• Sinesipho Ngungu

The Surfer Kids Celebrates 10th Anniversary

Updated: Dec 10, 2020

20 November 2020 marked the tenth anniversary of The Surfer Kids.


It’s been ten years since Hermann Vivier and his wife, Jenya Zhivaleva, launched The Surfer Kids Non-Profit, with the sole purpose of making a difference in the lives of children who most need it!


Their vision was (and still is) to empower disadvantaged youngsters using the magic of surfing and the power of the ocean, and they started this non-profit organization with literally nothing. Just two hearts filled with empathy and a dream that needed practical wings.


But through sheer determination and belief in their mission, The Surfer Kids has since grown into a life-changing initiative for the many youngsters who have participated over the years. HOWEVER, they were NEVER alone. All along the road, they were blessed with support and much-needed help.

In November 2010, The Surfer Kids started its Core Surf Program with only four children from Friemersheim, a small town just outside Mossel Bay. Benjamin “Bennie” Joubert, also from Friemersheim, became the first Community Coordinator after watching his sons being introduced to the wonder of surfing.


Before this encounter, Bennie had never been near a surfboard, the ocean, or, for that matter, his own sons. In his own words, he “did not have any communication with his own children and was only interested in shebeens and alcohol.”


But his life changed for the better when he became involved with The Surfer Kids in 2010. Through their involvement in the program, Bennie and his sons were reconciled and they stayed committed until the program moved its headquarters to Diaz Beach in 2016.

In 2010, alongside their non-profit initiative, Hermann and Jenya also founded Unravel Surf Travel, a tourism business focused on organizing surf trips for international clients.The Surfer Kids was initially founded as the outreach arm of Unravel Surf Travel, but soon evolved and was eventually established as an independent non-profit organization.

In March 2012 participants of The Surfer Kids were, for the first time ever, invited to compete at The South African Grommet Games as part of the Eden Surf Riders Association Grommet Team.


The South African Grommet Games is a national event organized by Surfing South Africa, with a focus on the development of transformation. The contest has been held uninterrupted every year since 1992, in Nelson Mandela Bay (formerly Port Elizabeth) and it was an exhilarating experience for The Surfer Kids participants to compete against other surfers from different regions.

As a way to begin expanding the organization and secure funding, The Surfer Kids initiated its Volunteer Program in 2013. During the following years, many volunteers from Europe, North and South America joined this special program on various voluntourism packages.


Their duties were wide-ranging but focused around assisting the youngest children in the ocean.The first volunteer to enroll was Mary Flemming from Colorado in the USA. Then, early in 2014, the second volunteer arrived from Germany, Lisa Prautzch.


The Volunteer Program grew in 2015 and really started finding its feet in 2016. By early 2020 The Surfer Kids had hosted a total of 91 volunteers from all around the world, with feedback being overwhelmingly positive!

Between 2010 - 2014 The Surfer Kids operated once a week, conducting surf sessions for the youth enrolled in its program either on Saturdays or Sundays. The organization worked in cooperation with the Primary School in Friemersheim, the children’s parents and the wider community.


Then, on the 28th of May 2014, The Surfer Kids was registered as a fully-fledged non-profit organization with the Directorate of Non-Profit Organizations, itself a part of the South African Department of Social Development.


While The Surfer Kids accomplished a lot while operating out of Friemersheim, the need for transporting children to the beach and back with every surf session put a limit on the effectiveness of the program.


The tough decision was therefore made in 2015 to look at alternative locations and possibly move the program closer to Diaz Beach, the area’s prime surfing beach.

Halfway through 2015, The Surfer Kids started hosting surf sessions for children from the community of KwaNonqaba, a township on the outskirts of Mossel Bay. At a distance of approximately 3 kilometres from Diaz Beach, while being far closer than Friemersheim which is 35km from Diaz, the Kwanonqaba children still had to be transported, meaning that these children also could not attend frequently.


