Learning to surf – and love the ocean

By Angela Warrior, 25th March 2017

False Bay is a body of water defined by a finger-like projection, the Cape Peninsula. Surfing is an integral part of the culture in this area. Surfers from all over the world can be seen getting their daily dose before their day begins. Today, surfing is one of the most popular sports ever invented, practised by millions of people around the world. Why? Because riding a wave is a truly breathless experience, an experience where you face a great wall of energy and connect to it and the life beneath it. People are happy when they are on the ocean; they forget who they are, where they come from and their differences, as they all wait patiently in the line-up together.
Several organisations in Cape Town offer surf therapy sessions for young people from disadvantaged areas, with the aim of developing their life skills, helping them to cope with stress and igniting a love for the ocean. Here at the Save Our Seas Shark Education Centre we run the Marine Explorers Programme, in which 12 children from Capricorn Primary School take to the water and learn how to surf and skin dive. The aim of the programme is to help the children understand how everything is connected in the ocean and how we interact with it as humans. We hope that from this experience the children will learn to care for the ocean because they want it to be a better place for them.
The surfing and body-boarding session usually starts with a team-building game such as ‘Pass the hula hoop’ or ‘The human knot’. This encourages the children to interact with others and work together at overcoming problems.

Marine Explorers (and staff, and volunteers!) trying hard to untangle the "Human Knot"

Once the games are over, it’s straight into the water to learn the basics of surfing and to have fun. As you can see from the photographs and the smiles, there certainly was a lot of fun!

Surfing gets the thumbs up from this Marine Explorer

I believe the ocean has therapeutic benefits; it has a cathartic capacity to wash away negative emotions and create an environment in which the stress of daily life simply disappears into the waves. People become focused on the present moment of getting into the ‘zone’, where staying on the board is the only thing that matters. The perpetual paddling out through foamies and repeated wipe-outs offer an exhilarating opportunity for the kids to enjoy the marine environment and overcome any inherent fears they may have.

This young explorer is focused on the moment as he surfs a wave at Muizenberg Beach

The focus of the programme is to teach the children the importance of the ocean and that, although it is vast and magnificent, it is also very fragile and in need of protection. People love the ocean, they love listening to the crashing waves and thinking about all the amazing animals that call it their home. Healthy oceans are the life-support system for our planet. We want a better future for the oceans, and encouraging children to love the marine environment will hopefully ensure that they will care for and ensure the future health of our oceans and the marine environment.
‘In the end we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; and we will understand only what we are taught.’ Baba Dioum