6 February, 2015 6 February, 2015

To Become Fearless – by Hermann Vivier

Fear grips us all in different ways and circumstances. Spiders scare the life out of some, while others are afraid of the dark. For many it’s the ocean they fear. ‘To Become Fearless’ is Hermann Vivier’s entry into ‘Write to Surf‘ – our surf journo competition with some epic prizes up for grabs (see below for details).


TO BECOME FEARLESS – by: Hermann Vivier


A small boy stood on the beach. His eyes were clear now, but moments ago he was crying hysterically; scared to death. He really thought he was going to die. It was the kind of crying that happens without tears. There’s no time for tears if you think you are dying and you’re powerless to stop it.

But he didn’t die. He was alive and well.

Apparently it’s possible for an unconscious human being to drown in just a few inches of water. But this boy was not unconscious. In fact, he has probably never before been more alive. He’s probably never been this focussed on anything in his entire life. He ran up the beach with a look of intense determination streaked across his face until he was a safe distance from the terrifying mass of moving water.

Now he was no longer running. Nor was he crying. He was just quietly standing there on the high-tide mark, his feet covered in dry sand. “What was going through his mind”, I wondered. I looked at him but he didn’t notice. He was staring at the ocean in front of him where other kids from his rural community were riding little foamies, laughing and shouting at each other. While he just stood there.


He held his chest high. He didn’t know it then but he had good reason to be proud. All those other kids were just as scared when they first tried surfing. Until slowly, one by one, their fear was overcome by the joy they experienced while riding waves.

This boy was also much younger than the other kids. He was the youngest kid we’d had thus far. All of the others were one or two years older when they first joined The Surfer Kids. This boy first came to the beach a couple of months ago. His older sister had been a part of the surfing programme for some time and now he also wanted to try. But he had no idea what he was getting himself into.

Isn’t it interesting how humanity seems to be simultaneously scared and yet also fascinated by the unknown?

Although his rural village was less than twenty kilometres from the coastline, he’d never been in the ocean before, not until coming to the beach with us for the first time. We suited up in the car park and the other kids, who’d all been surfing with us for a while, paddled out. Most of them still stuck to the foamies, but a few of the older more experienced kids paddled to the back-line. We watched the other kids for a while and I then explained to this young boy what the rest of the kids were doing. He was staring down at his feet, digging his toes into the sand. He only briefly looked up at me and then glanced at the ocean.

Despite our different skin colours, we shared the same mother tongue. But then and there, looking at the ocean and its waves, trying to explain the concept of surfing, there was a huge and empty void between our two worlds. A gap I wanted to bridge.


I asked him again if he wanted to try surfing and again he said yes. Previous experience told me that, like all the other kids, he didn’t really know what he was talking about. But that didn’t matter, he wanted to try. I admired that. Some would mistakingly call this boy foolish, but I could see the curiosity. That inquisitive intrepidity that has pushed humankind to explore all possible boundaries.

We entered the water slowly. He kept looking back towards the relative safety of dry land. Finally the water came to just below my knees. This was as far as we would go. The water reached his waist and I could see that he was terrified. I told him to lie down on the board, but I could see it wasn’t going to happen. He wasn’t listening. He was staring at the tiny waves rolling towards us. Transfixed by the ocean.

The boy grabbed my arm and tried climbing up to my shoulder. But he couldn’t get up there, so he let go of my arm, jumped, turned around and went for the beach. He’d had enough. He struggled to move. He couldn’t run in the waist deep water. He started panicking and fell. He struggled to his feet. The water swirled around his shoulders. During the two or three seconds it took for me to reach him, he’d experienced all the festered fear instilled over generations by his community’s avoidance of the ocean. Nothing would get him back into the water. Not that day.

I picked him up and we walked back towards the beach. We weren’t more than ten metres from the shore, but he wouldn’t let go of my arm. Not until we were completely out of the water.


In spite of that first terrifying experience he came back, again and again. Every weekend we would drive to the village, passing cattle and grasslands, and every weekend he would get in the bakkie, ready to go to the beach. And every weekend he looked more determined than before.

But it took months before he finally decided to surf.

