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Wavescape - Surfing in South Africa

Wed, 21 June 2017

Sixteen years ago surfer Greg Bertish had a dream about helping children while he was in hospital for open heart surgery. Spike had a chat to Greg about his Little Optimist project.


WAVE SAILING: The Little Optimist is a metaphor for a small heart with big plans. Photo Scholtz

The first inkling of a plan came after Greg was admitted at the age of 30 with a rare tropical bacteria that was eating his heart valves. After his first gruelling open-heart surgery, the bug came back, and he became re-infected. He ended up spending almost 200 days in hospital over a six year period.

He had a lot of time to experience how tough hospital can be for patients and their families. He had a lot of time to see how little literature there was to support and educate patients during their operation and to help their recovery. A plan slowly began to morph into shape, speeding up when he began to work with the Heart and Stroke Foundation and later, after another operation, he began to volunteer at the Red Cross Childrens' Hospital.

There he saw disadvantaged young kids in desperate situations, with very little hope, and limited tools of finding a way out of their despair.


FLOWER CHILD: The Oppie is a well-known one-man sailing dinghy known around the world.

As he slowly recovered, his life returned to normal, and the bug was at bay. He went on to become a South African Lifesaving champion and was selected for the South African Standup Paddleboard team for the world championships. He also returned to surfing, riding bigger and bigger waves, including the scariest of South African waves, Dungeons and Sunset.

There is nothing like a giant wall of water to make you feel insignificant and small There is nothing like a giant wall of water to make you feel insignificant and small. But like his brother Chris, who recently SUPped across the Atlantic, or other brother Conn, who is fuelled by his passion to defeat cancer after his own scary medical tale, he believes in the power of positive thinking to overcome adversity. All three brothers have a different approach to ostensibly the same thing: mind power.

As a keen sailor, with a lot of experience sailing the internationally famous solo dinghy Optimist, or 'Oppie', an idea began to percolate. He started to think about the little sailboat as a metaphor. By personifying the boat, he saw a way to help the kids, through an inspirational association. It was a story of a little boat with a big heart who could do big things. It was a message poignant to him on a personal level, after his own journey.


JUST THE BEGINNING: The first two pages of the Little Optimist book.

His first port of call was to sail his 'Little Optimist' - which is not really meant for open ocean sailing - up the West Coast. "The whole mission in the boat was because I want to show the kids that anything is possible. Here's a boat built for sailing inland that tackles the mighty ocean."

With financial assistance from Warwick Wealth - the CEO was so taken by a talk Greg did they came on board as a sponsor - he embarked on his journey last year, sailing more than 200km and raising funds for the Red Cross Children's Hospital.

Part of the plan was to write a children’s book called The Little Optimist, and now a documentary movie is on the cards after a dad at his school offered his filmmaking services. Written by Greg and wonderfully illustrated by another keen surfer Chip Snaddon, the story brims with adventure and life lessons about optimism and never giving up.


PULL IN: Come share in the Little Optimist signing in Cape Town this Saturday.

Join Greg and Chip on Saturday morning at 10h30 at the Book Lounge in central Cae Town for a book signing.

For each book sold another is donated to sick and needy kids, with the aim of getting 5,000 free books into the hands of sick and needy kids by Xmas.

Books can be bought on http://thelittleoptimist.org/index.php/kids-book-1/

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