Over the years Jeffreys Bay (a.k.a. J’Bay) has been described as many things; a sleeping fishing village, 1849, a surfer’s paradise, late 1960’s, and one of the fastest growing towns in South Africa, today.
Aerial view, 2005 [credit: www.jeffreysbay.com]
I was introduced to the town when we came to celebrate my cousin’s 21st birthday, about 25 years ago. That year signified the first time my family and I saw an ocean. I remember, as we drove along the highway over the mountains, that we had to search the horizon to see the town. It wasn’t easy to spot, and neither was the ocean – despite the parents’ assurance that we would see it once we reached the other side of the mountain. Most of the land within the town borders predominantly boasted its natural state of flora and fauna; it was very green, and that seemed to be all my young eyes could focus on.
The foreground of this photo will give you a good idea what the whole area looked like [credit: www.jeffreysbay.com]
My parents made the decision, months later, to pull up our roots from the town where we then lived, and we made the long trek to the Eastern Cape and the small holiday/fishing village called Jeffreys Bay. One of the first houses we rented here was a wooden structure, hidden away in the vegetation, in what is now probably the biggest residential area of the town. It was so different from the other places, in the Northern Cape and Free State, where we came from. I absolutely loved it! I imagined myself in scenes from the television series, “The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams”. It’s an American series which was dubbed into Afrikaans and locally known as Jopie Adam. To add to the adventure, we actually got lost one night on the way home from visiting my uncle’s! That was a little scary.
One of the main economic advantages the locals had since the early days is the fishing industry. A popular catch, and delicacy, around here is chokka (a.k.a. calamari / squid). The fishing (chokka) boats lay anchor in St Francis Bay, but one can often see them out at sea from pretty much anywhere in J’Bay.
For the most part the village, turned town, seemed to be a best kept secret of sorts. With a (local) reputation as a surfers’ hangout, it attracted only a few holidaymakers every year. I think it was mainly people who came to visit family and friends, or people from the nearby city and neighboring towns, who knew the beach was here. The town sure wove its magic, ensuring return visits. People started investing in vacation homes, buying property with an eye on their retirement. Those first few years after we settled here, there was a notable increase in the senior citizen demographic. The young people began to worry that they’d be stuck in a “retirement community” and chose to look for opportunities in the big cities.
In 2001, J’Bay was “officially” put on the map. The world map! That was the year when “five events on the 2001 ASP World Tour are cancelled and the Billabong Pro inadvertently becomes the year’s penultimate tournament” (quoted from the BillabongPro site). If you are a surfer (of waves, not the Net!), or follow the sport, you will know that J’Bay is famous for spectacular waves. Every July, for 10 days or so, thousands of people from all over the world come to watch as the best of the best try to ‘tame’ the waves at Supertubes. I find it a bit amusing that the “ill-reputed” sport of surfing helped to boost our town’s economy and growth.
Surfer dude [credit: http://www.jeffreysbay.com]
The perfect wave and chokka are not all we have to offer. Our blue flag beach is another attraction, which is why, this summer, we are bursting at the seams again with holidaymakers. Add to that the regional mall, which opened its doors in 2008, one pretty much has everything at the tips of your fingers.
J’Bay stays a popular holiday destination because, for all its growth and progress, it is still a small town at heart.