31 October, 2014 31 October, 2014

Following the Sun – by Charl van Rensburg

Three decades later, Charl van Rensburg recounts how a movie screening in ’84 was in some way a metaphor for how life would unfold. ‘Following The Sun’ is his entry into ‘Write to Surf‘ – our surf journo competition with some epic prizes up for grabs (see below for details).


FOLLOWING THE SUN – by: Charl van Rensburg


It was a Friday evening in 1984, a year that would later be remembered for the introduction of the first Apple Mac computers, the first CD players, the AIDS virus was identified for the first time in 1984, and we were all singing along to WHAM’s ‘Wake me Up Before You Go Go’.

And that is the song that was playing over the PA system as I followed my brother Jaco into the lobby of our local beachfront hotel where the Lounge had, for that night only, been converted into a movie theatre. The lights were low, cigarette smoke hung thick in the air and young teenage eyes were looking around nervously as they sipped surreptitiously on beers hidden beneath their chairs.

The occasion was the screening of the latest surf movie to be released and all the who’s who of our town’s surfing talent were there. At the time I was oblivious to most of this and stoked simply at the fact that my older brother had invited me along; for me it was a big occasion.

In the Lounge itself, on that night, ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go Go’ would never be allowed and instead someone had brought along their ghetto blaster with a 60 minute TDK cassette recorded full on both sides with the songs that would become the anthems of our generation; songs by Bob Marley, The Cure, New Order, Sonic Youth, U2 and The Clash.


The lights were switched off as the last lines of ‘Rock the Casbah’ faded and everyone hurriedly found their seats. For a moment, all you could hear was the whirring of the projector. Then the screen lit up and we were all taken on a journey to places I didn’t know existed, seeing people and coastlines I had never heard of. As the screen exploded with the best surfing action from around the globe, I sat there transfixed. I did not realise it at the time, but the thing that probably most impressed me that evening was the sense of brotherhood that existed in that room.

That was 30 years ago and still stands as one of my all-time highlights growing up. The movie we watched was “Follow the Sun” by Scott Dittrich and would fade into obscurity, remembered only by a very few as the first film that showed someone (Cheyne Horan) riding big waves on a very small board. Something that would only become accepted by the mainstream many years later.

The movie also featured some really beautiful exotic locations and I guess in some way it served as a metaphor for how our lives would unfold. We would all follow the sun in some form or fashion. That room was filled with the hopes and dreams of youngsters who would all follow their paths in so many different directions.

For some it meant doing the pilgrimage to J-Bay, becoming the understudy to the local crew of chargers and hoping that at some point the wildcard entry would come for an ASP rated event, or an internship of sorts working with one of the legendary surfboard shapers who call that little sleepy Eastern Cape coastal town their home. That was the ultimate surfer dream back then; become a professional surfer or become a shaper. Real jobs in the surf industry seemed hopelessly out of reach, so anyone not talented enough to take a shot at the tour or skilled enough to shape for a living had to make another plan. The sun would lead them on a different path.

Some chose to rather follow the rainbow and its promise of a pot of gold. This bridge of light lead to only one place, Jozi, the city of gold. Here, wetsuit tans gradually faded to be exchanged for golf-shirt tans and Audi Quattro’s not (Glen Winton) quads were now prized possessions in garages.


Still others went the counter-colonial route, ending up in the UK hoping to make some pounds, some successfully, others not. Most managed to gain some pounds around the waist along the way. They don’t really get in the water anymore but are subscribed to the hilt to all the surfing fare that Facebook has to offer and like to share their views on why John John is going to be the next world champion. These blokes are married with local girls and raising kids in cities far from those dreams we held back in the year George Orwell warned us about.

The path for others has led to fitness and training. “Nooit bru, I can’t buy a new surfboard, I’ve just dropped R25K on a new bike, and I don’t smaak surfing that old thruster anymore, so nah don’t get in the water much.” They eat only what Tim Noakes says they should and participate in triathlons around the country raking in podium finishes like they’re Tetris blocks. Surfing, even in its modern guise of athleticism is not a serious enough activity anymore – there are too many variables at play, which you just cannot control.

For some the sun has set. One guy was the unlucky 1 in 750 000 to be taken by a rare disease and will always be remembered as a fun-loving grommet who loved to surf and was loved by everyone. The other guy followed the sun to Indo where an unfortunate drug-binge ended in the Emergency Room and ultimately his grave. He would be remembered as the guy who was always quite rebellious and his teachers never really knew what to do with him.


Following the sun has led to spiritual enlightenment for others as they got involved with Christian Surfers. Their life’s mission is now sharing their ‘testimonies’ of how their lives have changed, hosting surfing competitions and nights of worship for school kids and students. For them it is not about following the sun anymore, but rather following the Son.

Mostly though, if we had to be honest, when you follow the sun you end up back where you started. Living from day to day, doing your best to make your time on this spinning ball count, no matter where you are. For most of that early local crew it has simply meant settling down in their hometown. Some have bought the houses they grew up in from their folks, while others have established themselves as successful businessmen – some even got hooked up in the surf industry. Following the sun now means dawnies before work and a quick sesh after work before the sun sets, or occasional surf trips with your mates or family along the Garden Route, up the West Coast or the Wild Coast.

I guess it is true that many of us never quite fulfilled all those dreams of travelling the globe, riding perfection and living the island life. But in the final analysis, does that really matter? Is it not so much more incredible that this sport, this activity, this thing that surfing is has transcended those dreams and stayed alive simply because of what it is. The thing that we obsess over, plan our lives around and dedicate our time and resources to. The single most inspiring, humbling, exciting, peaceful and natural thing that we have done with our lives. No matter if it’s overhead or knee-high, the stoke lives on. Not because we followed the sun as a romantic notion, but because we followed the sun as a kind of pillar of fire that has helped us keep our course, not celestially but internally.


And the hotel where we watched the movie all those years ago? It too has followed the sun and was taken over by the Southern Sun group and upgraded with a nautical theme. The Lounge is now an executive bar with a few pool tables where some of the old ballies drink beers and shoot the breeze as they shoot some pool after a surf, while the plasma-screen against the wall explodes with Wham’s bright colours and big hair as they belt out ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go Go’ on VH1.

* Dedicated to my brother Jaco, the eternal Grommet who has always followed the sun. You’re awesome!


Click here to check out all the entries so far >>


Send your stories to calvin@zigzag.co.za. One submission will be selected every six weeks to appear in Zigzag magazine. The selected submission will also receive a hamper from Billabong. Zigzag retains the right to use any work submitted for the Zag Surf Journo competition on zigzag.co.za as outlined in the rules and terms of the competition. Zigzag reserves the right not to award a published winner in the magazine every six weeks, depending on the quality of entries. Zigzag is not obligated to run any and all entries submitted, either online or in print. Zigzag retains the right to edit all work submitted for brevity and / or clarity.

For the next three issues the Billabong prize hamper includes: 1 x Billabong Wetsuit; 1 x Billabong Boardies; 1 x Billabong Cap; 1 x Von Zipper Sunnies; 1 x Set of Kinetic Racing (KR) fins. After which the hamper will get a shake-up with new product of equal value for the following three issues.



  1. Rian
    17 November, 2014 at 2:15 pm · Reply

    Shot bru, lekka story – following the Son ek se… all the way back home. oneway.

    • Charl
      17 February, 2015 at 3:34 pm · Reply

      Thanks Rian!

  2. AdrianTregoning
    17 February, 2015 at 2:45 pm · Reply

    Well written, as always. Great to dedicate a piece like this to Jaco.

    • Charl
      17 February, 2015 at 3:33 pm · Reply

      Thanks Adrian!

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