In a remote corner of the South African west coast, where the mellow seaside village of Paternoster lies nearby, the elusive reef known as Tand became the ultimate stage to showcase the pinnacle of South African bodyboarding. Handpicked from a pool of talent, sixteen of the nation’s finest bodyboarders embraced the challenge, soaring beyond their limits and etching their names into history. As the day’s enthralling saga reached its conclusion, it was Wesley Coetzee from KwaZulu Natal who emerged as the triumphant victor, clutching the R20,000 winner’s cheque, while Alex Nutt, another gifted rider from KZN, secured a well-deserved 2nd place. An impressive display from IBC contender, Robbie Berman, earned him the 3rd spot on the podium, and the indomitable Hankus Loubser rounded off the fierce competition, securing a respectable 4th place finish.

The Tand Invitational 2023 sets itself apart as a distinctive event, breaking away from the conventional contest format. It stands as an invitation-only competition, not one that you can simply enter; surfers must earn their spot through a coveted invitation. The selection process revolves around stringent criteria, showcasing each rider’s capability to elevate their performance in the face of challenging and consequential waves.

Amidst a dark and gloomy start to the day, lightning bolts illuminated the atmosphere while rolling thunder echoed through the sand dunes, setting an ominous tone for the day ahead. The greatest challenge of the morning lay in connecting the live stream to the outside world. Tittiesbaai, being quite remote and far from decent wifi, lacked any fiber connection that far out. Despite these obstacles, the live stream managed to reach the world flawlessly, which can only be described as nothing short of a miracle.

The day’s inaugural heat commenced around 11 am, greeted by a building swell and a receding tide. Right from the first wave ridden, it became evident that we were in for a historic day. The heat served as a battleground, pitting the new school against the old guard. Luke Bruton, the impressive super grom and Tand local, emerged victorious, while the skilled Walker Bay Pro junior champ, Hugo NaudĂ© from George in the Southern Cape, claimed a solid second place. Sacha Specker, the esteemed 2012 world Drop Knee champion and a previous Tand winner, secured a respectable third position, with local talent Aden Kleve from Kalk Bay Reef finishing fourth. In line with the contest format, the first two riders advanced to the semifinals, while the remaining two contenders were knocked out of the competition.

Heat two commenced at a leisurely pace, as the ocean seemed to hush, compelling riders to vie for ideal positions in search of high-scoring waves. Hankus Loubser showcased his prowess, mastering both wave selection and the art of pure power surfing, which led him to a commanding victory, leaving our local IBC world tour contender, Robbie Berman, settling for second place. Regrettably, the hopes of Andrew Raath and Marc Webster, who had advanced into the event by triumphing in the David Lillenfeld Pro Am, were dashed as they were knocked out of the competition.

Once again, heat three presented a compelling battle, juxtaposing the seasoned expertise of Henk Esterhuysen and Johan De Goede against the vigor of the younger generation represented by Jaco Calitz and Alex Nutt. Strengthened by the offshore wind, the barrels expanded, surpassing the spectacle witnessed earlier in the morning. Alex Nutt, another gentleman hailing from Durban, Kwa-Zulu Natal, emerged victorious over Jaco. Henk and Johan, observing the young guns’ remarkable display, contentedly savored their own exhilarating tube rides, concluding their contest on an exuberant note.

The final heat of the opening round provided a nerve-wracking spectacle. The scores were so tight that it was challenging to determine a clear winner. Allan Horton initiated the event’s first outstanding score with a daring takeoff deeper than anyone else, resulting in one of the day’s most significant and elongated tube rides. His audacity earned him a remarkable 9 out of 10 from the judges. Regrettably, he couldn’t find a backup wave, which could have secured his victory in the heat. Wesley Coetzee from the South Coast of KwaZulu Natal, however, seized the opportunity, unearthing the gems in the heat, and emerged as the victor by the slightest of margins over Luke Staniforth. Benjy Oliver, although landing in fourth place, demonstrated extraordinary resilience and humor as he walked away from the event with the honor of the wipeout of the day. His inaugural trip over a barnacle-encrusted slab left him unharmed, and he graciously maintained his cheerful demeanor even after the heat concluded.

With the conclusion of the opening heat, the semi finals took center stage. The first semi proved to be a slow affair, with the ocean yielding only a few mutant waves that detonated over the slab. Robbie Berman emerged victorious over Alex Nutt, who skillfully executed a massive backflip on the main bowl, securing the event’s second excellent score and earning him a remarkable 9 point ride from the judges. Unfortunately, Luke Bruton and Luke Staniforth were unable to find the waves they needed, but they gracefully bowed out of the event, holding their heads high with pride.

Semifinal two stole the spotlight as the most exhilarating heat of the event. Hankus Loubser unleashed his inner beast, capitalizing on waves under priority that earned him the highest heat total of the entire competition. Three massive barrel rides, skillfully complemented by a combination of backflips and spins, led Hankus to an impressive heat total of 17.16 out of 20. He outshone Wesley Coetzee, who secured a commendable 14.17. Meanwhile, the young talents Jaco Calitz and Hugo Naude had no choice but to sit back and watch in awe as Hankus delivered a master class of bodyboarding excellence.

And thus, we transitioned into the grand finale of the Tand Invitational 2023. Wesley Coetzee and Alex Nutt engaged in a captivating battle against the local talents, Hankus Loubser and Robbie Berman. The lead in the final changed hands multiple times, with each rider expertly locating scoring waves. Hankus’ strategy of patience and anticipation, seeking that elusive mutant wave, unfortunately proved to be his downfall. In the end, it was Wesley Coetzee who showcased his finesse, unearthing hidden gems among the waves, and clenching his maiden Tand victory, along with the coveted R20,000 prize. Alex Nutt secured a well-deserved 2nd place, receiving a generous cheque of R5,000. Robbie Berman achieved a significant milestone in his career, claiming the 3rd spot on the podium and earning R3,000. Hankus, concluding his day of bold charging, secured a respectable 4th finish, walking away with a cheque of R2,000.

And thus, the curtains fell on the Tand Invitational 2023, marking its triumphant conclusion. A heartfelt thank you extends to all the supporters, media, and fans who journeyed up the west coast to witness the event live. Immense gratitude is owed to those who tuned in and supported the event’s live stream, enriching the experience for countless others. A humble debt of appreciation is owed to the event sponsors, whose financial backing made this dream a reality. Special mention goes to Hand Picked Bodyboards for their unwavering support, spanning all the way from Australia to South Africa. Let us not forget the invaluable contributions of the smaller sponsors, who played a pivotal role in bringing this event to life: Ryan Boon Meats, Smit Steenwerke, Buell Wetsuits, Comfort Cool Air Conditioning, Jackery Power Supplies, Red Bull, Urban Hippy, WhatgoesaroundSA, Paternoster Holiday Rentals, Paternoster Express, Wiara Coffee, Kiff Labs, Marqua Digital Design, and Mumbles. Your collective support elevated the Tand Invitational to extraordinary heights, leaving a lasting impression on all who were part of this remarkable journey.

Photos by: Craig Kolesky(Land shots) and Seth Phitides(Water shots)