9 MILES, 100 SMILES – by Anton Louw
“When I was growing up, there were three drug lords in Strandfontein,” says Nigel Savell, 9 Miles local and founder of the 9 Miles Project. “Now there are thirty.” A short drive from the croissants and colour-coded flags of Muizenburg, 9 Miles and its adjacent communities are a world apart. Having written about sharks (more often than I’d like to), I know just how sharky this coast is. I keep this to myself – not wanting to alarm the guys who call it home. But they know it already and laugh it off. “I’ve been surfing here for 20 years and I’ve never had a problem,” says Jason Isaacs. They then make the analogy of the real sharks that live on land.
Drugs, gangs, teen pregnancies, school drop-outs are all regular problems in the Strandfontein and 7de Laan community. This prompted Nigel and good friend Jason to found the 9 Miles Project – an outreach programme that uses surfing to teach youngsters invaluable life lessons. Founded in December, this last Saturday saw them hosting their first event, which involves an introduction to surfing, and then a contest for the local surfers.
In the first week of proper winter, Cape Town has seen a mist descend that shuts down the airport. I drive all through the murk and as I near 9 Miles, I leave it behind and emerge into crisp radiant light. Ten children have joined the start phase of the project. Nigel opens the proceedings with a short announcement and a prayer, before the eager groms are run through the basics, have a quick stretch and hit the surf. The energy and smiles are electric. It’s a reminder of what true stoke really is. A few guys are even able to get to their feet and ride it out. There’s no shortage of natural talent here. Although they’re soon exhausted, most will spend all day in their donated wetsuits, and as soon as they’ve recovered, will seize any opportunity to grab a board and ride a wave through to the shorey.
Aside from surfing, they also aim to impart an empathy for the natural aspects that make surfing in SA so amazing, and teach skills that may be used commercially – including board repair and clothing design. Some of the groms grab my camera – also a first time experience – and are able to compose and shoot some good shots. With numerous surf-related channels available, all that is needed is a guiding hand in the right direction.
There may be so many negative influences around them at home, but here on the beach, it’s all positives. Nigel points out that this is a family event, rather than just a project launch with a surf contest. And there is a lot of good vibes and sense of community here. The aim to develop this initiative into a club that’s linked to the upliftment project. With the club surfing scene on the up around the country, drawing in surfers from a wider base has the potential to raise the bar of competitive surfing to new heights.
9 Miles has had a dedicated crew on it since before the transition and these guys have been quietly shredding away from the surfing mainstream. These guys rip and the kids need only look to their elder peers for good examples in this regard. The conditions are small, but nicely offshore. As the tide pushes, they get a bit more power, but it’s still quite soft. Still, the guys are able to coax some energy out of the waves and there are some good rail turns, as well as the occasional off-the-lip bashes and nose picks. As the first 9 Miles Challenge comes to a close, a cheeky barrel seals the win for Faizel Diedericks.
South Africa has had lots to cheer about in recent weeks, from Shaun Joubert, to Bianca and Jordy. So while good things are happening at the top, it’s great to see that even at the base, the future is looking bright as well.
Check out some more moments from the 9 Miles Challenge below: