24 January, 2013 24 January, 2013

An Open Letter to the SA Surfing Community

Zag received this open letter to the SA Surfing Community from Cape Town’s Anton Louw, whom, upset by a violent incident that happened up the coast recently, asked if we could spread the word. As such, not all the views expressed in this letter are necessarily those of Zigzag, but as we are fans of a happy lineup, here it is:



Recent events and reports in the media have compelled me to reflect on our situation in its entire context. We need to look at how we got to this point, and what it might possibly mean for our future in the waves. The sad part is many of the ills that affect our country as a whole are found in line-ups these days. Greed is one, exclusivism another and violence is the ugliest. The good news is we don’t have to be prisoners of our past. And much like the rest of this country’s still undetermined future, it’s ours to grasp, or let it slip between our fingers.

I don’t know quite when it first happened, or for that matter even where, but somewhere along the line, catching waves became a selfish thing. We sought to catch many waves, and at the expense of others. We began competing for waves, instead of sharing a session. We took the steps down the individualist path where surfing became focussed on waves ridden, and not moments enjoyed. It spread and soon this attitude came to dominate all but the least crowded places. It didn’t have to become like this.

It’s been justified in so many ways. It begs a few questions, though: When have we earned the right to take a wave from someone else? What gives you this precedence? And then why are these good reasons? I don’t have answers here. You can answer them for yourself. And saying that ‘that’s the way it is’ is not good enough. It doesn’t have to be like this.  Imagine saying this: “Nah, I didn’t get anything good on this epic day. But I saw X and Y get cookers, and just being out there was such a jol.

Yet, here we are. The most common cause of angst in the line-up can be attributed to localism. Localism, as I’ve seen it expressed (in most instances – I’ve happily experienced exceptions, too) isn’t about custodianship, about teaching manners to newcomers, or maintaining a sense of order when things get busy. It’s a form of exclusivity. It’s a method of drawing a line between ‘us’ and ‘them’, and denying ‘them’ of any privileges that ‘we’ may enjoy. It pushes anyone outside a tight circle to the periphery and leaves them to fight for scraps on the margins. That might sound familiar in the broader context of our country’s history.

In creating these tight rings we push as many people apart aside as possible. Reasons fall into 3 rough categories: lack of familiarity, lesser ability, and likelihood of returning aggression. Basically, any excuse to prey on the weak. This means anyone who’s not recognised as from there, not quite as experienced, a girl, or of colour gets marginalised. And this is not only seen as excusable, but endorsed as legit.

The future of SA Surfing looks like this. Durban groms Thando Msibi and Tide-Lee Ireland strike a pose.

The future of SA Surfing looks like this. Durban groms Thando Msibi and Tide-Lee Ireland strike a pose.

Attempts to challenge this system are met with aggression and violence. And this is contagious. The recent shootings in America have prompted researchers to now look at violence as a contagious disease. Staying at home, we managed a peaceful transition to democracy under the auspices of truly great men – icons of our time, true examples of human potential. The international community lauded it and sought to learn from our willingness to discuss our differences and forgive our transgressions. Then we lost our way, because we couldn’t truly get past an ‘us’ and ‘them’ mind-set.

The incident that set the ball rolling here was a racially charged one. Whether it began as a racial incident, or morphed into that either in the heat of the moment, or because of the angle the media spun is an unknown quantity. Racism in the line-up (or anywhere) needs to end. Not just because of a sense of fairness, but because it will be our undoing in the long term. Having chatted to some coloured surfers since the incident, the most chilling comment was “When you paddle out, you can see the scorn in their eyes.” It’s unclear whether this is motivated by deep seated racism, or part of the attempt to make an unfamiliar unwelcome. But, the offended surfer isn’t going to react well to it. And the race card – justified or not – is often played. The consequences as we’ve seen follow on.

I come from a farming background. It’s an industry that battles with the image of being the preserve of white males. Surfing is going to suffer under the same perception unless we actively work hard to avoid it. Then the best case scenario will be apathy from the authorities. Anything from ‘could the city please fix the showers at the beach’ to ‘putting this sewage pipe here will be a bad idea’ will be ignored.  At worst, government will actively try to undermine us with any tool at their disposal. Such as deliberately ignoring car break-ins at the beach, or purposefully placing sewage pipes where surf spots are. These are just examples off the top of my head. You may think they’re farfetched, or may come up with even more sinister ones of your own.

You probably won’t agree with this, but we need more surfers in the water. As a democracy, the more we are, the better voice we have. As inland water resources in the interior become scarcer, our industries will move to the coast. This is going to put enormous pressure on the marine environment. Unless we have a large and inclusive community to defend it, we’re going to lose everything that we have. Then we’ll all know what it’s like to fight for left overs.

Even crowded spots like Elands Bay sees sessions with no takers.

Even crowded spots like Elands Bay sees sessions with no takers.

And our waves can take more surfers. As a Capetonian, I recently enjoyed a post-work session at an urban spot that was firing with only my mates on it. Just yesterday, I sat on the beach at one of our premier spots with a Californian visitor. He couldn’t believe how uncrowded it was. He said in the previous week he’d been there with no-one out. I could believe him. I’d been there on weekends and had multiple peaks to pick from with me the only taker. And it’s not like I’m especially dialled to these places either. I can’t speak for Durban, PE or the Garden Route, but think back and you know you’ve enjoyed uncrowded waves where you really shouldn’t have. Cities will always have crowds, our best waves are going to attract visitors. Much like daily conditions, you can’t do too much about that.

Those who know me have definitely seen me lose my cool. But apart from my weak pop-up, and stiff posture, it’s something that I’m working on. The correct attitude is arguably the aspect that will help me enjoy my surfing the most. Your attitude is your own – you can use it to make your session, or undo it for yourself and those around you. And if you want to use a bad attitude to chase others away, it’s going to count against you in the long term. In the end, you may have caught more waves, but I’ll still be the one smiling and laughing, and you’re still the one pissed off with life.

With all the above, you can dismiss it or take it to heart. I’m not suggesting anyone to go out there and klap the neighbourhood bully into his place. Change needs to come from within. Like violence is contagious, so is stoke. Surfing began with something called Aloha. We have our own Ubuntu. It’s time it made itself known in our waves.

Yours in surfing,
Anton Louw


  1. Jamie Bell
    24 January, 2013 at 10:17 am · Reply

    Great article Anton, I fully agree with everything you brought to light.

  2. Cath
    24 January, 2013 at 10:59 am · Reply

    Well said Anton. Here are some more wise words:
    Be determined to be cheerful and happy in
    whatever situation you may find yourself. Because the
    greater part of misery and unhappiness is determined not by our
    circumstance but by our disposition. – Martha Washington

  3. Charlie F
    24 January, 2013 at 11:04 am · Reply

    Very well put – Can everybody read this line again pls.

    The most common cause of angst in the line-up can be attributed to
    localism. Localism, as I’ve seen it expressed isn’t about custodianship, about
    teaching manners to newcomers, or maintaining a sense of order when
    things get busy.

    Beautifully put and fully agree – Bring back the Aloha (Ubuntu) spirit.

  4. Anthony Nell
    24 January, 2013 at 11:16 am · Reply

    great read, wholeheartedly agree too

  5. Dom
    24 January, 2013 at 11:34 am · Reply

    Good letter Anton.
    It should be about sharing and enjoying God’s creation of oceans and waves. I remember on a few occasions teaching guys or gals to surf and that is really rewarding. As rewarding as catching your own waves. Also to give tips to newcomers.

     Funny I read an article by Sam George about the invention of the cutback and how it changed the sport completely, Surfers used to ride and share waves as they generally rode straight. March 2006 Surfer. good funny read.

    We know the sport has changed and can be quite competitive and when there are crowds it can get tense if there aren’t a lot of waves around. If everyone took their turn and gave a little it can go a long way. It is a bit like when you are in traffic and those guys go push in right at the top of the queue. And let’s face it all of us have probably done it before. The thing is to be humble even if you are a shredder and sponsored and surf better than a lot of other guys in the line up etc etc. Take your turn. Think about others and not just yourself.

