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Wavescape - Surfing in South Africa

Sun, 19 March 2017

The preservation of inclusive South African surfing heritage reached an important milestone today with the unveiling of the Surfers’ Circle Walk of Fame in Muizenberg, writes Spike


UNLEASHED: Shaun Tomson officially declares the Walk of Fame open. Photo Grant Scholtz

Seven years to the day, 19 March, when the idea was first mooted at the Surfers Corner 60s Reunion in Muizenberg, former world champion Shaun Tomson officially opened the Circle at Surfers' Corner for the first 30 inductees.

A freshening southeaster and late summer sunshine greeted a crowd of surfing stalwarts, legends and pioneers, as well as surfing champions, local surfers and their families. They gathered to witness the unveiling of plaques laid into the walkway at the circle to honour legends and pioneers of surfing. They came from different cities, from different age groups, and different cultures. Former Springbok legend George Thompson had even come out from London to be there.

This was a who's who of South African surfing, including not just ballies, but many current athletes at the height of their powers, such as Grant Twiggy Baker, and Frank Solomon.


THE OOM: John Whitmore played a huge role in the early days. Photo Janet Heard

Leading Cape Town surf families were there. Names like Meneses, Strong and Collier. Whitmores were absent. Seemed a bit odd? Cheron Kraak was down from J-Bay. Graham Hynes, still going strong at 88, was there. One of our non-racial surfing pioneers, Addie Jappie, was down from PE.

MC Paul Botha said he was stoked that people had made the effort to attend. "I'm so pleased that people recognised it as a special moment in South African surfing."

It's been a vindication for the four years of work by the Muizenberg Improvement District (MID) spearheaded by their beach representative Peter Wright, who have had some tough obstacles to overcome, while also getting permission from local authorities to use the circle for a national surfing monument.

Speaking from the centre of the circle, Botha listed the first inductees to the Walk of Fame, before handing over the mic to Tomson, who won the world title in 1977. Tomson told a moving story of how he once built a circle of stones with his son Mathew in California on a beach near their home called Hammonds Reef. Apparently the Chumash Native American people once had a settlement there.


TOMSON TALE: Shaun speaks from the heart about a moment with his son. Photo Spike

"My son had an idea to form a large circle with stones. Inside that circle we made a second circle, dragging the stones from around the beach. Inside that second circle we then made a third circle. So finally we had three concentric circles of stones. Mathew made a pathway through the circles. We sat in the inner circle. He told me it was a sacred story circle. He had found a stick which he said was a sacred story stick. Whoever held the stick told a story."

"We sat in that circle and told each other stories. Of all the things I have achieved, the accolades in my life, there was nothing more special than that moment with my son."

He mentioned how the stones - according to his son - retained the memory of the stories, and that he and his son had imparted their mana - the Polynesian /Hawaiian word for the spirit of the universe - into the stones, and how the stones at the Surfers Circle were doing the same for SA surfing history.

The plaques embedded therein were keeping the stories of surfing and our history as South Africans. The story of the stones had even more poignancy because of Mathew's tragic death.

Botha then called on Tomson to officially open the Walk of Fame, but instead of using a string or ribbon, he got a zebra-striped surfboard leash, which he duly cut ... to cheers and hooting.

Guests then moved to the old Standard Bank next to Corner Surf Shop, where certificates were handed out to the inductees, and talks given by people pivotal in realising the project, as well as an instrumental figure in surf unity, Schani Nagia, founder of Wynberg Surf Club, which became famous as a pioneering anti-apartheid club, whose members, including Ahmed Collier, fought injustice and challenged the status quo of the time.


IMPORTANT: No matter the past, the future is all that counts now. Photo Spike

Jappie and Collier, with his wife Fawzier, were in attendance, and so was Shafiq Morton, formerly Steve Morton, one of few whites who joined the Wynberg club, and later became a Muslim.

It was good to see men and women gather together to recognise personalities involved in the evolution of surfing history, and to see that the unification process is finally starting to show glimmers of togetherness after the inequities of apartheid.

There have been difficult times, including some vigorous debate about who - or what - would be a politically correct statue that will be eventually erected at the centre of the circle. The discussion has not yet been concluded, and the site of the statue remains empty.

Robin de Kock commented that surfers are a funny bunch, individualistic to the point of selfishness, but will proudly stand together when the right moment comes. Sunday at Surfers Corner was one such moment, and affirmation that much has been achieved, although challenges remain.

Most photos by Grant Scholtz


About the Surfers' Circle Walk of Fame

The Surfers’ Circle Walk of Fame was launched in 2014 when 12 Pioneers (three each from Durban, East London, Port Elizabeth and Cape Town) were selected for their contributions to surfing during the 1950’s and ‘60’s. A committee has subsequently been formed to run the project with Surfing South Africa, the national controlling body for the sport, providing the official endorsement of the inductees selected.

The 12 Pioneers selected in 2014 were John Whitmore, Dave Meneses and John Grendon from Cape Town; George Thompson, Leon Coetsee and George Bell from Durban; Sandy McGillivray, Leo Davis and John Heath from Port Elizabeth and Bobby Joubert, Mike Hornsey and Roger Taylor from East London.

Since then 18 more Pioneers, Legends and World Champions have been added to the list of honourees, each of whom will have an engraved black granite plaque in their name unveiled at the ceremony.

South Africans who won world titles prior to 1992 are Tomson (Durban), 1978 ISA champion Ant Brodowicz (Margate) and four-time (1987, ‘89, ’91 & ‘92) ASP women’s champ Wendy Botha (East London), along with David Malherbe (EL) and Justin Strong (Cape Town) who won the ASP world pro-am title in 1990 and 1991 respectively.

The Pioneers include Durbanites Peter Burness and Baron Stander; Capetonians Heather Price, Basil Lomberg, Ahmed Collier and Schani Nagia and Port Elizabeth’s Addie Jappie.

Those being honoured as Legends of the sport are Cheron Kraak from Jeffreys Bay; Ant van den Heuvel, Graham Hynes and Max Wetteland from Durban and Robbie Abrahams and Cecil Whiteman from Cape Town.

More honourees, including world title winning SA surfing teams, will be inducted into the Surfers Circle Walk of Fame annually, with the design and construction of a suitable statue honouring surfing’s heritage also in the pipeline.

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