Last week we published a video of Sal Masekela making a speech at a paddle out in Encinitas, California in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. It was a small post, sharing what we believe is a relevant and inspirational video from Hugh Masekela’s surfing son. We added that, here at Zigzag, we support the call. We encourage South African surfers to use this moment to challenge the status quo, to question why there are so few black surfers at our beaches and to stand with those unjustly murdered during the lockdown by our “over-zealous” police and military. We suggested, that when our beaches are open, we should have a paddle-out in solidarity with these issues as this is far more in line with our values than a “Surfer’s Protest” that was called to challenge the momentary suspension of surfing under the Covid-19 Lockdown regulations.
Our Facebook exploded in a sea of reaction and vitriol.
“All lives matter!”
“Stay in your lane Zigzag, you bunch of cakes!”
“You go woke, you go broke!”
“How to destroy a brand 101.”
“Don’t bring politics into surfing!”
It’s not our intention to alienate or castigate anyone. We all share a common love for surfing and the goodness it brings. What’s plain to see is that the subject, even here in South Africa where we should all be experts in race relations, is highly polarising.
The point we want to address right now is that every choice we make in life is political. We have arrived in this moment through a history of events (slavery, colonialism, apartheid) that benefited some while being unjust and damaging to many others. This is what Black Lives Matter is all about. Not that other lives matter less, but that black lives matter just as much.
Surfing is not, somehow, magically suspended from this politics. It is inherently wrapped up in it. The very fact that we surfers are able to choose to spend our lives pursuing the totally absurd concept of riding bands of energy in the ocean, as an act that gives our lives meaning, is a wonderful privilege, denied to many others simply by the poverty they were born into.
Surf stoke is an uplifting force for good. It is a true privilege. We need to share it.
And yes some heroes, from difficult backgrounds, manage to rise above their circumstances, through willpower, determination and good fortune, to join our surfing tribe. But it should be easier than that.
And now, in case you think we’re preaching, let us cast the first stone at ourselves. What is true, even if painful for us to admit, is that Zigzag has been truly kak at representing both the excellence and diversity in South African surfing. We’ve been myopic and comfortable in our privileged echo chamber. Instead of leading the charge, too often we’ve sat back and simply reflected SA’s current surfing reality without striving hard enough to push it forward.
Covid-19 gives us an opportunity to re-evaluate these things, chuck out what is not working, improve and step forward. We embrace this opportunity.
The good news is that, without it being a central narrative of the surfing community, South Africa has actually achieved a huge amount of momentum in this direction. Surfing admin has become more integrated and accessible. Grassroots surf organisations around the country (and the continent) share the stoke with thousands of kids each week. The world championship tour has existed, in one form or another, since 1976 but 42 years later, in 2018, the first black surfer to ever qualify for the WCT is a kid from Kommetjie called Mikey February. It’s moving, but we can do more.
In South Africa we all know that sport can heal and unite our fractured society. Look at the example set by rugby. Before 1994 Springbok rugby was a symbol of white supremacy and apartheid power. Today they are the world’s finest rugby team, made up of the most representative and racially diverse group of players, selected on merit alone. June 16, seems like a good time to hold up this example as a vision for surfing.
Let’s do this.