    Locals feel they deserve more waves at their spot. Maybe. As they have local knowledge of the wave etc and that is their regular spot where they surf. But what about when you go surf somewhere else do you feel the same way. Need to keep that in check.

    It was sad to see the racial card being brought up in the West coast incident and that some surfers have heard others drop derogatory comments etc. That is sad. I would have thought that SA Surfers as a whole would have moved past that. Don’t be threatened. Embrace. The issue at hand was one of unnecessary violence from one surfer to another. From all accounts it seems that the perpetrator has a history of it and I would say as mentioned needs to seek professional help. It looks like the incident that took place touched a nerve with a lot of Surfers and then there must be a reason.

    The more you try to hold on to something the easier it slips through your fingers.
    What you sow you reap.

  6. Raggeddy
    24 January, 2013 at 11:43 am · Reply

    nah mate,youve got it wrong.maybe your side in CT where people wear flowers in their hair and listen to Bob Marley..also… if you havent got a car you dont surf that side
    In Dbn,its urban surfing….
    if you dont make an effort when the east is pumping and dodging bluebottles or when its grovelling 1ft,dont expect a smile when its 4ft clean and pumping,bru
    we only have a safe 4km stretch at most,put in the time or mix with the slime…
    Nobody wants to see 2 grown men fighting like idiots in todays litigious society.
    But rules are rules,passed down from generation to generation,peak to peak,pointbreak to beachbreak,
    Its weekenders like you who think that the rules dont apply to you that all the kak happens,
    If you dont live there then expect a drop in at the very least…
    Stop trying to develop a generation of wussies…

    • Conman
      24 January, 2013 at 6:34 pm · Reply


    • Gadsby
      25 January, 2013 at 7:25 am · Reply

       Your comment has absolutely nothing to do with the article or the incident involved.  This was not a case of localism. My guess is having never surfed much from cape town to j-bay to Namibia you have never encountered the individual being talked about. Its not about developing a generation of wussies its about not developing a generation of thugs. Big difference.

    • Yebo
      26 January, 2013 at 6:10 am · Reply

      raggeddy you are a dip shit. 1) you can’t read, this guy is not a weekend warrior for starters. 2) I hope you drop in on me in the water so I can ride over you.
      Guys get over this whole rules are rules passed down from generation to generation I own the wave coz I surf everyday and can do an air blah blah blah. Your rhetoric is pathetic. Yes it might be nice to be important (everyone recognizes you at the beach, the tourist are amazed how you jump of the pier into 4 foot surf) but its mor important to be nice.

      That being said I agree with Sean, it’s hard to be color blind when the two cultures don’t behave the same. I have gotten out of the water several times because of bad behavior perpetrated by local African surfers and beach goers.

      I’m not a woes and I’m not a thug either. But know when to just walk away, it’s all about enjoyment. Surfing for the general public is not a sport. It’s a past time. The ASP guys they are competing in a sport, the rest of us and the pro free surfers well that’s passing time, enjoyment and pure entertainment. Go enjoy, be safe, be tolerant and be nice.

  7. Sean
    24 January, 2013 at 12:08 pm · Reply

    It’s a great letter, it’s positive, it holds an awesome view on the direction surfing ought to be aiming towards.  It looks good in writing, on paper.  That’s unfortunately where idealism and reality meet.  Here where I surf, we’ve spent a lot of time and effort teaching local African surfers the rules and ways to co-operate in the line-up but we still have surfers colliding, tangling leashes and getting unnecessarily pissed off because five okes took off on the same wave.  I have a problem with this idea of colourblind perception because I’m not sure what else to do when it seems impossible for both races to act in the same way, to obey the rules of the lineup so as to have a great session together.  What do you do?  

    As for Durbs, well I don’t ever surf there because the vibe in the water is just too ugly to handle.

    That all said, we need more people like Anton Louw in the surfing community.  Great letter.

