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Wavescape - Surfing in South Africa

09-mile-thTue, 3 June 2014

The second 9Miles Surf Challenge went down this past weekend in cold but fun conditions at Strandfontein Beach in False Bay. Wilfred Diedricks put pen to paper to document the day.


Just after the second annual 9Miles Surf Challenge ended on Saturday 31 May,  I notice a social media comment from one of the helpers which reads, ”My highlight was the winner of the junior competition”.  In a reply message another person writes, “So awesome. He really needed that. It’s changed his life”. To me this sums up what the 9Miles Project is all about.  Transforming lives, and it’s done through surfing.

It’s been a year long journey for the 9Miles Project which launched one year ago. At last year’s event, one of the co-founders, Nigel Savel, articulated some of their future goals. Their aim was to teach the youth in the Strandfontein area, especially the underprivileged from the informal settlement, to surf. But they wanted to achieve more than showing them how to ride a wave. They wanted to teach them life skills. So were their ambitions realised?

The estimated crowd of close on 200 were treated to some spectacular surfing as well as other fun events throughout the day. The only damper was the strong wind which sand blasted all and sundry. The event was again held at 9Miles beach. Before the surfing took place, the youth participated in an “eco surf walk”, and an “eco educational talk”. There was a sand castle competition, a treasure hunt, an angling exhibition and a talk by a swimming club.

The surfing events took centre stage however, because of the quality of surfing and because it was so satisfying to watch how the youth have improved. It was especially gratifying to witness parents of these children, aged between 10 and 18, enthusiastically egging on their offspring. Every time a youngster executed a pop up the cheers grew louder, reminiscent of the parent support you find at local schools rugby or soccer matches. I was fortunate to also have been at last year’s launch and I noticed a marked improvement in their surfing abilities.

The senior competition was fierce and exciting. Despite the gusting NW off-shore wind, the surfers managed to pick a few rides that offered high scoring, with the rights offering the best of them. Those finding their rhythm with good rail to rail transitions and off the tops, with the occasional cutback and connecting with the inside bowl for final close out turns, were the ones to advance.

The tide started to push which coincided with the semi-finals of the senior competition. With enough waves offering some good connecting rides from the set waves to the shore, Riaan Jonas was electric in semi-final 1. He threw buckets of spray and tail slides nearly on every turn, both forward and backhand. The main peak offered nice shaped rights to the natural footers. This made it easy for Seymour Wood (eventual runner up) and Abdurahaman Farat (eventual winner) to advance to the finals after bashing every wave with their smooth forward snaps and rail cutbacks.

I couldn’t help notice every child lugging his or her board unassisted which seemed to almost outweigh them and I felt pity but none of them seemed to mind. It strikes me though that this symbolises how these children are taught. They will toil hard for reward. According to Nigel the youth undergo a 2 year programme. People who are expert in their field are called in to teach them. Could this be building character?

I also notice that every child who started the programme a year ago is still involved plus there are 3 additional candidates. This indicates to me that this programme is sustainable.

As the junior and senior category winners are announced at the closing ceremony, Keanu ………. wins the junior category. Amongst his prizes are a R500 voucher and a surf board.  It’s a huge moment. An emotional moment for everybody because, as he stands proudly hugging his newly acquired surfboard, proud emotion reflected in his face, the real impact of the 9Miles Project hits home.  This boy is going home to his informal settlement. This has definitely changed his life. Perhaps it will be a positive example to others in his community.

So, has the 9Miles Project realised their ambitions for this year? Positively yes.

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