We’re so excited to have Alfonso Peters as a Waves for Change ambassador and friend. Alf, a Muizenberg local, grew up in some of the most violent areas of Cape Town, and was on a dangerous path before surfing changed his life. Alf understands the power of the ocean, surf therapy and sport for development, which makes us extra stoked to welcome him into our family.
Can you explain a bit about your life before surfing?
“I was born in Mitchell’s Plain, but after my dad passed away when I was very young we moved to Manenberg. There was no positivity around me at all, and I think not having a dad put pressure on me to provide in our house. I got involved with the wrong friends. We used to bunk school, stuff like that… I was taught how to steal, small things as first, like groceries, which I would take home to my mom. I’d lie to her about where I got them when she asked. I started running away from home, and sleeping on the streets. I went to the city centre, and I remember it felt like another country, with big bright lights and loud noise and lots of energy. I started sleeping on the streets, and when I wasn’t on the street I’d sleep in shelters instead of going home. One of the shelters I sometimes stayed in, Beautiful Gate, saw potential in me and did their best to give me opportunities, but I ran away a lot. I didn’t like the rules they set for me, I didn’t want that structure, and I rebelled big time. One night I was with a gangster that I had been trying to prove myself to, to show him how hardcore I was, and we broke into a car. We were caught by the cops, and that night in a holding cell I had my big wake up moment. I just thought to myself, “What am I doing here?”. Luckily, the reformatory cell was full, and they let me go after setting a court date. The gangsters made me try to sell the stuff we’d stolen, and were making me do things for them, and I just got more and more depressed and weighed down. I was feeling suicidal, and came close to jumping off a ledge. Fortunately for me, a social worker that I knew intervened, and spoke with me, and listened to my troubles. He invited me to join a youth camp. I remember feeling so accepted and surrounded by positivity, and I wanted to keep that feeling. The social worker gave me a place to live, and got me back into school – but set very strict deals with me about my school attendance and my lifestyle. I still sometimes wanted to run away from all the rules, back to the freedom of the streets and the community I had – those were my brothers, the guys on the street, and they would have done anything for me, which means a lot in that environment. But I managed to keep my focus, and one day I went surfing, and from there – everything changed!”
What is it about surfing that helped change your life?
“Surfing changed everything about my life. It gave me focus, and purpose. I learnt to have confidence, and how to communicate with people and hold myself. And it gave me the opportunity to become a surf coach, which I absolutely love! I worked with the different surf schools on the beach front. In the beginning I was so shy I couldn’t look at people when I greeted them, but now I’m just so excited to share my passion and stoke that I can talk to anyone. I love having something to offer to people, you know? I can improve their lives, their feelings, and really build relationships. Some of the parents of the kids I work with tell me that I’m a role model but it’s the other way around – the kids are a role model to me.”
What does surfing do for your mental and emotional state?
“When I surf, I forget everything, and I can think straight. If I have problems or worries, I go surf, and afterwards I can face them with a clear head. There’s also this feeling of very pure enjoyment – I feel like a kid! I can splash around, have fun, and just be free. It’s very addictive, and the perfect passion.”
Why is surfing so important for children living in under resourced or disadvantaged communities?
“It can take them out of their circumstances, which is so important. Through surfing, they can start another path. Surfing also gives them something to look forward to, even if it’s only once a week – it’s a reason to get up and go to school, or to work hard. It’s hope, really.”
What does it mean to be a W4C ambassador and why do you support the work of W4C?
“I’m so stoked to be apart of Waves for Change because of what surfing has done for me. I know that through surfing one can find freedom and joy. It helps you to escape from what ever circumstances you are going through. And I also really believe that surfing builds one’s character. Surfing has taken me off the street – imagine what it can do for others just like me. I want to be a part of that. I want to be part of this surf therapy movement, and be a testimony for the kids.”
What are your plans for the future?
“I really want to take my wife Emma travelling with me. I want to take part in more contests. I’ve got this focus at the moment, and this feeling that I can achieve. I’m not going to give up! I also want to start a family, but not straight away. Mostly, I just want to stay in the water, and stay salty!”
If you could describe surfing in one word…
“Life. It’s just… life.”