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Judith Mattock – Surfing in South Africa

In just three months, I lived alongside 11 different volunteers in my host family, I managed to see huge developments in my surfing project and I went from being homesick in South Africa (at the very start but not for long), to now being homesick in the UK for South Africa!

My Surfing placement

Surfing mural inside the surfing project centre

We worked with and alongside various groups of people with differing capabilities and ages; but this is what made the Surf Project so interesting! It introduces you to a new way of life and teaches you that everyone is equal in the waves.

Within the other groups there were often smaller changes. With the rehab center, the people we worked with would be with us for a short period of time and be in a smaller group - this allowed us to get to know them better. It also meant I progressed with my surfing at the same rate that they did, or at least for the first couple of weeks. It showed me how important it is to be accepted and how much of a difference a short chat and some salt water can make. >Within the other groups there were often smaller changes. With the rehab center, the people we worked with would be with us for a short period of time and be in a smaller group - this allowed us to get to know them better. It also meant I progressed with my surfing at the same rate that they did, or at least for the first couple of weeks. It showed me how important it is to be accepted and how much of a difference a short chat and some salt water can make.

With the two schools we worked alongside, it was a sense of having fun and a moment to concentrate on something that they want to do. The children also had the undivided attention of so many volunteers, something that I feel they do not get at home. This was also the same for the Boys Detention Centre we worked with – it felt like these boys were at a cross between two completely different cultures: the detention center and surfing. At some points it was like setting them free, while at others it was allowing them to breathe again. The biggest challenge was always getting everyone to come out of the water, with the groups of children always asking: “Just one more wave?”

The sun sets in Cape Town

The Autism Centre and its sister organization we worked with, became a family for us. We were welcomed into this awesome family! We helped out at craft events and generally added an extra pair of hands and eyes whenever they were needed. Through the Autism Centre’s swimming lessons, local children with autism who otherwise wouldn't be able to afford these lessons, got a chance to benefit from the time in the water with us. It was a challenge to understand the different levels of autism, but it was great to be at the starting point and I look forward to seeing how this group progresses!

Last, but by no means least is Brett who is autistic. It was wonderful to work with Brett and a fellow volunteer for three months. Both of us being there for that long meant that we were able to build up a trust and take Brett surfing as well swimming.We gradually went a bit deeper in the sea and played by diving under waves, floating and generally messing about. These were great sessions and ones I really miss. Brett and I also learnt that it is possible to get brain freeze from diving through the waves too fast - a steep learning curve for both of us!

Memorable moments

Volunteers assist Ashtan

One of the best bits of the project is actually the walk down to the beach. Carrying our surf boards and crossing the railway line; either running with the excited teenagers from the detention center or chatting alongside the rehab patients.

The one person who developed the most while I was on the project was a young guy named Ashtan. He has Cerebral Palsy and is normally in a wheelchair. At the very start of my time in South Africa, we were taking him surfing about once a week if the weather permitted. If the waves were choppy and with the change of volunteers, Ashtan would sometimes spend more time in the water rather than on his board.

At this point we decided to take him into a pool for pool sessions, to practice - at first - rolling off the board so that he would be face up. This progressed to us helping him to practice independent floating on his back and we supported him with walking in the water. As well as rolling off, Ashtan increased his ability to control his own weight, position himself and generally control his board.

This then progressed even further to Ashtan walking, aided on each side, up the beach, pivoting and walking in circles. This was a massive improvement, which took Ashtan from his wheelchair to walking. Ashtan has now competed in the Adaptive Surfing Championships of South Africa. Of course this is thanks to the many volunteers who went before me and who will take over after me, I just happened to be there when the big changes took place with him.

Traveling around South Africa

Volunteers prepare for a surfing session

While in South Africa I did all of the standard things from Table Mountain to seeing the penguins. I also traveled at the end of my stay to Victoria Falls, Kruger National Park and then the Garden Route managing to line it up to hit the J’Bay Open Surf Competition on the World Surf Series. I loved my time in Cape Town and in particular, Muizenberg.

I am now addicted to surfing and am constantly checking the forecasts both for Muizenberg and the UK; I still find myself practicing the motions of a bottom-turn and trying to explain what it’s like to my family. Perhaps a heads-up to future volunteers: I am still finding sand, a month on, and I think I will always be dreaming of the surf in South Africa.

A huge thanks has to go to Chrisjan who taught me to surf, feel the waves and that wearing two wetsuits is always an option! He is the one who holds all of this together.

Judith Mattock

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