Surf’s up for township kids

9 May 2003

It came as no surprise to Gary Kleynhans when three young black surfers were selected for the Western Province longboard surfing team this year. For the past four years, the former SA surfing champion has been giving his time, equipment and expertise to developing the sport among Cape Town’s underprivileged kids. And surf lessons are only part of his project.

Gary’s Surf School is situated in beautiful Muizenberg, on the Indian Ocean about 15 kilometres from the centre of Cape Town.

Kleynhans has been teaching surfing for 12 years, and until six months ago, when he opened his shop, he would drive to Muizenberg every day with a trailer loaded with surfboards. According to Kleynhans, there were always some black kids hanging around at the parking lot next to the beach.

“During one of our conversations I asked them if they would like to surf. They told me that the equipment was too expensive for them, so I invited them for a free lesson. The first time three guys showed up, the week after that eight, and at one stage there were about 60 kids who wanted to surf standing in front of me”, Kleynhans says with a big smile.

Because of the success of the project, Kleynhans decided to contact the primary schools in the area in order to invite more kids and to get some structure into the number of kids showing up every day.

Kleynhans has a strict way of selecting his students. “The first three times they only get a board, and when they are still enthusiastic and come back for more, I’ll give them a wetsuit, and he or she can stay”, he says.

About 50 youngsters are currently participating in his “transformation programme”. In total, hundreds of disadvantaged children and teenagers – most coming from Muizenberg and nearby Ocean View, Masiphumileli and Mitchell’s Plain – have learnt to surf with Kleynhans.

Kleynhans only gives surf lessons to tourists on weekends; during the week he focuses on his school and the township kids. Every day he picks the kids up, and gives free lessons on Wednesdays and Fridays.

“I also try to teach the talented kids to become teachers themselves, so they can take over my work and I can give them a job. I already employ two of the guys in my surf school, but my final goal is to start a factory for making and repairing surfboards, this is a way to create jobs for them.

“A big problem in Cape Town is petty theft. This originates from the fact that many youngsters grow up without proper education and chances in their lives. With my project I try to get them into the water and out of the trouble.”

Funding is always a problem for projects like this; Kleynhans is trying to get funding from organisations in England and the United States because attempts in South Africa have so far been unsuccessful.

“I would like to take some kids and a trailer with surfboards and drive down the Garden Route to visit all the townships on the coast and get them on the board as well.”

Three of Kleynhans’ pupils, 16-year-old Dorian Newman, 14-year-old Kwezi Qika and nine-year-old Hilton Klophas, were selected for the Western Province longboard surfing team that competed in the national surfing championships in Durban over the last weekend.

But Kleynhans does not only give surf lessons. “In fact they are lessons in life. We talk about what they want to be in the future. Also social matters are subject of conversations. For us that is normal, but you have to keep in mind that these kids had a different childhood.

“This project is the little part of what I can do in the big picture. The kick to see those kids riding the wave is the biggest reward for my work!”

E-mail Bertil van Vugt.

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