It looks funny, unbelievable, almost ridiculous, if seen from an experienced surfer’s perspective. Two feet of water and tiny little waves barely strong enough to carry the most buoyant of boards. But shrink your world down to his size, an isolated and marginalised rural community surrounded by farms and a lingering apartheid mentality separating different worlds. Packing people into boxes with sharp edges. What that boy felt must have been similar to what the average surfer feels when looking at Dungeons on a massive stormy day. Few of us will ever go there. Likewise, very few kids from his community have ever been where he was now. Even there, where he was standing way up on the beach, he was at the vanguard of his generation.

Everything is relative, and from that perspective, just the fact that he came back to try, again and again, already put him in a league of his own within his community.

Standing there on the beach, contemplating the possibilities with his feet covered in dry sand, he started walking back towards the ocean. Just as suddenly as he ran away that first time, now, finally, he wanted to surf.

Come what may, he would do it.


During the last couple of weeks it had become a routine for us. The other kids would paddle out, while we would try, again and again, to brave the ocean. Weekend after weekend we would get as far as we got and he would start crying, climb up my arm, and eventually run back up the beach. Each time after trying I left him to play on the beach, but I never stopped watching him.

The fact that he kept coming back was enough to tell me that eventually his curiosity would overpower his fear. For explorers like us, it always does. All I had to do was wait. I knew he wanted to do it. He wanted to know what it felt like to ride those waves.

I quietly watched him as he struggled to pick up the foam board. It was more than three times his size. Eventually he just started dragging the board towards the water. He stopped at the water’s edge and struggled with the leash. The strap went around his ankle several times.

I casually walked over to him and asked if he needed help. Words cannot describe how exciting it was to witness it happening. That very moment, what was happening right then and there, that was the very reason we started The Surfer Kids four years ago. But I did not let my excitement show. Not yet. First he had to surf.

Fear can easily immobilise us. However, it’s important to understand that while danger is real, fear isn’t. Fear is a choice. There are those rare individuals who naturally transmute their fear into strength, but they are quite unique. Most of humanity is paralysed by fear. It is, however, an obstacle we can all overcome if given the right tools.


Our tools are the joy of surfing, unlocked with the help of donated surfboards. And with this combination we faced the boy’s deep-seated fear of water. Ingrained over the course of generations.

We walked into the water, again, but this time he held onto the board not onto my arm. As soon as we reached his usual limit, there where the water reached his waist, he jumped onto the board and looked at me as if to say: “Go on then. I can’t paddle yet, but I’m ready. I want a wave.”

I pulled him out a little deeper, but only up to where he could still comfortably stand should he fall off the board. I turned him around. He looked back, not wanting to take his eyes off the approaching waves. I thought about telling him to look where he is going, which is what I usually tell the kids. The first rule of surfing, apart from bending the knees. But I figured we’ll get to that later. First things first. Let him glimpse this incredible world of freedom.

Relatively speaking, the first foamie that rolled our way was an epic wave! I gently pushed him into it, putting a little bit of pressure onto the tail of his board to avoid his first wave being a nose-dive. As soon as he felt the push that little boy did one of the quickest pop-ups I’ve ever seen. I let go of the board and that was it, he was riding his first wave!


How does one explain surfing to someone who believes that the ocean will swallow them? What does one say to a parent whose parents beat them if they were caught swimming in the local river? There’s simply no way words could ever describe that moment. The joy of surfing. You have to experience that freedom to understand it.

Fear is a part of every human being’s life. No person can claim to be fearless. It would be foolish to believe that one has no fear, even after conquering the most daunting challenge. What separates brave individuals from the rest of humanity is not fearlessness, it’s their ability to choose to handle their fear. They know what to do with it. While the rest of humanity will either panic or deny its existence, these brave individuals will look at their fear and see it for what it is: a signal reminding us to pay close attention to whatever is happening. Without an attentive awareness, a situation that inspires fear is lethal. However, with the right awareness these situations become defining moments in our lives.

Fearlessness is an expression, but in reality brave people aren’t fearless. Brave people simply aren’t afraid of fear itself. They learn to make a choice. To use their fear to overcome whatever they’re afraid of. Their fear becomes fuel for an acute awareness, a powerful presence, and from that we draw strength.

The ability to achieve the seemingly impossible is borne from within fear.

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.


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