Cape St. Francis


Hypnotic right-breaking point wave located on the southeast coast of South Africa, about 60 miles from Port Elizabeth; the fabled "perfect wave" as featured in Californian Bruce Brown's 1966 hit movie The Endless Summer. Cape St. Francis is in fact the name of a sandy three-mile-long triangular point that features at least six distinct breaks; since the late '60s, the surf spot featured in Endless Summer has been known among South African surfers as Bruce's Beauties—or just Bruce's—in honor of Brown.

Filming in South Africa in November 1963, Brown, along with Endless Summer costars Mike Hynson and Robert August, checked into a pair of thatched-roof rondavel holiday cottages near the base of Cape St. Francis. Cape Town surfer John Whitmore had suggested they look for surf along the point. While riding a mediocre beachbreak in front of their rooms the following morning, Hynson spied a likely-looking wave about a mile to the west, and convinced Brown and August to follow him up for a look. The flawless waves Brown filmed were crisp, hollow, fast, and even, with rides lasting more than 30 seconds; Cape St. Francis became the high point of Endless Summer. "It was so good it was almost unbelievable," Brown later wrote about Cape St. Francis. "It was the kind of wave that at first you'd start giggling, then you'd start laughing, then you'd start screaming at the top of your lungs, until you felt like you were about to snap your twig." (The following day, when the surf was down, Brown shot Hynson and August marching across the nearby sand dunes, and later edited the footage into the soon-to-be-famous—and completely made up—"discovery" of Cape St. Francis.)

Cape St. Francis requires a powerful east or southeast swell, which has to bend around the tip of the cape, greatly reducing the wave size; rarely does the surf here get over six feet. The best waves generally arrive from May to September, when water temperature can drop to the low 60s and offshore winds blow up to 30 knots. Mussel-covered boulders along Cape St. Francis are hazardous, as are the great white and Zambezi sharks that patrol this part of the coast. Endless Summer viewers were told that Cape St. Francis produces good surf roughly 300 days a year, but in truth the waves usually hit peak form just two or three times a year—if that. Adjacent breaks, including Hullets and Leftovers, break more often.

Surfer magazine introduced Cape St. Francis to the surf world in a 1964 article titled "Africa: The Perfect Wave." Surfing's better-informed 1968 feature was titled "Cape St. Francis: Not so Hot." But by that time, word was out about Jeffreys Bay, a pointbreak located just 12 miles northeast of Cape St. Francis that offered bigger, far more consistent waves that were just as perfectly formed. Meanwhile, the beautifully desolate sand dunes that fronted the break when Brown and company visited were parceled off and sold in 1967, and have long since been covered by rows of condominiums and townhouses.

Cape St. Francis has been featured in a small number of surf movies and videos, including Oceans (1972), Playgrounds in Paradise (1978), Endless Summer II (1994), and Wave Spotting (1998).