3 October, 2017 3 October, 2017

Throwing Heart and Soul

As per usual Billabong along with Bos Ice Tea and All Aboard Travel put on a superb event. Their commitment to growing the sport and nurturing our elite surfers is palpable and inspiring. Stop four of the Billabong JNR series held at Seal Point in St. Francis provided the perfect playing field for South Africa’s top juniors to showcase their skills. Mother Nature provided us with terrific conditions throughout the weekend, and Seal Point delivered up those highly rippable waves complete with that typical Seal Point lip that just begs you to bang it – HARD!

Jake Elkington obliges the Seal Point lip with a bang. Image: Ian Thurtell

Throughout the event, general talk centered around South Africa’s performance at the ISA World Junior Champs. The consensus shared among those who are intimately involved in the surf industry was that it was below-par. I was confronted, on numerous occasions, regarding the article I’d written providing excuses for our country’s poor showing in Japan. And truth be told, I was looking for the silver lining on a dark cloud that only seemed to promise rain. We can’t justify a poor performance because on some level it makes it acceptable. 

Ford Van Jaarsveld setting his fins free during the U18 Boys final. Image: Ian Thurtell

As the days drew on at dreamy Seal Point, it became apparent that the groms competing in the Billabong Junior Series presented by All Aboard Travel were under-performing. Both the U12 and U16 boys divisions were won by Brazilian and Australian groms respectively whose heat score totals far exceeded those of their South African counterparts. Saturday and Sunday provided windless to light onshore winds, the perfect canvas to set the fins free, attempt new school manoeuvres and maybe even go to the air, but new lines were hard to come by. The Seal Point beach break, even more so, an aerial student’s dream, but airs along the famed stretch of sand were few and far between. What happened to the glory days of Mfeb and Brendon Gibbens? They stood solid on the pillar of innovation – in and out of competition! As do Beyrick de Vries and Sebastian Williams.  Trying a new manoeuvre whenever the section presented itself. Never holding back. Did Mfeb’s tail high air reverses at the Ballito Pro not inspire? Do Brendon Gibbens’ film parts not rouse these millennials to something more?   

Even though the U12 Boys division was convincingly won by Brazilian export, Ryan Kainalo, the U12 boys showed more creative flair than any other division. Here we have Kai Hall grabbing rail for self expression. Image: Kody McGregor

So I asked a number of industry professionals for their opinions on why the level of surfing in SA is sub-par at the moment, and the results were telling.

“Our surfers lack tenacity in competition in my opinion. I remember back in the 80’s when South African’s fought like the Brazilians for spots in competitions and it resonated with the Hawains and Americans. They knew when the South Africans showed up they were going to get an ass whipping. So I feel the kids should be fighting harder!” – Dutchie

“Our surfers lack tenacity in competition in my opinion. I remember back in the 80’s when South African’s fought like the Brazilians for spots in competitions…” – Dutchie. Ryan Kainalo, the Brazilian, full tenacity. Image Kody McGregor

“South Africa has super talented surfers, I’m fortunate to travel the country and see the talent first hand, but when it comes to contest, they’re getting the high scores here, but when the go overseas they’re not getting those same scores. I personally believe it’s a judging problem. We haven’t had an official judging course for years, and I think education is key for any sport… You cannot over score a surfer, because once they go overseas it’s a different story entirely.” – Tasha Mentasti

“I think South African surfers are getting complacent. There’s such a small pool of surfing competing and most surfers go straight into quarter finals at most events. They’re surfing against the same people most of the time, there’s no fresh blood, no new challenge. Not to say that we don’t have talented surfers, but we need to get these guys competing against good surfers from other countries as fast as possible.” – Captain Kai

“There’s a lack of comradery amongst our local surfers. We need to build a better South African surf community, a group of guys that surf together regularly and push each other’s levels In an encouraging way.” – Alex Milne

“South Africa has super talented surfers, I’m fortunate to travel the country and see the talent first hand…” – Tasha Mentasti. Taghiti Gericke, and a carve oozing spray and talent. Image: Ian Thurtell

“The answer is simple, depth. Depth of the pool of talent. That’s why the U14 girls are doing so well relative to the other divisions, there’s a large talent pool. Look at Australia, in an u16 division you’ve got 40 to 50 groms competing while here we’ve got maybe 5 groms who could realistically take out an event.” – Llewellyn Whittaker

“The pool of surfers we have isn’t as big as a country like Australia, Brazil and the USA. South Africa as a country is fairly isolated in the world as far as juniors being able to travel to other countries like in Europe and compete on a monthly basis. That being said, as the sport grows, and the more people that compete, the more competitive it’ll became and the standard will naturally rise.” – Johno Hutchinson

There’s nothing like watching groms drawing unique lines in competition. Luke Thompson getting creative. Image: Kody McGregor

So if you’re a grom and reading this (or if you’re a ballie). Let this motivate you to more. A free surf should never be surfed to a competition format. It’s a chance to learn, to draw new lines, to try new moves, to re-invent your approach continuously. Open up your mind to the endless possibilities that is surfing, throw your heart and soul into it, you and only you stand between that which is avant-garde and what has been done before. Let your talent flair. We live in a country laden with talent honed on some of the best surfing conditions the world has to offer, the surfing world is ours to take! It is ours to own. Let the bright light of innovation and excitement guide your steps.