At this point, The Surfer Kids gained a foothold in the township of JCC Camp, which had always been on their radar. But it wasn’t until early 2016 that they made contact with members of the community.


JCC is located within easy walking distance of Diaz Beach, less than a kilometer as the crow flies and children from JCC could therefore walk to Diaz within 10 minutes, completely removing the need for transport and the limitations it had previously placed on the program.


JCC Camp was also a far more impoverished township than where The Surfer Kids had been recruiting from before, in Friemersheim and Kwanonqaba, with tertiary education and employment rates being far lower.


The Surfer Kids was therefore now working where it was really needed.

2015 and 2016 also saw a major change to the structure of the organization as the program moved to more frequent operations based at Diaz Beach. With administrative tasks mounting, and the kids’ surf sessions happening more frequently, Hermann was no longer able to conduct the kids’ surf session himself. This responsibility passed to Andries Matthysen who became the organization’s Head Surf Instructor and also joined the Board of Trustees, alongside Hermann and Jenya.


Andries had established his own Surf School, Surf’s Up, at Diaz Beach the year before and his new role at The Surfer Kids was a perfect fit for what he was already doing on a daily basis. Andries also took on the mammoth task of training the organization's coaches. From very early on The Surfer Kids’ management understood that while Hermann, Jenya and Andries had the crucial experience and expertise to build and run the organization, long term, the children needed role models from their own community. It was therefore very important to train and employ Surf Coaches that the kids could identify with.

Sinesipho, the second coach to be permanently employed by The Surfer Kids describes his relationship with Andries as follows: “He’s like a father to me, in terms of communication whenever I had problems at work or at home, I always spoke to him, and he always gave me solutions and good advice. I’ve learnt so many skills from him, he trained me well and I will always look up to him.”


The move to Diaz Beach and more frequent surf sessions also meant that The Surfer Kids were now quickly developing advanced level surfers and, with more than two decades of surfing experience, Andries also took on the responsibility of training the quickly progressing children to surf better waves, with more speed while doing more radical manoeuvres!

Another exciting development, in mid-2015, was the appointment of the organization’s first permanent Surf Coach, Zizipho “Gift” Belu. He worked under Andries’ strict supervision and training.


Zizipho was a qualified lifeguard with lots of experience. His first responsibility was fetching the children at a central point within the township. Later, assisted by the volunteers, he would coach the children, always making sure that everyone was safe. Later he would also conduct morning surf sessions for the volunteers. With Andries’ help he also eventually taught the volunteers how to coach the children.


Zizipho played an important role as the first permanently employed Surf Coach & Community Coordinator, he helped The Surfer Kids recruit many children from its new recruitment base in JCC Camp.

In April 2016, The Surfer Kids achieved another milestone by reaching their long-term goal of opening permanent headquarters at Diaz Beach. The Core Surf Program immediately ramped up to a five-days-per-week program, from Tuesdays to Saturdays.


Although the program started off in 2010 in Friemersheim, Hermann and Jenya realized that their mission would yield fewer results and would always be limited while based so far from the ocean. A lot of resources and energy needed to be spent transporting equipment and children and this would always place a heavy limit on the effectiveness of the program.


The new headquarters at Diaz Beach really opened up new possibilities and took the entire organization to a whole new level.

From their Diaz Beach headquarters, the Core Surf Program has now been operating five-days-a-week for five years! Participants are motivated to attend every day, not only to improve their levels of surfing but, more importantly, to instill a sense of commitment. To that end daily attendance is logged in an attendance register, with annual attendance reports posted on their website.

The results of this new five-day-per-week program showed itself when, in March 2017, The Surfer Kids earned its first Grommet Games medal! The Surfer Kids have been attending this historical event every year since 2012 but never had much success. A weekend-only program did not allow for enough training to compete at a national level.


But in 2017, after only a year and a half of more frequent operations, Owethu Sam Tabata, who had been a participant in the Core Surf Program since early 2016, won a bronze medal at the SA Grommet Games!


