Surfing Skeleton Bay: The Endless Barrel At the Ends of the Earth

Above photo by Greg Ewing. Check out more of his work at

What: Surf Skeleton Bay, Namibia

To understand why Namibia’s Skeleton Bay may be the holy grail of the surfing world, it helps to understand the components that constitute perfect waves.

Surfers (particularly advanced surfers) rank waves according to the following characteristics:

● Tube size
● Ride length
● Speed
● Shape

The world’s most coveted waves feature at least two of these components. For instance, Teahupo’o in Tahiti and Banzai Pipeline in Oahu offers advanced surfers fast, truck-sized tubes. Moments after takeoff, they get blown from the tube like salt-soaked human bullets, and the ride is over. Pavones in Costa Rica or Chicama in Peru produce picture-perfect, kilometer-long rides but few if any tube sections. Then, there’s a handful of waves, such as Australia’s Superbank or Jeffreys Bay in South Africa, that feature everything surfers salivate over in one single package. Big tubes, long and fast rides, and not a drop of water out of place.

surfer koa smith in barrel at skeleton bay
Koa Smith Getting Deep at Skeleton Bay

The Best Wave in The World?

Surfers are natural explorers. They’d already mapped, flown over, and driven across the world’s coastlines thousands of times over. Consequently, the “best wave in the world” conversation was considered closed. Then, in 2008, Surfing Magazine launched the “Google Earth Challenge,” inviting readers to use the program to identify the next surfing Shangri-la. The winner would receive an all-inclusive trip to the location accompanied by a team of pro surfers.

Brian Gable. the winner of surfer magazine google earth challenge at Skeleton Bay in Namibia
Brian Gable. The winner of Surfing magazine’s Google Earth challenge at Skeleton Bay. Photo Credit: Surfing Magazine.

Many readers answered the call, including Brian Gable, a California software engineer. After days spent scouring satellite images, Gable submitted his entry, pinpointing Skeleton Bay on Namibia’s ultra-remote Atlantic coast. When the judges evaluated Gable’s findings, they reached an obvious conclusion: Gable had indeed found something special. Only when they arrived would they discover first-hand just how special.


Google earth picture of Namibia surf
The view from above. Photo Credit: Google Earth

Skeleton Bay: The Ultra-Marathon of Surfing

They couldn’t believe their eyes. Namibia’s Skeleton Bay was a bonafide natural miracle; an endless left-hand point break peeling perfectly for miles, churning out tube after massive tube, so fast that a wrong line could turn a dream ride into a nightmare. In contrast, picking the right line and holding on tight would give riders more tube time in one wave than they’d otherwise experience in their entire surf career. It was like riding six-foot pipeline for two miles. And when the ride was eventually over, anyone with the remaining leg strength could simply jog back up to the point and go again.

Skeleton bay surf
Endless reeling perfection awaits surfers who can get there. Photo Credit: Ian Thurtell.

Before the Surfer mag expose‘, Skeleton bay was a revered, supernaturally good point break spoken of in hushed tones by only a handful of hardcore South African surfers. When the first footage and pictures appeared, the wave exploded into the limelight. The surf community was stunned, not only by the perfection of the waves but how it had managed to remain secret for so long. Nowadays, Skeleton Bay is still as good as ever. All you have to do is get there.



A surfer surfing in a barrel at skeleton bay

Getting to Skeleton Bay

You can either make the 24-hour drive from Cape Town, or you can fly into Walvis Bay, Namibia, and drive to Skeleton Bay from there.


Either way, you’ll need a solid 4×4, a wetsuit, an extra surfboard in case one snaps, water, food, and a first aid kit. Watch out for skull and bones roads signs warning you to go no further and don’t feed the lions. You’ll also need to be a competent surfer.


A skeleton of a whale
Why else would it be called the Skeleton Coast?

Portuguese sailors called the region the “Gates of Hell.” Namibian Bushmen named it “The land God made in anger.” In truth, the 17,000 km2 Skeleton Coast National Park takes its name from the remains of whales and seals left littered on the shore by the once-booming Whaling industry. The title could just as well apply to the skeletal remains of the thousands of shipwrecks claimed by fog, rocks, lousy weather, and big waves.

Ship wreck on beach
Photo Credit: Txaro Franco

Latitude:22° 56.299′ S Longitude:14° 25.029′ E

waves in namibia

  • Strong currents. No hospitals. Wild animals.
  • Sharks in Skeleton Bay (there are no reported attacks, but surfers are all-too-aware of their presence.)
  • Life-changing stand-up barrels
  • The inland riverbeds are home to lions, giraffes, baboons, rhinos, springbok, and other cool African critters.


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