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!
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.
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?
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
“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
“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
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.