Being a talented young surfer, he was selected to represent the Eden Surf Riders Association Team and it was his first time traveling to Nelson Mandela Bay. Despite being so young, far from home and outside the familiar surroundings of Diaz Beach, Sam tackled the waves like a young pro! He surfed his way into the strongly contested under 8 final, putting in a strong performance to finish third.

Then, on 24 July 2017, The Surfer Kids employed a new Surf Coach & Community Coordinator, replacing Zizipho.


Sinesipho Ngungu took over from Zizipho and started working and training with Andries. He built upon Zizipho’s responsibilities of coaching, coordinating and communicating with the local primary school and the wider community in JCC Camp.


As part of Sineispho’s growth within the program, he earned his official Surf Coach Qualification in 2018, becoming The Surfer Kids’ first recruited Surf Coach to do so.


Sinesipho also earned huge respect from the wider community when in, December 2017, he saved the life of a German tourist on holiday in Mossel Bay. After noticing there was trouble Sinesipho jumped into action and pulled the man out of the rip current. The man wasn’t breathing and had no pulse, but Sinesipho resuscitated him after 20 minutes of CPR.

Building on the rapid development brought about by their move to Diaz Beach, The Surfer Kids was nominated for a South African Sports Award in November 2018, in the category: Recreation Body of the Year.


The Surfer Kids NPO was nominated by the General Manager of Surfing South Africa, Robin de Kock. And although they did not win their category, the nomination was recognition of the growth and success achieved by the organisation since its inception in 2010.

Then, in 2019, The Surfer Kids won its second Grommet Games Medal proving that their success at the 2017 event was not a fluke.


A talented young surfer, Sibulele Ntosho, who joined The Surfer Kids early in 2018, was selected to represent Eden Surf Riders in the under 8 division. He qualified for the Grommet Games final and surfed his way into third place, earning valuable points for his team and winning The Surfer Kids’ second bronze medal!

In May 2019, The Surfer Kids NPO employed its second full-time Surf Coach, Luthando Lovemore Ndabambi. This was the first time ever that The Surfer Kids had employed two full-time surf coaches working and training under Andries’ supervision simultaneously.


Luthando comes from JCC Camp, the same community from where the children are recruited. Like Sinesipho, he is a qualified and experienced lifeguard and well respected within the community. He’s a great role model for the youngsters, motivating them with his enthusiasm and commitment.


This year, amid all the craziness surrounding the pandemic, Luthando successfully earned his drivers’ licence in June. He dreams of a vehicle for The Surfer Kids which he would like to use to transport the kids to more surfing competitions and events.

September 2019 offered a big first for the organization when Mpho Ngaleka represented The Surfer Kids at the Sea Harvest South African Junior Championships, the first time The Surfer Kids were represented at this elite-level event.


Mpho became the first recruit from the Core Surf Program to qualify for participation at this national championship event after he was selected to represent Eden Surf Riders Association in the boys under 16 division.


The Sea Harvest South African Junior Surfing Championships is South Africa’s most prestigious junior surfing event where the country’s best surfers compete in under 12 to under 18 boys and girls divisions. While Mpho did not progress very far, he represented The Surfer Kids very well, competing at the same level as his peers from around the country, which earned him the respect of his teammates.

Then in early 2020, after having hosted almost 100 volunteers between 2013 and early 2020, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Volunteer Program sadly had to be suspended indefinitely.


It was not an easy decision to make, but The Surfer Kids were left with little choice as the organization would have been unable to afford the financial burden of the Volunteer Program’s overhead costs without being able to host volunteers, due to world-wide travel bans.


The Surfer Kids remains forever grateful to all its past volunteers. Without their valuable contributions the organization would not have been able to exist and grow to the extent that it has.


And The Surfer Kids continues to rely upon the help of voluntary assistance from key people. If you'd like to help, but cannot afford a monetary donation, it's still possible to volunteer remotely and assist with various important tasks.