  1. Kendal
    3 October, 2017 at 11:00 am · Reply

    Thanks Cyle
    Great article.
    Was very interesting to see the reaction of many of the U12 boys to the news that “there is a Brazilian in their heat!” He actually won long before their heats were even surfed.
    As a parent I felt ill equipped to redirect the negative belief that pervaded their discussions.
    No matter what we (adults) said – they believed Ryan Kainalo was better than them before they even saw him surf. I think Kai Hall was the only one who rose to the challenge in the U12 division.
    I think our children are surfing in a very small fish pond and need far more exposure to other international youngsters. A lot was learnt from this and I’m just sorry it came at the last contest of the year – wish they had another opportunity.

  2. Name Brendan Callaghan
    3 October, 2017 at 11:29 am · Reply

    Unfortunately there is the adage big fish in a small pool and it applies to Junior surfing. These top under 12’s need to be taken as a collective and moulded in a group to be able to compete at international level. I for one do not think the current coaching level is up to standard and this is evident by the results let’s go back 5 years it’s scary at ISA level. This needs to be looked at and it seems coach selection is a problem. Where does this lie we’ll be blunt SSA. These little ones need to be handled as a squad on a national basis and program put into place to get them up to world standard this is a 5 year plan at least. This must be an elite set up with resources ploughed into it. These series are perfect to get these juniors contest experience and shape them into contestable athletes. This can be emulated year on year so these kids can grow and get results. This will create a competitive environment as kids will want to get into that elite structure. Cream always rises to the top it’s what we do with it that reaps rewards. Let’s put egos aside and politics and get junior surfing back on track.

  3. Colin Raymond Fitch.
    3 October, 2017 at 11:41 am · Reply

    In 2017 we had 8 men QS events. 8 women. 9 Pro Junior men 8 pro junior women. Do not say we have not had enough events. We have a world class head judge in Et Buys who judges on the CT but has never been asked to assist in running judges clinics. Some judges ride the high horse because he some times comes across as harsh. At the end of the day it is about the correct scores and the correct results. I agree wirh Tash. More judges and surfers clinics needed. We need three organisations working together. WSL, SSA and the legends. If there is no game plan then you will never get the results. Ask the Springboks!!!!. Do not get me started on coaches. Every coach and surf school should be registered with SSA. There should be an appointed national head coach and a deputy in each province who works towards a national plan. The rest of the coaches from school level to national level must be monitored. The same with Judging. Surfers should spend more time in onshore or small surf. During the VW SA Open and other WSL Afica events you would find the line up filled with a ton of Brazilians and a few Saffas. Base sponsorship on results and ratings. We have the cheepest region in the world for the QS1000 events. We should be having 12 QS1000 and put our big events on at times when the rest of the world is at another event on the other side of the world. We do have some very talented surfers in South Africa.

  4. Ian
    3 October, 2017 at 1:22 pm · Reply

    This is a really great article and its been awhile since I’ve seen a write up online have people commenting.
    Well done Cyle, a truthful and motivating piece.

  5. Jo
    3 October, 2017 at 6:15 pm · Reply

    This article is on point. Its easy to blame the surfers for for the fact that South Africa dissapointed so many. Instead of focusing on the negative of their performance perhaps we need to look at the ways South African Surfing can be supported and improved. If i am running a business and my business is not going well and my sales are down, is it right for me to blame my sales people or should i perhaps look at how i am running my business? Do my staff have the infrastructure, support , training , full encouragement and full support of the owner of the business? If you want to succeed you must be prepared for everything, the good and the bad. Perseverance is key and its a beautiful thing to know you are supported through both. Lets help our young ones to be prepared so that they may rise individually and as a whole. Everything in business is a team effort, so is surfing xx

  6. Name (required)Antonio Bortoletto
    4 October, 2017 at 4:02 am · Reply

    We are more of a small community than a nation. Going up against surfing nations we are out powered completely. I moved to Brazil and I felt right away why Brazilians dominate in South Africa. During the summer the waves were not great but it was a blast just being down on the beach anyway. Lots of people on the sand and in the water. Motivation comes from people around you. Girls on the beach and a great vibe gets you enjoying the sunny sloppy conditions. Lots of amped surfers around you is motivation. When I came back to South Africa and surfed the waves it was like paradise. So easy to surf so much power so much time to do your turns. You immediately felt like a better surfer. We don’t hang on the beach all day anymore like when I was young and we are spoilt for waves. Combined with a lack of international exposure and small population.

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *