No longer the domain of beach-blonde hair and suntanned skin, the surfing community reflects an increasingly wider spread of age, race and ability. A first-time surfer and photojournalist dips her toes into the inclusive surfing community at Muizenberg .
Words & Photos Teagan Cunniffe
Growing up, Durban’s North Beach was, for me, synonymous with barefoot surfers, boards always within arm’s reach after a breakfast at Wimpy. I fostered a secret dream of being part of that early-morning ‘cool’ crowd but feared being a newbie floating in a sea of judgement and sharp boards. Standing at the foot of the mountainous 30s, it was time to address childhood fears and dreams. (Side note: studies show surfing is gaining in popularity because it ‘embodies the pursuit of pleasure’ and ‘idea of perpetual youth’… how coincidental.)
Where better to learn than Muizenberg Beach in Cape Town. With the earliest record of South African surfing (1910), it’s widely regarded as the birthplace of surfing in South Africa and among the top learner-beaches in the world.
‘Muizenberg is like a surfing nursery.’ says Roxy Davis, nine-time South African Surfing Champion, mother of three and all-round bringer of good energy. ‘There are no rocks. You won’t get washed out by the currents and the waves are small and regular.’ Roxy started her surf school in 2002. What began as an informal congregation of her friends ‘by the umbrella on the grass over there’ exploded with an intake of over 200 learners, thanks to the timely release of the film Blue Crush. Be it big waves, a male-dominated surf industry or evolving a successful business, Roxy is not one to be daunted by challenges – a sentiment fostered at the Surf Emporium. ‘Our attitude will always be “yes we can”. And during surf lessons, our priorities are centred on having fun in a safe environment. When it comes to training the surf coaches, my benchmark is ultimately knowing that I could recommend them from my personal experience, and would feel comfortable with my own children going into a lesson with them.’
Yet good coaching can only go so far, I discovered, as my feet did an intricate tangle on the board and I belly-flopped to the side with an ungainly splash. All around, learners were in various stages of skill progression. Surf coach Nick shouted encouragment at me to keep my sinking spirits afloat. It took another surf session led by drill-sergeant Seth to get me to my feet.
Go! Paddle! You can do it,’ he yelled after me. ‘It’s good that you’re tired, it means you’re trying!’ His eyes took on a manic gleam. But he was getting results. I was standing up routinely, if still ungracefully, and my face was equally tired from grinning. ‘It’s about muscle memory.’ Seth said, encouraging me to keep on going.
If anyone in the water is an inspiration, it’s 75-year old physiotherapist Pam Hansford. Pam used to work with the Roxy Davis Foundation, along with over 30 certified adaptive coaches and around 400 volunteers, to bring the evidence-based mental and physical benefits of surfing to those with disabilities. At least, up until she broke her back while body boarding in Kommetjie three years ago. Initially unable to walk, Pam has since been an advocate for surf therapy.
‘I’ve been doing this for two and a half years,’ she said while being strapped into a custom foam board. The surf coaches hoisted her into the air and she flashed me a grin. ‘Happiness is!’
The surfing community has a reputation for helping where it can, with organisations like Surf Outreach and Waves for Change (a Laureus award winner) in Cape Town and Sisonke Surf Club in Durban (founded by surfer and lifeguard Alvin Mtatchi in 2013) mentoring aspiring surfers from diverse backgrounds into potential surf champions. Their goals are to enable anyone with the opportunity to change both their lifestyle and their futures. Where there are surfers, there are outreach programmes. For surfers, sharing their passion and experience becomes a personal crusade undertaken without hesitation.
The waves welcome all, I thought as I watched Pam, wheelchair left lonely on the shoreline. I might be merely at the start of my surf journey but I could already see the faint, hopeful insight that learning to surf is governed by the simplest of equations: practice brings improvement.
If Pam can do it, so can we.
Learn To Surf
‘We have whole families starting to learn,’ said Dave Jennings from Point Surf Co in Durban. ‘I’ve seen an increase in older women learning, too, groups in their fifties and sixties.’ Durban
is a hub of surf lifestyle, with
the learner-friendly beaches
of uShaka and Addington.
Rates from R200 pp. 082 419 0906 pointsurfcompany.com
Jeffrey’s Bay, voted by CNN
as the second-best place in the world to surf (after Hawai’s Pipeline), is home to the WSL world tour event annually in July, and Supertubes is among the most iconic right-handers in the world. Beginners start at Kitchen Windows, a gentle reef off the beach, then move on to Point with its gentle swells perfect for intermediate surfers and longboarders – until it gets big!
From R380 pp. 082 324 7284 jbaysurfschool.co.za
Muizenberg is home to several good surf schools. At the Surf Emporium, powerhouse Samantha Redelinghuys will ensure the team equips you with the right wetsuit and longboard, but also with a thorough understanding of reading the waves, surf etiquette and where to find good coffee after your surf session. From R260 pp. 021 788 8687 surfemporium.co.za
Established in 1989, Gary’s Surf School has become popular in the surfing community because they also offer mobile surf lessons and guided surf trips along the Cape Town coast. From R350pp. 021 788 9839 garysurf.com
Both Gary’s Surf School and Surf Emporium offer holiday surf camps for kids.
‘I’ve been surfing for…’ she mentally counts backwards… ‘six years’. She’s now a surf coach and, between university and her fellow Muizenberg peers, has surfing friends on tap. Once Sindi gamely took her surfboard through the Namib Desert on a road trip with her parents to test the frigid waters of Walvis Bay. Muizenberg is still her favourite beach though; her self-proclaimed ‘comfortable space’.
Seth De Boer
After a non-fatal drowning experience at age 14, Seth realised he needed to learn to swim. He used to surf after school and borrowed boards from Roxy’s Surf Emporium. A natural and energetic leader, Roxy soon enlisted him as a surf coach. He’s now a busy man, working part-time at the surf school and volunteering at the NSRI. Seth hopes to one day work with an anti-poaching unit involved in maritime security.
‘Durban is easy – drive 20 minutes up or down the coast and you’ll find good waves.’ Matt is a poster-boy for surfing – literally, standing shyly beneath an A1 Zigzag cover blow-up of him surfing (one of three covers he’s had). As a child, Matt was ‘scared of the ocean,’ but that didn’t stop him from turning pro and surfing in unconventional places like Gambia and the Cape Verde islands.