And, despite its main source of funding being cut when the Volunteer Program was closed, The Surfer Kids continues to thrive, with its Core Surf Program still operating 5-days a week, since local lock-down regulations were eased in August 2020.


Off course, due to the Covid-19 Pandemic, and the resulting national lock-down, the Core Surf Program had to be suspended for some time, in line with local lock down and disaster management regulations. This happened on the 20th of March 2020. Up until that point, right up until the beginning of the initial lock down phase, an average of just over 20 children were attending the Core Surf Program every day during January, February and March, in line with the growing averages seen towards the end of 2019.


And while The Surfer Kids were operational during the lock down, launching their revamped feeding scheme and distributing food parcels to the children’s families, unfortunately, the children’s Core Surf Program could not operate.

The daily Core Surf Program was only re-opened when lock down regulations allowed for it on the 24th of August, meaning there was a break of 5 months where the children could not surf.


When the Core Surf Program resumed, numbers had to be limited, again due to regulations. In August, during the first week of operations, an average of just over 5 children attended per day. But that number has been increasing gradually. September and November saw an average of 7 children attending every day while in November that number climbed to 10.


These much lower numbers were unfortunately also partly due to some children having lost interest during the long absence, although our Surf Coaches have been working very hard on their recruitment efforts.


But the numbers are kept intentionally lower because ongoing regulations mandate that large groups be avoided. In response to this The Surfer Kids are working on restructuring its program to accommodate more children in smaller separated groups, keeping in line with regulations, while still growing its numbers and sphere of influence.


With the outbreak of the global covid-19 pandemic and the introduction of a national lock-down, The Surfer Kids revamped its feeding scheme to deliver food to all the families of the children participating in its Core Surf Program, in addition to feeding the children attending the program on a daily basis.


The Surfer Kids Core Surf Program currently caters for 35 children from JCC Camp, one of Mossel Bays poorest communities. Food parcels continue to be distributed to all those families on a monthly basis and this has helped the families a great deal during these difficult times. The Surfer Kids aims to continue supporting the families for as long as it remains feasible to do so.

Between 2016 and 2019 the Volunteer Program covered approximately 80% of the organization’s funding requirements and with the closure of the Volunteer Program that source of funding disappeared.


The Surfer Kids weathered the storm thanks to its small but passionate community of sponsors and donors from around the world, who came together and supported the organization and allowed The Surfer Kids to continue its mission throughout 2020!


However, it is now of utmost importance that new avenues of funding are secured. On the 5th of August, The Surfer Kids launched its “Sponsor-A-Child” Campaign. This campaign encourages potential donors to make a monthly contribution equal in size to the cost of one child’s participation, which amounts to R500 (ZAR) or $30 (USD) per month.


In return for supporting at least one child on a monthly basis, an exclusive newsletter is sent to all sponsor-a-child donors, giving them a unique insight into the lives and progress of the children that they support.


Following that thread, on October 29th, The Surfer Kids released its first Kids' Profile, with more profiles set to be released in 2021. The idea is to produce short profile videos, featuring an interview and surfing footage, alongside key statistics on each child’s participation in the Core Surf Program.

Also on their website, The Surfer Kids now hosts a Surf Tips page, featuring valuable information for beginners interested in learning more about surfing. This information is based on several decades worth of combined surfing experience, with unique insights offered by Hermann, Andries, Sinesipho and Luthando.


It is made available freely, but tips are encouraged!


Also soon to be released, sometime at the beginning of 2021, is The Surfer Kids’ in-house production of a 10-year anniversary documentary. The film will feature interviews with all the key people within the organization and archive footage, and will hopefully showcase just how far the organization has come since it’s inception in 2010.

And that’s the story of The Surfer Kids on the eve of its 10th anniversary. Despite the many challenges, the organization continues to grow, always working to empower youths through surfing!


We look forward to the next ten years and we believe that in 2030 we will be even stronger than we are today!

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