Catching waves: Surf school offers “safe haven” for boys in Muizenberg
The Local Surf Lounge Academy relies on donations from other surfers. It offers surf lessons to boys from poorer communities
As a child growing up in Vrygrond, Shuan Solomons and his friends would walk 30 minutes along busy roads to Muizenberg beach. Solomons and his friends would make it through the day by begging or scratching in bins for food at the beach.
Solomons says he always longed to learn how to surf but “no one wanted to lend us a [surf]board”.
In 2017, Solomons joined a local organisation’s surfing program which also teaches poor children how to surf. “This was great,” he says but often these lessons involved using expensive equipment and didn’t help some of the children “get back into society”.
A good surfboard costs R5,000 and this excludes other necessities like a wetsuit, wax, leashes and grip pads.
More than 20 years later, Solomons and a small group of volunteers run the Local Surf Lounge Academy in Muizenberg. Their surf clubhouse is now a surf school and safe haven for young boys from very poor homes or who live on the streets.
The Local Surf Lounge Academy was officially launched in 2020, although the idea for it started a few years earlier. When the Covid lockdowns started, Solomons was retrenched, and the surf organisation’s program closed down.
This meant that many children then lost access to the boards and clubhouse. Solomons then took over the clubhouse and transformed it into a “safe house” where the children are given something to eat and a place to study or get away from their home environment if needed.
The clubhouse is filled with surfboards and wetsuits. They also rent these out to the public and give surf lessons to make extra money. It’s costs about R20,000 per month to rent the clubhouse, pay utilities and buy food. They are barely scraping by, says Solomons. They also try to pay a stipend to the youth leaders that they’ve trained to coach and repair boards.
Surf instructor Shane Lentoor says some of the children who frequent their clubhouse struggle with drug use and being forced into gangsterism in the communities where they live. “We try to keep them away from gang activity and drug abuse by coming here. And importantly, keep them from needing to beg on the streets,” he says.
We spoke to a few of the boys at the Local Surf Lounge Academy. Themba and Enzo are not their real names.
Seventeen-year-old Themba joined the academy two years ago, soon after his family moved from Gugulethu to Capricorn. He says the move was extremely challenging as he was unfamiliar with the community.
Themba says he stopped attending school in grade 5. He says surfing has been therapeutic and has given him a way to spend his time during the day “rather than getting into fights”.
He says he enjoys the feeling of surfing. “It’s me and the waves,” he says. Getting better at the sport makes him happy.
Another 17-year-old, Enzo, says he joined the program when he was ten. He says that he used to beg on the streets, steal and sniff glue. He met Solomons who invited him to join the program. “Surfing took me away from that…I’m happy with myself,” he says.
He speaks proudly of his mother’s response: “For her to see me change in that way … she’s really happy”.
As one of the stronger surfers who has also started participating in competitions, Enzo says that the boys “look up to me in my community”. He has won a few competitions and is making some money through small sponsorships. His dream is to “work in a surf shop and travel the world”.
In 2022, the Local Surf Lounge won the Recreation Body of the Year award at the SA Sports awards. A number of boys have also won competitions and a consistently competed in numerous competitions.
The “Local Surf Lounge Academy is basically my life” said Solomons. “I’m not saying that I’m saving all the kids, but I’m creating an opportunity,” he said.
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