Everyone has a happy place. A patch of land, sea, or mountain where everything makes sense. A geographical and emotional pin, where the past, present, and future can connect easily or meaningfully. For surfer Craig Anderson that place is Bluewater Bay; the South African beach where he was born and raised and learned to surf.
"I would open the gate of my house, look for cars, run across the road, and surf these empty beachbreaks with just me and my two dogs running on the beach,” Craig Anderson says. “It was those moments that I remember so vividly. Those early stages of surfing and what it meant to me remain really important.”
Anderson was referring to his childhood growing up in Bluewater Bay in South Africa. The beach and small coastal town are located on the northern outskirts of Port Elizabeth, where the Swartkops River enters the Indian Ocean.
The white sandy beach that Craig’s dogs played on stretches for miles, framing the vast Algoa Bay. Dolphins and whales are common sightings in the bay, while the Swartkops River and salt pans are home to hundreds of species of water birds. Not too far inland The Addo National Park provides shelter to lions, buffalo, elephants, rhinoceros, and leopards. But a young Ando wasn’t so much interested in wildlife, but waves.
“Bluewater was where I started surfing with my dad and not long after he’d take me on weekends to surf Cape St Francis and J-Bay, so it just holds just a special place I'm in my heart,” he said.
Jeffreys Bay, the iconic pointbreak, was just an hour’s drive west of Craig’s home and was important in developing the style that has made Craig’s surfing style so instantly recognisable all over the planet. An hour’s drive in the other direction was East London, one of South Africa’s great surfing hubs that produced some of the country’s greatest surfers.
Aged almost 16 though Craig’s parents and his younger sister relocated to Australia. The original plan was to head up to the Gold Coast, but with his dad having family just outside Newcastle, they eventually settled in the coastal, working-class city roughly 100 miles north of Sydney.
The move wasn’t easy at such a formative age, especially when he had developed such an emotional and physical connection with his small slice of South Africa. Newcastle, a steel-making town with one of the world's largest working harbours, was very different from the sleepy Bluewater Bay, and its empty beachbreaks. However, it did have surfing running through its veins and a clutch of consistent, quality waves on the Merewether to Bar Beach stretch.
“I’ve been fortunate to spend the last 15 or 20 years here. It’s a place with a beautiful and strong surf community,” says Anderson. “It’s a town that produces these incredible surfers who I’m lucky to call friends. That I have been able to surf with them every day has been incredible.”
Surfing the Merewether waves with locals, and surfing icons, like 4X World Champion Mark Richards, Matt Hoy, and current CT stars Ryan Callinan and Jackson Baker have helped push Craig’s surfing to where it is today. Aided by local surf photographer Bosko it was from Merewether that Craig became one of the most influential freesurfers of his generation. Yet it is the small African town of Bluewater Bay, that triggers his purest surfing memories.
“I don’t get back there as much as I’d like to, but every time I do, it reminds me of that beautiful feeling when I first started surfing,” he concludes. “My surfing has evolved, and I still love it, but that nostalgic feeling of Bluewater Bay remains so special. I’ll never let it go.”