down below. In addition to the super light winds, a three-meter ground swell from the southern Atlantic Ocean was detonating along the coast against the steep cliffs of the mountainside. Meanwhile, on the boat, Miles, Maarten, Luca, Jett, and I smoothly navigated beyond the safety of False Bay and into the big blue sea. It was a suspiciously smooth drive, but we only noticed how light the wind was when we stopped moving the boat. It was unexpected as we were very much in the epicenter of the summer kiting season, and the forecasts were all looking favorable. At the tip of Cape Point, the southeast wind meets the sheer and mighty mountainside and is forced to diverge, blowing cross-shore along the west-facing edge of the peninsula towards Platboom Beach and blowing onshore along the east-facing edge of the peninsula towards Buffels Bay beach. I believe this is the reason that in front of the point itself, the wind was not blowing at total capacity.

Jett and Luca hopped off the boat on their 11m and 10m Orbits respectively. The land camera team consisting of Adam and Andy, kept in contact using two-way radios with Miles, Maarten and myself on the boat, capturing the action from there with the iconic backdrop in sight. We got word over the radio that Graham and Cohan would not make it out due to the lack of wind on the shoreline. Jett and Luca managed to get a few tacks in and sneak in a few loops, but the wind was too light for the action we had envisioned. After about two hours out at sea, we accepted that this would be the maximum wind strength and decided to take what we had and head back to shore. We caught word that Kitebeach, Blouberg, had nuking winds that very afternoon, so we raced from Cape Point back to Blouberg in time for a super productive sunset shoot at Dolphin Beach.

Although we kited out at Cape Point as initially planned, it was clear that we had unfinished business… The type of shots we had envisioned required at least twice the wind strength, and we all knew this. Five days later, we set out to kite Cape Point again. This time, Alex was the first on the scene, getting eyes on the spot in the early hours of the day before deploying the entire team. The updates came reeling in from Alex and it was clear that this was the day! Wave riders at Platboom on their 5m kites coming off the water overpowered, rivers of sand streaming across the coastal roads, and a wind-torn ocean of white caps – the Cape of Storms was revving at full force.

The energy in the car park that morning was potent. It was a different caliber of ocean to what we had attempted with the mission five days earlier. The ocean surface was being ripped up by the gale-force southeast wind and blasting the sand against our legs. After the success of our previous boat ride out, we decided to attempt attaching the kites of all four riders to our boat and towing them upwind to where we would be riding. This meant having two kites positioned on each side of the boat, which would require some precise piloting from the riders to keep the kites from getting tangled. In addition, we would be placing a massive trust into the equipment, which would be under insane amounts of pressure due to the boat motoring straight upwind for the 12-kilometer journey while navigating the rough seas.

One by one, the riders launched their kites and started to tack out to sea while we launched the boat through the kelpy slipway. The first rider on the boat was Jett, then Luca, then Cohan, and finally Graham. We had the chicken loops fastened around a pole that ran through the center of the boat’s deck; it was no simple feat releasing each kite and then resetting the chicken loop around the pole, but it was made easier by the modern click-in system of the quick release. Each kite was fully powered in the nuking winds, and it is a massive wonder that the boat did not take off when riding into the wind.

The boat ride out set the tone… it was horrifyingly scary! Massive waves crashed over the boat’s deck and soaked us every five seconds. The riders were all focused on keeping their kite’s position stable in the air, as a tangle in this scenario could have become a big ordeal. That 20-minute boat ride felt like an eternity. It was hair-raising out there, the type of ocean conditions that will give you chest hairs and a heck of a story to share around the campfire. While all nine of us onboard the boat were very well acquainted with heavy waters, this was by far the most extreme of our lives. The only person who was in control was our Captain, Rob Caine. We salute you, brother.

After the grueling boat ride out, we were greeted with the most awe-striking view. This was indeed the Cape of Storms. There are better kite spots than this one. Sheer mountain cliffs drop down into the deep ocean, with strong currents, massive swells, and wind shadows if you come too close by the side. The riders each jumped into the water to get the session started. At the same time, the camera crew on the boat did our best to keep our equipment dry – this was to no avail as the cameras got soaked. During the first 30 minutes of the session, the riders did some massive tacks. At the same time, the land crew secured the choreographed cruising shots. The team on the boat dipped and dodged through as many of the breaking ocean swells as we could, getting soaked every few minutes in the process.

After a few big tacks, the guys spaced out and started taking to the air. It was jaw-dropping to see the level of riding these guys were throwing down so far out to sea. It looked like a heat straight out of the Red Bull King of the Air – kiteloops with rotations, board-offs, and combinations of these too! Jett was out there on his 15m lines getting the kite low in signature fashion, Cohan was doing some of the biggest boogie-loop board-offs I have ever seen, Luca was ripping on all fronts but had some particularly impressive contraloops, and Graham was steezing around the boat in G fashion with some epic inverted front rolls over the staggering mountain peaks and keeping a watchful eye on the adrenaline-filled grommets.

We spent a long time out at sea that afternoon. It was not just a matter of snagging a few kite loops and heading back to the safety of the bay before things got pear-shaped. We stayed out there till just before sunset, leaving just enough time to get the boat out of the water and exit the Cape Point reserve by their closing time. The riders kited back downwind in the shadows of the eastern face of the peninsula while we hauled ass downwind in the boat, now far fewer passengers than the ride out earlier. When we got back to the slipway and parking lot and touched the ground, we kissed that ground and said thanks, because we honestly felt like we had somehow cheated death out there. We cut our celebratory hugs and cheers short and drove out of the reserve in our wetsuits to avoid any penalties, before congregating outside the gate to continue the celebrations with more hugs, cheers, and joyful dancing! It is said that in these moments when you are closest to death, you feel the most alive. We had experienced one of these moments…

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