People, Surf cultureWho’s That Guy? J-Bay’s Bruce Gold
Supertubes at Jeffreys Bay is a wave synonymous with numerous surfers: Mick and his shark encounter, Derek Hynd’s finless finesse, Occy’s backhand attack, Curren’s flow, and Bruce Gold’s down the line trim – hips thrust forward and arms raised above his visored helmet, long white beard blowing in the wind. Most surfers will recognize the first four of those names and be able to recall the moments that have led to them being eternally linked to this most famous of right hand point breaks, but probably only the very attentive or those who have spent any time in J-Bay will be familiar with Bruce. If you know, though, then you know. Bruce Gold is a larger than life figure in J-Bay; his wirey frame and unique style make him equally recognisable on land as in the water and he is often referred to by some in town as a “living legend”.
Now just short of his seventieth birthday, Bruce Gold originally hails from the city of Durban in KwaZulu-Natal in eastern South Africa. In the late sixties the Apartheid South African government introduced conscription for all white males between the ages of 17 and 65 into either the South African Defence Force (the army) or the Police, with the minimum length of service increasing from 9 months to one year in the early seventies. Gold spent three years working as an Afrikaans police officer, before becoming a taxi driver, and it was during this time in the early 1970s that his occasional visits to Jeffreys Bay (he first came on holiday with his family in 1953) began to become more frequent and longer in duration. He became part of the initial group of surfers who dropped out of regular society to camp in the dunes and surf supertubes, doing their best to avoid invoking the displeasure of the local, largely conservative community in the town of Jeffreys Bay. Since then, he’s avoided all of the trappings of modern life: he hasn’t had a regular job since (but instead got by collecting oysters and shells to barter with or sell, and worked occasionally as a massage therapist), is unmarried and has called many places home (including tents and caves) alongside some periods with no home at all. During Miki Dora’s residence in J-Bay over the course of seven years during the 1990s, Bruce and Miki became firm friends, and Bruce’s Pekingese dog “Scooter Girl” is named in tribute to “Scooter Boy”, Miki’s beloved dog that was killed in a fire in the flat that he was living in in J-Bay. Dora left J-Bay for good following the death of his dog and the loss of many of his possessions, and what he did leave behind was boxed up and has been in the care of Bruce Gold ever since. Dora famously said to Gold “Don’t sell out”, but Bruce has been jokingly threatening to auction of the contents for years.
These days, Gold lives in the former servants quarters of a home overlooking Supertubes as the guest of the owner in return for tending the garden, and the affection in which many locals and visitors hold him means that he won’t ever be left to starve. Bruce Gold is a man who has forsaken almost everything in the singular pursuit of being able to ride waves at Jeffreys Bay and this has earned him a great deal of respect; he surfs once, often twice, most days and although upon initial inspection he simply runs down the line in a perpetual soul-arch, he knows the wave here as only somebody who’s dedicated their life to it can. Sure, he gets burnt by the odd unknowing grommet, tourist or sponsored pro, but you’re unlikely to find such a forgiving local surfer in the line-up at such a bucket list wave anywhere on the planet. Or, in fact, such an amiable elder statesman, as Bruce Gold seems ever-ready to exchange a cheerful “Ahoy” and trademark fist-bump with anybody on the boardwalk above Supertubes and engage in a poetic rap with them in his soft accent about the current conditions out front.
If you’re visiting J-Bay and catch sight of Bruce in the line-up or around town (he’s hard to miss in either setting), then be sure to say hello, because they don’t make many like that any more.
Photograph courtesy and copyright Down The Line Photography/Peter Chamberlain
Video courtesy and copyright Anders Melchior