Nature enthusiast and amateur photographer.Travelled extensively in Southern Africa and the USA.
The value to young people of outdoor activities
Two Surfing Stories
Sitting at the “Beach House” in Chintsa East overlooking the Indian Ocean on Saturday morning, I was fascinated by a group of young black children learning to surf in the breaking waves below. Supervising the activity was a group of adults. The children and adults were wearing wet suits. The temperature in the overcast conditions was a pleasant 24 degrees centigrade and the water about 20 degrees centigrade. Lots of laughter and fun was apparent. On the table next to me was a fascinating book that I was reading and by pure co-incidence I had just completed an article on surfing in Long Island, New York. The book, called “The Fun Of It –The Talk of the Town,” features a selection of articles published in the New York Times over an 80 year period. This particular article was about surfing on Long Island in the 1960’s.
Surfing on Long Island, New York. The article I was reading written, by James Stevenson, is based on the description of an interview he had with two young surfers and also a life- saver working at Gilgo Beach on Long Island, New York. The article is amusing in that it describes how the two young surfers experience the whole surfing scene. Entitled “Runouts, Kickouts and Popouts at Gilgio Beach,” it explains the joy and pleasure that these young teenagers find in the surf. A life-saver then describes the same picture from his point of view. In the height of summer he explained that the beach can, on a busy day, look like the “black hole of Calcutta” as there could be as many at 400 surfers in the water at one time. He explains that normally during that time they have to do about 40 rescues a day – mainly of surfers hit on their heads by boards, or other surfers or swimmers being dragged out into the sea by run -outs. A run-out is where a strong rip tide forms taking swimmers and surfers into deep water and even out to sea. These currents are too strong to swim or paddle against .
Surfing at Chintsa Beach in the Eastern Cape. On Saturday morning at the Chintsa East beach it is an entirely different picture. Here a group of about 15 young Xhosa kids are attending “Surf School”. Some of the local residents, who are also keen surfers, have been running a Saturday morning “Surf School” for children from the local township for about 16 years. Here the youngsters are taught water safety and learn to enjoy the thrill of riding a wave. They collect surfboards and wet suits from a storage space in the village on their way from the nearby township to the beach. Some of the youngsters who were part of this initiative have become qualified life-savers or have moved on to finding other jobs in Chintsa or nearby towns like East London. One of them in now involved with the Saturday Surf School. The aim of the organizers of this project is not only to provide a fun outing for the kids but to build self confidence and a positive self-image. As I watch from my deck at the “Beach House” I see a pod of Dolphins swimming by only about 20 metres from the surfers. Out in the deeper water a whale spouts and reveals his presence. Another group of young girls are attend another Surf School and I hear the organizers saying that they need to get some girls to join their group as well. At present they have only boys.
Chintsa Beach is about as far away from Gilgo Beach in New York as you can imagine. Yet as I contemplate about the differences and similarities I cannot help but think about the importance of young people being engaged in exciting and healthy activities. In both places,
as they learn to catch a wave, it must help them build self-confidence and enjoy life. As one of the boys in New York told James Stevenson: “You cannot compare surfing to anything, there is no feeling like sliding along on the face of a wave”.
In case you are wondering what a “popout” is, one of the youngsters explained to James that they are really crummy boards carried to the beach by grommets (the beginner or “wannebe” surfers) who then sit on them on the beach trying to impress the girls.
After “Surf School” is finished at Chintsa on a Saturday morning the youngsters return their wet suits and surf boards to the storage room provided in the Village. They are then given a peanut butter and jam sandwich before they go home. The surf boards and wet suits are donated from a variety of sources. It felt to me after watching this event on Saturday, that the world had become a better place for all involved because of this experience.
Reference. The Fun of It – Stories from the Talk of the Town. The New Yorker; edited by Lillian Ross.2001