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Wavescape - Surfing in South Africa

Fri, 24 March 2017

Junior surfing: Where are we at? Craig Jarvis ponders the state of our youngsters to see if they pass muster as products of the longest and perhaps biggest junior series in the world. 

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TOP OF THE PILE: Kommetjie's Eli Beukes bashes a lip at Ballito Bay. Photo WSL / Cestari

South Africa has one of the longest running junior series in the world with the Billabong Junior Series presented by All Aboard. It started in 1997 and has been running ever since, which makes it 20 years this year. South Africa also has one of the biggest junior circuits in the world, with our junior surfers some of the most catered-for junior surfers in the world.

With all of these events going for our junior surfers, often at the expense of professional surfing and open divisions, one would think that we would have some of the best junior surfers in the world.

We don’t. We barely make into the top ten junior surfing nations in the world, with county’s like Costa Rica and Tahiti along with the obvious USA Australia and Brazil all coming in ahead of us at the ISA World Junior Surfing Champs last year – where we ended up placed ninth.

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MAXIMUM TORQUE: Max Elkington shreds a righthander. Photo WSL / Cestari

As an observer of junior surfing in South Africa over two decades the only noticeable factor I have picked up on is the general creep of rock star-ness that has quietly slipped into junior surfing, almost unnoticed at first, but now a hindrance to the development of our junior surfing, and for our future as a surfing nation.

“When we were naughty, we got hit.”

No-one is to blame. Twenty years ago things like corporate punishment and strict discipline were the norm. Former professional surfer Greg Swart reminded me of those days recently. “When we were naughty, we got hit,” said Greg. “When we got hit it was sore.”

These days this is not condoned, and not permissible treatment for kids; such is the rate of progress of civilized behaviour. But that sort of discipline bred different people and different results.

Take away the corporal punishment angle, and many of our young surfers are still living in the deluded world of rock stars, and most of them are going to hit the ground really hard when they finally discover that they’re not the next Jody Smith, they can’t survive by hussling older guys on longboards and being pigs in the water, and hey, one of those guys who they have hassled and dropped in on might just one day be the person they are standing in front of, desperate for a first job, for a step up, for a foot in the door.

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FAMILY TRAIT: The Ribbink family has produced many top class surfers. Photo WSL / Cestari

It’s not all doom and gloom. Billabong has consistently put their money where their mouth is with their support of junior surfing through thick and thin, and their junior series did actually see Jordy graduate onto the Championship Tour, and did see Bianca Buitendag climb on the women’s Championship Tour and develop into the amazing, intelligent and polite competitive surfer that she is today.

Those surfers who realize earlier on that these events are these series are launching pads for possible careers, and who put their heads down and go for it, are the surfers who have a chance at making it in the cut throat and desperate world of professional surfing.

Mikey February is one such surfer, who has kept a level head and competitive fire from junior surfing, along with Dylan Lightfoot and Matt McGillivray. These are three surfers who immediately come to mind for their humility, their affability, as well as for their competitive prowess and big match temperament - every one of them.


SLIP SLIDE: Luke Slipjen lays down another tight line at an Eastern Cape point. Photo WSL / Cestari

These days there are many surfers starting to come through with big surfing shoes to fill – the Emslies and the Malherbes and the Ribbinks for example – and all eyes are on these surfers. Their parents however, are well versed in the pitfalls of arrogance and ego, knowing full well that such behavioral traits simply lead to a very quick and intense race to the bottom. These kids have the advantage of having parents with that experience necessary to keep egos in check, and to understand how to nurture confidence, and not arrogance.

There are many junior surfers out there who are quietly getting on with it all

The High Performance Surfing Academy in Durban is also doing a lot for the surfers who are being coached, with legends like Chris Knutsen, Paul Canning, Spider Murphy and Simon Nicholson to name a few, instilling all the correct characteristics that develop winners, and under the watchful eyes of Jason Ribbink and Chad Du Toit, along with Bruce Jackson, surfers coming through their coaching sessions are showing great potential, including the likes of Kayla Nogueira and S’nenhlahla Makhuba.

There are many junior surfers out there who are quietly getting on with it all, surfing hard and training hard, desperate to become better surfers and better people, and the Billabong Junior Series presented by All Aboard is there to let these surfers flourish. The cream will always rise to the top, as long as our junior surfers get the opportunity to have a go. Surfers like Luke Slijpen and Eli Beukes, James Ribbink and Max Elkington, will feature on podiums for their incredible surfing skills and talents as well as because they’re not rock stars. They’re polite to their elders and they know when to show respect in the water and out. It is these types of surfers who will take South African junior surfing to the next level, and platforms like the Billabong Junior Series presented by All Aboard and the High Performance Surfing Academy presented by the South African Surfing Legends, will enable this transition.

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