Only a surfer knows the feeling

“Only a surfer knows the feeling….”

It’s a well-known phrase touted by surfers and surf brands alike but, although cliché, its importance lies at the very heart of Waves for Change.

You could say that any fool can kick a football, pick up a bat and strike a ball. The entry level skill, or personal sporting efficacy, required to pull off such a feat is arguably less than standing on a board and riding back to the beach prone.

In our work to engage the most excluded and hard to reach young adults living in the Oceanside townships of Cape Town, the challenge presented by the surf presents a strong incentive for joining our programmes. Waves for Change works with young adults who have dropped out or are at high risk of dropping out of school. Many are involved in gangs whilst others cite regular substance abuse and abusive relationships as a reason for anti-social and high-risk behavior.

In the majority of incidences, we find that youth who choose to attend Waves for Change present with high levels of personal efficacy – broadly defined as your inclination to follow through on your actions and beliefs. High levels of personal efficacy are often linked to anti-social behavior, the rejection of social authority and a tendency to hold extreme prejudice. Engaging these youth – deemed hard to reach – is not an easy task. Attendance is often sporadic and behavioral issues both in and out of programming form a genuine barrier to meaningful impact and change.

But we’ve found surfing offers a unique opportunity in this field. Not only does it appeal, it’s extremely addictive by nature encouraging repeat, longterm attendance. The limited skill levels of our participants on entry also mean their gains and failures lead to genuine moments of elation, success, achievement and vulnerability. Teachable moments that elicit visceral emotional responses which we can leverage and teach off.

An example. January 2014. Over the course of 6 weeks we began to integrate the world of a local street gang operating in the Harare district of Khayelitsha. Based out of a derelict, disused shack, 19 boys were involved in theft, regular drug abuse with several not attending school and sleeping rough.

Over the course of several street visits, 3 of the senior boys were recruited into morning programming where they were simply introduced to the sport of surfing by our locally trained coaches. They would surf daily and undergo basic support groups, also receiving a warm meal. Behind the scenes, we worked hard to address their home situations, existing parents and networked with local schools to look at avenues for their reintegration.

It’s now February. 2 of the 3 boys are back in school and instead of sleeping rough are being housed with another member of W4C whose family we support with a basic food package to carry the extra burden. Not only that, but they have since recruited 8 more members of their crew into W4C, offering us a chance to better understand the workings of local street culture and how best to integrate and retain some of the hardest to reach young adults into Waves for Change programming.

We firmly believe that the challenge, aesthetic and genuine reward offered by the sport of surfing is what helps us access these youth, who seek challenge and risk on a daily basis and find it charging the waves of the Southern Atlantic ocean: the first members of their community ever to do so.

“Only a surfer knows the feeling…”