“I used to be uncomfortable in the water,” says Sam, “but now ever since I started surfing, I started feeling safe and brave. I’m comfortable and getting to know the ocean very well… before, surfing wasn’t common here and we don’t have any local surfers.”
K* echoes the challenges around trying something you haven’t ever witnessed. “I first saw surfing in a movie, not in any of the places I lived. I remember thinking it looked so exciting… then my mom told me there is surfing here in the village, and I moved here to this high school so I can work hard but also so I can surf!”
The community’s relationship with the sea mostly centres on income and sustenance, and often involves fear and risk. “We were using the sea for fishing and swimming, but there was often drowning” explains Dali. “At the moment we are trying our best to educate more people about the sea - especially our youngsters.”
“Some of the older people in my community… if they knew I surfed, they would be worried” says K*. “Because they think the water is dangerous, and because they believe the water spirits will take me. For me, I respect the elders but I’m not worried, and I love surfing more than I feel scared.”
The Thatha iLiza team knows the programme is benefitting the local community, not only in water safety and changing attitudes, but beyond the surf sessions. Participants develop a sense of enjoyment, ownership and responsibility “by getting to know their beach, by being able to identify the dangerous spots and the safe spots, and also doing something different and relaxing on the beach in their free time” explain Sam and Dali.
The team is especially stoked to have more girls in the programme. Today, there are two new girls, who have been warmly greeted and welcomed. “Bringing girls in is a mountain to climb because they don’t believe surfing is sport for girls” says Sam. “Even I didn’t think one day I would surf, because I thought surfing is for white people and it wasn’t happening for years here. So it’s a new thing to everyone, but we are doing our best to get them in.”