  8. Garethbloom
    24 January, 2013 at 1:50 pm · Reply

    Totally agree bro,people need to stop being so selfish and leave their massive egos behind,seems like if u think u surf well it gives u a licence to be a douche and paddle on everyone inside,dont worry,there will be another wave,no need to ruin other peeps sessions,why cant we all just wait our turn?so freaken simple……

  9. Patflan
    24 January, 2013 at 2:20 pm · Reply

    Bullies thrive in a surfing environment. Seen it all over the ages and all over the globe. There’s a certain personality type and we don’t have to do the detail because we’ve all seen it at our local break from time to time. They will always be there. Hogging it up. They usually get put in their place. Fortunately though, there is a natural pecking order in any line-up of significance and especially among locals – a modicum of rotation and also of checks and balances. Also at it’s best, this natural order allows experience surfers to nurture the young ones, especially in heavier waves. When this understanding is breached, the natural order changes and shit happens and it almost always comes from a lack of respect towards others in the water. So does racism come into the equation or is it just another excuse to be disrespectful? 

  10. Pete Nicholson
    24 January, 2013 at 5:43 pm · Reply

    Great letter Anton. Finally some common sense on such a sensitive topic. Having surfed in Hawaii, the States, Australia, all over SA and lived and worked in Seal Point/JBay, I have seen it from so many different angles. I now live in Mauritius where it’s every bit as real as what everyone says. Certainly not nearly as aggressive (from what I have seen) as Hawaii or what we seem to see in SA these days, but more than enough bad vibes to ruin a surf and turn something beautiful into something very ugly. 
    However, that said, it takes two to tango. Perhaps I have just been conditioned into accepting ‘localism’ but I do believe that people who live close to a certain spot and surf there all the time should be given some form of respect in the lineup. And yes there are times where there needs to be some order in the water or else it becomes dangerous or unenjoyable for a whole lot of people in the lineup – however this should never be abused or taken too far as we have seen. 
    I would like to propose a slightly different angle to your article and address the ‘visiting’ surfers behaviour and attitude because in a perfect world, localism would not exist… but it does and it’s not going anywhere. So how do you manage it?
     In all my surfs around the world…some at some of the most heavily localised spots, I have never… not even once, found myself in a situation where I have been sent in or confronted with aggression. For sure I have copped some glares. No doubt there have been times that I have felt pretty darn unwelcome – but never has it resorted to a point where I have felt belittled or threatened. 
    I can only put this down to the fact that I carry no ego into the water and to me localism 99% of the time is a clash of 2 egos. I am new to Mauritius and in none of my surfs have I ever tried to push up to the main peak when it has been crowded. Yes I know a few of the local guys, but I have never tried to use that as a way to force my way in. I have never paddled out feeling I am ‘entitled’ to be at the top of the point. I have seen guys around me being sent in and screamed at yet I have never received this treatment myself. There have been surfs when there have been no locals out and I have relished the opportunity to enjoy the lineup only to paddle out 2 hours later and be happy to sit halfway down the point. For me surfing on a tropical island and seeing a world class spot turn on is more than enough to put a smile on my face and to just be happy to be out there. Perhaps that is why. Perhaps that sounds like a cop out to most of you.. maybe thats your ego talking? Or maybe it’s because I’ve had so many great waves and unbelievable surfs in my life that I’m satisfied? I don’t know. 
    The local is generally the guy thrown into the spotlight as the bully… and often they can be. But to all the guys ‘visiting’ other spots… don’t sit in the carpark texting and phoning your mates; paddle out and sit wide; don’t look to be noticed or react to a glare; be happy to catch what comes your way; put a smile on your face and be genuinely stoked to be out there and you’ll be suprised at how often that vibe will disappear and how often a ‘local’ will actually give you a belter of a wave. 

