The sun is shining, the daytime temperature is a wonderful 28C, but officially it's winter here. So finding outdoor swimming lessons is proving quite hard. But a fellow swimmer pointed me in the direction of Gary's Surf School. On the beach front at Muizenberg, in False Bay, it's been teaching disadvantaged black kids to surf for over five years. Read all about it here.
Gary's philosophy is that if you teach surfing and life skills, you're giving any kid an opportunity to be successful in the new South Africa. And he has many pupils to prove it. Kwezi Quika, a seventeen year old who surfs with him, is leaving this week for an International Longboard Championship in France. And I met eighteen-year-old Alfonso Peters who recently won the Western Province surfing trials and is about to compete in National Championships.
When he was younger, Gary himself competed at a national level. But coming from a poor background, he found it difficult to afford to travel around the country to take part in events. This made him angry, and this anger stayed with him when in later life he began to coach. He noticed black kids on the beach taking an interest in his lessons and so he decided to include these kids in his sessions and provide them with the opportunities he'd missed out on. in particular he wanted to disprove the myth that black kids can't swim.
Gary takes kids in from orphanages and teaches them not only to surf, but basic life skills as well. They learn to use computers, faxes, phones and electronic banking. He also teaches them how to dress and how to deal with people in business - basic information they're not exposed to in townships. He hopes that through this they'll be able to find work in the surf industry - either running their own school or selling surfing products. But it hasn't been an easy ride. Some kids steal and use the money to buy drugs. Some use surfing as an excuse to drop out of school.
Alfonso should have been in school when I met him, but said he couldn't afford the bus fare there. He doesn't get much support from his family, who are scared that he spends so much time in the water. "But that's because they don't know how good I am", he tells me. Surfing has given him role models, both black and white, he says. His ambition is to compete internationally and then open his own surf school.