Palm Beach in KZN, South Africa has been and continues to be rated as one of the best wind sport wave riding venues in the world, as strange as that may seem.
It is a far cry from some island paradise or speciality wave kitesurfing destination. Does it deliver on every visit? No, so what is all the fuss about then?
The Place: A Gentle Giant for Kitesurfing in South Africa
Palm Beach also referred to as Mpenjati, named after the neighboring river estuary has had some big names in the wind sports lifestyle pass through it. Some have used it as a secret training ground, others, but few grew up in the area, then some just hung around and then moved on. Not much happens in Palm Beach but that could also be said of the whole of the Lower South Coast of Kwazulu Natal (KZN). Situated on the boundary of a Marine Protected Area and Nature Conservation Area it has maintained its tranquil qualities over the years. To the local kitesurfer it is special in more ways than what can be appreciated if you are not from the area. The KZN coast is known for its surfing and the lower south coast for its good swell, at which extremity Palm Beach is ideally located. Apart from this perfect position the break itself offers something that no other venue this side of the Transkei offers, this being a mellower “continental shelf,” so to speak. Leaving the Eastern Cape one leaves behind the gentler breaking waves for what is pretty much a mountain range that fell in the sea, known as the Transkei or Wild Coast. Thereafter you will find the Kwazulu Natal coastline and not until you reach the Mozambique border in the north will you again experience the gentler lappings of the ocean, except at Palm Beach.
The KZN kitesurfer has very limited options in regards to flat water venues and even less options when it comes to progressing into the ocean without paying dearly in terms of gear and body damages. While the continental shelf is not actually gentler per say, Palm Beach is a microcosm on its own. It is in fact the combination of an outer reef, a rocky outcrop in the form of a point and a river system that feeds sand into the equation that makes this place unique. The outer reef transforms the ocean swells into sought after waves while at the same time disarming the waves explosive energy, leaving a calm inside section with a weak shorebreak.
Not to be underestimated though, Palms has many different faces dependent on conditions and one needs to show care. There are no shark nets, no life savers and rarely will anyone be watching you. Of the many faces that Palm Beach will show, its faithfulness rests in the fact that it is a reef based break, which makes this place predictable if you know how to read the charts and forecasts.
Wave and Flat Water Kitesurfing
Apart from the flat inside section where you can break out your freestyle, the waves are what Palm Beach is all about. Strangely enough though, this place has never really been truly exploited by surfers. The main reason being the lack of shark nets but with the advent of Stand Up Paddling and a resurgence in Waveski and Surf Kayaking there should in time be an influx of riders taking advantage on the windless days.
As for the waves: Many a visitor to this spot miss out on the best offerings, simply due to lack of info. Palm Beach as with most of the KZN coastline delivers best on the Southerly wind and swell. While smaller swell conditions are extremely fun, this place can hold up to if not more than a 15 foot swell. (Please refer to the diagram for what follows.)
Palm Beach is made up of a couple of breaks. The Outer Reef, Creamers and Liners are the three main areas to find your action. While most kiters launching from the Palms Accommodation site will head straight out to the Outer Reef and then back in to the Freestyle Flats and repeat this process all day long, this is not the money maker. Similarly riders launching from the Mpenjati Estuary will head out through Liners, this too is not your ticket to the joy train. While both of these options do provide for great entertainment they are not the best of the best.
Best of the Best: The Hot Spot
Creamers is where you want to be 90% of the time, if your intentions are set on wave riding that is. Here you will find on most days a gentle, smooth wave rolling into what could be considered a channel of sort. From this point you can spend your whole session riding waves without the need to jump or ride over broken waves to get back out. Here is a place to progress and to learn to love waves. On most days crashing your kite here will put you into the flat water on the inside where you should have the time to re-launch. Creamers runs into Liners if you ride it out. Liners on a good day will hold up, teasing you into a chase down the line which will either end badly as you will have too much speed or end spectacularly as you go for that big close out move. The Outer Reef: It’s a temptation, it’s far and not always worth the journey. It’s fun to visit but not the best wave riding to be had as it is quite peaky and pitchy making it more of a washing machine than anything else. It’s challenging and thrilling without a doubt but never forget where you are and what’s at risk. Outer Limits is probably the better bet for a deep ocean ride, however be sure not to crash your kite as the rocks lie in wait.
Outer Reef, Creamers and Liners Become One
For the diehard wave rider the big thrill is when the Outer Reef, Creamers and Liners link up. This can happen with a strong, small 4 to 6 foot swell on a low tide but more often than not it will only link up from 8 foot plus. The length of ride is crazy and your fitness will dictate your fun. Two tacks will normally get you back into the lineup but never let a good one pass on your first tack. If you are looking for tube rides, there is ample opportunity depending on how much you are willing to put it on the line. For a “safer” tube riding experience the Northern side of the Shallow Reef shown in the Google Earth diagram will deliver a pitchy section on smaller swell conditions, on a lower tide. Be careful however as it is very shallow. On a Spring Low tide you can stand on what would seem to be the backline.
Palm Beach due to its construct can go very flat in small swell conditions and Spring High tides. Be sure not to miss the low tide session if this is the case. A Spring Low on small swell can be epic. The North Easterly wind can be fun at Palm Beach as well. The flat water still exists on the inside, just be aware of the downwind rocks. If you are desperate for waves and the Northerly swell is running, consider walking up the beach or tacking to the North East Reef which is known to deliver some better waves.
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