  11. Raggedy
    26 January, 2013 at 12:04 pm · Reply

    I was refering to the general rules and what happens generally.
    Theres nothing worse than an outsider trying to pose as a local,when the locals know that he’s not.
    Yes i am that dipshit… that always drops in on weekenders also having a few on weekdays as well…LOL
    I for one,live on the beachfront.unlike all you c@%ts that have a splash and then run to the security of the west,north and south suburbs,because of underlying racist personalities.
    Id rather surf with 20 Umthombos than two of your kind….
    Ive lived and travelled the world,
    localism is a joke here really,what localism?A few harsh words,a splash and a drop in… and everyone has a fit..LOL…consider ourselves lucky…LOL

  12. Mike
    26 January, 2013 at 9:50 pm · Reply

    How about sorting out the dates/times on the comments so we know where to start reading!

    • charlie
      27 January, 2013 at 4:25 pm · Reply

      @ Mike – you can sort the messages by clicking the drop down at the beginning of the comments

  13. Raggedy
    27 January, 2013 at 9:56 am · Reply

    forgot to say you nailed it on the head  Pete Nic…good  reply….too true…
    also isnt it great to always grab the insiders and rip them to the end sending spray into the air every turn….the locals deny it… but are watching from the corner of their eyes…and when you finally get the nod..you find out they know a lot more about you than you thought…I miss those days..good memories..LOL

  14. Charles
    28 January, 2013 at 12:04 pm · Reply

    A well written letter. Wave bullies and ‘drop-inns’ are selfcentered and disrespectful. We need to educate them wit a copy of Surfing for Dummies!

  15. manta
    28 January, 2013 at 6:30 pm · Reply

    I love surfing -Period. As a Saffa I had to work my way into a heavy localized Norcal spot .sit on the shoulder and offer set waves to the locals even when it was my turn.Ive been here 5 years and have got the friendship and the “in” from almost all the locals .I still offer them set waves .In the beginning I was told to F off but I kept coming back .Smiled and nodded. I will never let “localism” control where I surf in the ocean .Be it Hawaii ,Jbay or ebay .I have surfed many times with Rasool and never had a problem with him. Having said that it doesnt mean Im defending him. Ive seen violence at Muizenberg .Its not the surf ,or the localism .Its underlying issues that people take into the water with them .Surfing helps us get out of our “troubles’ and if someone gets in the way of that ,we can get angry .Over the top angry ,which is a result of built up issues .
    Stay surfing stay smiling  share a wave .    

  16. Kevin
    30 January, 2013 at 7:09 am · Reply

    Learn to live with the Pirates.
    If not.. and want a more gentlemans sport…maybe take up bowls or cricket
    The race card is original RSA stuff…what a shame…next well see….
    Affirmative Surfing in South Africa…. a new book by Ratool

  17. Dave
    19 April, 2015 at 10:32 am · Reply

    I am a 40 year old experienced surfer, having surfed every corner of the planet. But today was the worst localism I have ever experienced in my 25 years of the sport.

    The surf at one-eye was firing today. 4-6 foot perfection. Sadly my session didn’t last very long as I was chased out the water by the locals. Some old white dude with short white hair, and a young guy who was his bitch. Neither could surf very well. But thought they owned every wave on the island.

    There’s no room for negotiation. They will swear and threaten you until you get out the water. I just made sure my last wave in was the wave of the day, which made me feel slightly better.

    It’s such a shame, as there were plenty of waves for everyone.

    This world works in mysterious ways, and karma will works it’s magic on these arrogant pigs.

    I for one would never come back to this island. Surfing is my thing. And if I can’t surf, what’s the point.

    I just don’t know why the authorities don’t do anything??

  18. Ian
    3 December, 2019 at 4:54 pm · Reply

    Just an idea how about being able to buy an arm band or something similar that would identify you as a newbie to the sport or as unfamiliar to this particular surfing spot, much like a big L in the back window of a car for a learner driver? It would allow those with a sense of hospitality and in the broader sense of “surfing community” be a little more welcoming and understanding if someone unwittingly drops in on their wave or just does silly stuff because they are new to the area or the sport. I can see that some people would probably be negative towards the person wearing the band but if just a few locals are supportive of the non local in the water with them, it could make a huge difference to the newbie or the non local.

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