Submitted by Peter Petersen
Put-in: Lagoon Beach
Takeout: Big Bay
Time: 1-2 hours
Distance: 7 miles (11.4 km)
Wind Direction: S, SE
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With Table Mountain as a backdrop and regular 30-40 knot days for six-to-eight months of the year, the Milnerton to Big Bay downwind in Cape Town, South Africa is one of the best downwind runs in the world.
The local trade-wind, also known as the "Cape Doctor" blows out of the south-southeast from September to April with ferocious strength and great regularity--just what you need to make an epic, regular downwinder!
There are two main entry points, Lagoon Beach parking, which makes the distance 11.4 kilometers and Lighthouse, on Woodbridge Island, which makes the run 10.4 km.
Both entry points offer ample parking and easy launch off a sandy beach with no rocks. If there is a big swell running it can be a little tricky getting out. The only risk is of being pushed back to shore, but, as it’s all sand-bottom, the biggest bruises are normally to the ego.
Once you are out through the break, turn hard right (north) and aim straight for the land in the end of sight--that’s the entry to Small Bay. When racing, some of the guys choose a slightly wider line when wind is pure south, as this gives you a slight advantage towards the end. Normally the wind is S-SE and it’s pretty much a straight line. Occasionally the wind is pure SE; then you'll want to err on the side of caution and stay on a little tighter line. But Table Mountain generally straightens the wind out so it’s almost always a perfect S-SE for most of the run.
For the first one or two kilometers you'll want to let the runs pull you out a little bit to get a straighter line to Small Bay. From there, just stick with what the run dictates--some will pull you in, some will pull you out, or you can choose to head straight for the corner Small Bay entrance.
If you get tired there is sandy beach all the way up until one kilometer before the exit where you can take out. Be warned though: the swell and shorebreak grows gradually the further north you get. If the swell is running, you'll get a good drilling coming in through the surf.
The exit is normally Big Bay via Small Bay, or, if swell is big, through Big Bay itself. You do have to pass through a set of rocks on either route, and you need to set your line in advance to make sure you clear them. The wind is virtually perfect from behind and to date no one has missed the gap. There is kelp on both sides of the Small Bay entrance and there is a clean no-kelp line visible from a few hundred meters before the entrance. Make sure you head for this line (it's about 10 m wide) or your fin will get hooked on the kelp and you may come unstuck.
Once in Small Bay, head straight downwind towards the sand-spit which separates Small Bay and Big Bay. If the tide is low you may have to portage 30 m over this section. Once in Big Bay shoot straight for the main building on the shoreline, which is the Big Bay Surf and Lifesaving Club.
You can also continue on past Big Bay up to Melkbos, which makes the run 21 km (12.5 miles). Exit here is through a kelp-bed and is not recommended with larger swell.
One of the things that makes the Milnerton to Big Bay run so great is that the wind direction is always perfectly in your back; no need to fight cross winds at all, except maybe for the last 20-30 m to the beach, which are normally done cruising in on a wave. The other main asset is that the course is across Table Bay, which bends back out to greet the paddlers, meaning it's virtually impossible to get blown out to sea--great for safety! There are no outer reefs to worry about and apart from the last one kilometer, you can exit onto the sand the entire way in case of emergency.
Another big plus is that the R27 West Coast road runs virtually the entire distance along the downwinder, meaning time spent shuttling cars is minimal. The bus service is currently being upgraded and it will soon be possible to catch a bus back to the entry point and your car.
The wind is normally strongest after 4:30 p.m. as the landmass starts to cool down--hence most our runs start between five and six, allowing everyone to go straight from work onto a run, and back home in time for dinner at seven!
Table Mountain and the Cape Peninsula shelter the start of the run so you start out with side-offshore winds and relatively small runners, which just continue building as you make your way down the course. On the stronger days the runners will start picking you up as soon as you make it out through the surf--so the roller coaster ride starts virtually right from the beach. The first six or seven kilometers of the run are very clean; the last three or four kilometers you can have a slight refraction as the coast turns out into the run.
On our GPS readings the course is fastest between kilometers six and eight. But don’t let that fool you: you’re flying the entire way. The record time in a race is just under 43 minutes, held by Ivan van Vuuren, which translates to a 14 km/h average speed. On the GPS the guys have done one kilometer stretches with average speeds of 15 km/h--it gets fast!
Cape Town is one of the most popular wind- and kitesurf destinations in the world and there are ample accommodation and car rental options to suit any budget. There are tons of restaurants, first-world amenities, cinemas, night clubs, sightseeing opportunities and lots to do for the rest of the family if they haven't quite got the downwind bug yet.
Windy season is October through March, with the most consistent being December, January and February. A bad day is 15-20 knots. Thirty knot-plus days are the most common--you should have that sort of wind seven out of 10 days in that period.
Watersports Warehouse and Naish SUP offer 14' Glide rentals and shuttle service most evenings at five. They’re also the organizer of the Primi Naish Downwind Dash, which runs every Wednesday from the middle of October until the middle of March.