20 June 2013 by Dianne Tipping-Woods

Surfers Not Street Children

A group of young South African surfers are doing their country – and themselves – proud as they tour the United Kingdom as part of an innovative and successful project called Surfers Not Street Children, which aims to change the way that society perceives and treats street children around the world.

Successful young surfers are fit and confident of their skills in the water. Image courtesy of Wilf Whitty/Amos Trust

The young surfers are all ex-street children who grew up in Durban, one of South Africa’s prime surfing cities, at a street-child project called Umthombo Street Children. They are now, as young adults, part of an organisation and surfing team called Surfers Not Street Children.

Surfers like Sihle Mbutho (20), Lucky Nozisali (24), Andile Zulu (20) and Shorty Mdunge (19) have all swapped the streets for the sea and are noted for their fearlessness and skill on the water, winning local competitions and gaining individual sponsorships from local and international surf companies. 

On their tour of England and Wales, three of the lead surfers from the team will be competing, teaching and raising awareness of the potential that every street child has to leave street life behind. 

When I surf I feel like I am flying. I am far above street life.

For these young people, kushay’ gagasi (hitting the waves) is about more than just mastering the ocean and getting off the street for a few hours. It’s a way for them to master themselves and take pride in their own potential, empowering them with the skills they need to stay off the streets for good.

'Having worked with street children over the past 21 years, it became clear that fusing high-intensity activities with psychosocial support was critical in giving these children an alternative path to the dangers and addictions of street life,” says former UK surfer Tom Hewitt, who founded both Umthombo Street Children and Surfers Not Street Children.

Hewitt believes that the Surfers Not Street Children surf team is a chance for members of society to see the potential in every child – and to see it in themselves.

'When I surf I feel like I am flying. I am far above street life,' says Khotso (15), a former street child. It’s a sentiment that many of the programme’s young surfers share and explains why it’s been such an effective model for Umthombo.

A young surfer poses with his board. Image courtesy of Wilf Whitty/Amos Trust A young surfer poses with his board. Image courtesy of Wilf Whitty/Amos Trust

By focusing on building the self-confidence and self-esteem of street children, the surfing programme helps motivate them to battle street-related issues like solvent dependency. Social workers can then focus on steps to reintegrate these children (where possible) with their families, and also with society. 

'It’s great to see the awesome work that Umthombo has done in getting the kids off the streets and introducing them to the ocean and a clean and healthy lifestyle,' says Paul Canning, former pro surfer and manager of surfing outfitter O’Neill, Africa. 'I believe that through the positive guidance of Umthombo it is just a matter of time until we see one of these young guys make it to the top of the international surfing world.'

The professional surfing community is in full support of both Umthombo and Surfers Not Street Children, with endorsements and visits from surfing legends including former world champion Shaun Tomson, former world No 2 Rob Bain, surf filmmaker Jack McCoy, current world title contender Jordy Smith, and fellow South African competitor Travis Logie. Eleven-time world surfing champion Kelly Slater has also expressed encouragement for their work with a message on Twitter.

The United Kingdom tour started in London and will include trips to Devon, Cornwall and south Wales. The team will compete in the GoldCoast Oceanfest event in Croyde, North Devon, and will visit a number of local schools and even attempt to surf the Severn Bore tidal surge, described as "one of Britain's few truly spectacular natural phenomena. It is a large surge wave that can be seen in the estuary of the River Severn, where the tidal range is the second highest in the world, being as much as 50 feet (approx. 15.4m)." The team aims to raise awareness and further sponsorship partners for both Umthombo and Surfers Not Street Children.

The organisation also plans to expand its impact in a further two African countries.

Life on the beach beats life on the street. Image courtesy of Wilf Whitty/Amos Trust Life on the beach beats life on the street. Image courtesy of Wilf Whitty/Amos Trust

Category: Adventure, Sport

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