First Wave

That First Wave

As I sit here and write all that comes to mind is the smile I created on a child`s face today after they caught their very first wave. Being the author of a child’s smile is my daily mission as a surf coach with the Isiqalo Foundation and it is far more fulfilling and rewarding than creating a new scientific theory. Here in the ocean, smiling is a spontaneous reaction that seems to affect everyone and can be transferred faster than HIV or AIDS, the virus we are here to tackle.

Surfing has been the highlight of my year to date and it has really helped me develop and grow. My name is Bongani and I am 19 years old. I grew up in a Durban township and I feel sure that I was predestined to become a surfer. My family had a ritual of going to the beach on New Years and I’d watch the guys riding waves between the famous Durban Piers.

I must admit however, it wasn’t love at first sight. Initially, through the culture I encountered at the beach and in the media of the time, surfing seemed for what I could only describe as a sport for the `superior` race.

My love for surfing only started to develop in my adolescent years where I could freely express myself without fear of being judged. I had no surf board, nor means to get to the beach, but I longed to experience the tranquility and stoke every surfer shows as his board planes over the clear waters.

Initially I thought that surfing would make me cool amongst friends, that it would make me stand out but soon I realized that surfing could be something more. Today, together with my family at Isiqalo who introduced me to surfing one year ago, my goal is to redefine surfing as a sport to make a lasting impact on the society I grew up in.

Surfing is a well-sponsored sport nowadays and brands invest millions into creating a market for their products. Much of that sponsorship money still seems to end up as flashy cars and gadgets. I think there are many poverty-stricken communities in South Africa for whom that sponsorship money could serve a better purpose and I hope to become part of a movement that opens surfing to a wider audience.

At Isiqalo we are learning how we can use surfing as a metaphor for the problems that face us. We focus on HIV and AIDS but there are many more issues that we face here in South Africa and that we are learning to face together.

Most of the young adults that join our ‘Waves for Change’ surfing course arrive thinking they have come just to have fun. Many are blind when it comes to knowing the facts about HIV and AIDS and prefer to think that HIV has nothing to do with their life and will never affect them, despite the fact that by the age of thirty, 25% will be infected by the virus (according to current national trends).

Our motto at Isiqalo is ‘Bananas’, the shaka sign that surfers throw to each other seemingly at random. To us Bananas is community, standing together to face our challenges. ‘Protect, Respect, Communicate’ as is written on our surf boards.

Today I see those same boys and girls that first came to our course leaving as leaders. Respectful of their fellow community members regardless of their HIV status, knowing that no matter what has been troubling them they can talk to the members of their community and equipped with skills to make the right decisions. They know their status and, we hope, will continue to test regularly whilst encouraging others to do so.

And they can surf.

Slowly but surely South African surfing is changing and champions will come out of our community. All across South Africa I see more and more boys and girls picking up surf boards, either off their own backs or with the help of community driven projects. The make up of surfing in South Africa is changing and through Isiqalo we have the potential to use this wave of enthusiasm for a greater purpose, to fight HIV.

And it all starts with that first wave.

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