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Wavescape - Surfing in South Africa
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Mon, 19 February 2018

On Monwabisi beach, opposite Khayelitsha, nearly 300 kids are feeling the stoke of surfing with Mikey Feb and the perpetually smiling Gudauskas brothers, writes Karen Rutter.


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ROLLOUT: Excited kids march down the beach with the surfboards they will use. Photo W4C


dontstealourvibe“Ready, steady, go!” shouts Apish Tshetsha on a recent Saturday morning, and a gaggle of boys in wetsuits, helped by four pro surfers, grab boards and rush into the water. The pro surfers, with children brought here by Waves For Change, are having a great time. But they’re also here for a reason.

The blonde-haired perpetually grinning Gudauskas brothers from San Clemente are founders of  Positive Vibe Warriors, and they’re behind the #cantstealourvibe surfboard drive last year in the US to collect surfboards for W4C and Surfers Not Street Children in Durban.

On their way over, they said on Instagram: "Unbelievable to see the overwhelming support ... and we couldn’t be more excited to see the energy go full circle, working with these great South African organizations @wavesforchange and @surfersnotstreetchildren (who) will be using these 700 surfboards in their programs allowing kids who face incredible adversities in their lives the opportunity to use and explore wave riding as a therapeutic and positive outlet! #keepthevibealive #passthepositivity"

With W4C ambassador and South African surf legend Mikey February, also known for his "vibes are good" philosophy, they have managed to get close on 700 boards donated to South Africa, which will be used in surf therapy programmes along the coast. They’re here in Cape Town to “launch” some of the boards in Monwabisi – and share the stoke.

The first kid catches a wave – a tiny foamy – and the rest of the crowd clap enthusiastically from the sand. The pro surfers are cheering them on, then racing back up the beach to help the next line of kids get a chance. The sky is blue, the waves are small and cheery, the vibe is glorious.

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GOOD VIBES: From left, Patrick, Mikey Feb, Dane and Tanner with the gifted boards. Photo W4C


Today is special for Waves For Change (W4C), the award-winning surf therapy programme that originated in Cape Town and has spread to Port Elizabeth and East London, and even further north to the war-torn town of Harper, in Liberia. Founded in 2009 by UK surfer Tim Conibear with Tshetsha and Bongani Ndlovu from Masiphumele township, the organisation works in communities affected by violence, poverty and conflict, where mental health services are often stigmatised and under-resourced.

W4C works in partnership with local community members, training mentors to service the youth of their own communities. It’s a well-organised, expanding programme that links in social services, development experts and education specialists, and which won the 2017 Sport for Good category at the international Laureus Awards. Importantly, the uptake of young girls is on the increase, with W4C aiming for a 50% spread in the future.

There’s a lot of hard work that goes on behind the scenes – the programme functions every day, some weekends as well in South African operations are spread from Lavender Hill, Muizenberg, Monwabisi and Masiphumelele to Port Elizabeth and East London, with Liberia up and running too.

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SHAKRA BRA: One of the W4C kids learns the universal surf sign from Dane Gudauskas. Photo W4C


But its ethos is simple – surfing can improve feelings of trust, confidence and belonging. And today, on Monwabisi beach, we’re watching this spirit in action.

“This is just amazing – this why we came, to see this. It’s just incredible,” says Tanner Gudauskas, watching the 300-strong group of children doing warm-up exercises and dances at the picnic site field at Monwabisi before heading to the beach. He and his brothers Pat and Dane say they were on a trip to South Africa last year and were inspired by Mikey February and his commitment to giving back to the community. They rustled up support from the local surf community in and around San Clemente, and the response was incredible.

“We really feel passionate about helping out these kids,” said Dane Gudauskas about the board drive, in an interview with the Orange County Register. “We felt really stoked to kind of connect with the communities and reach out — surfing is such a great thing to share. We just feel really grateful for the opportunity we’ve had in surfing and meeting so many people from around the world. Seeing all the different cultures — it’s really taught us that we’re really more similar than different. To be able to help out people who want to share the same love for the ocean as we do, it’s something we find close to our hearts.”

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WAVE WATCH: Mikey Feb and an enthusiastic young grom survey the surf. Photo W4C


Mikey February, who hails from Kommetjie, is equally happy to be out here. “I’m just going to have fun with the kids,” he grins, pulling on his wetsuit.

And fun is what goes down, all morning. While some of the kids are taking turns with the new boards, others are having races in the sand, or paddling in the sea. It’s no small thing to be able to manage 300 kids in an open space, but the Monwabisi team are in absolute control. The kids listen to them – and they’re enjoying themselves.

You’re never really alone – you’re part of a global family of like-minded people who understand the stokeManaging on a small budget, W4C has found innovative ways to operate. At Monwabisi, containers form a space for wetsuits and boards, food to be made and conversations held. Funky surf murals decorate the outside walls, while inside in one of the containers, equipment has been made available for ding repair – a useful and employable skill to learn. At Muizenberg beach a similar container is housed near ablution facilities.

From such humble beginnings, the organisation has gained major traction. The World Surf League (WSL) is a keen supporter – last year, a group of W4C beginners met with ace surfers such as Mick Fanning and Ace Buchan at Jeffrey’s Bay. South African longboard champ Alfonso Peters is a W4C ambassador. WSL commentator Rosy Hodge is a fan.

Surfing is a unique sport – you’re in nature, you’re at the mercy of a huge body of water. You’re on your own. But you can also learn to soar. Plus it makes you stronger. And you’re never really alone – you’re part of a global family of like-minded people who understand the stoke. It makes complete sense that an activity like surfing, which inspires respect and joy in equal measure, is making such a change to the lives of children who’ve experienced violence, poverty and insecurity.

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