Riding waves of change with Sal Masekela

Times have changed since Sal Masekela, the ambassador for this year’s Ballito Pro presented by O’Neill, first surfed in Durban almost three decades ago. The SouthAfrican surfing world has dramatically transformed, where the sport has crossed racial barriers to become all-inclusive.

“When I first surfed in Durban in 1991, I saw no African surfers and was given a very difficult time by the police for even surfing,” reminisced Sal Masekela. “To see now, all these kids ripping in Durban and across the country and doing so with distinct African flair…I really look forward to being in that energy.”

Surfing’s oldest competitive event is set to take on the shores of KwaDukuza on KZN’s North
Coast from 27 June to 7 July as the world-famous Ballito Pro presented by O’Neill gets underway.

And for 2019, the world’s longest continuously running professional surfing event is proud to host
renowned American sports’ commentator, sportsman and musician, Sal Masekela – son of legendary Jazz musician, Hugh Masekela.Following in his famous father’s gigantic footsteps, Sal himself is fast becoming an icon of the times.

A seasoned voice of action sports, Sal is identified globally as being the face of ESPN’s Summer and Winter X Games, as well as a celebrated US TV host and correspondent for National Geographic. His multitude of talents include being a journalist, presenter, producer, musician and founder of Stoked Mentoring, a non-profit organisation which uses action sports to empower children from underprivileged communities in the USA.

Sal’s obsession with board sports; surfing, skateboarding and snowboarding, shattered the stereotype that these were predominantly white sports. Growing up in a Southern California beach town, where he was the only Black kid who surfed and skated in his community, Sal has been breaking boundaries his whole life. This African American surfer defied the myth that Black people could not swim, let alone surf.

Inspired by his his exiled father’s struggle against apartheid, which he vehemently voiced through his music, Sal’s passion for surfing demolished racial barriers in unconventional sports. Hugh Masekela’s life was defined by his activism and resistance against apartheid. Sal discovered his father’s advocacy for justice, freedom and equality for all people when he spent three months road-tripping with Masekela senior as part of Paul Simon’s Graceland Tour, including a controversial trip to South Africa.

Not only will Sal Masekela be commentating at the Ballito Pro presented by O’Neill, but he will use the opportunity to showcase KwaDukuza and the North Coast region as a prime tourist
destination. “I’m excited to commentate but even more excited to give viewers from around the world some perspective on what this region of South Africa is like. I’m going to be visiting the Luthuli Museum, go down the King Shaka Heritage Route and get to spend time surfing with young kids from the Ilembe Surf Riders and see the great work being done by Surfers Not Street Children and the Ubuntu Club,” he said in his video message at the event launch, on 17 May at the Fiamma Grill, Coco De Mer. “The Ballito Pro is a prestigious, iconic event that you want to
be at,” he added.

American born Sal’s love for South Africa is inextricably linked to his father, who eventually returned to the country from exile. “I love South Africa’s incredible cultural diversity, the melding of traditional and modern music, it’s dance, it’s broad landscape; but most of all I love the relentless passion, spirit and resilience of its people despite the enormous social and
economic challenges they are still faced with to this day,” he enthused.

Sal has visited this country several times, including 2010, where he presented for the FIFA World Cup. Sal continues his father’s legacy of nation-building and transformation albeit in the contrasting arena of extreme sport. “I look forward to promoting unity through the sport of surfing and showcasing the African Adventure; past, present and future. I do believe that we are going to make some great, beautiful noise,” said Sal spiritedly. “I’m most passionate about upholding my father’s legacy as well as continuing to have opportunities to tell important stories that hopefully connect us together as human beings.”

While the world’s best surfers will be in action at the Ballito Pro, development, unity and
transformation remain at its core through its support for community-based surf development programmes. Sea Harvest together with Surfing South Africa and the KwaDukuza Municipality will be hosting a Development Surf Day on Sunday, 7 July, to celebrate the journey of transformation in this sport.

Young surfers from KZN’s iLembe Surf Riders Association (ISRA), Ubuntu Learn to Surf and Swim Club, Sisonke Surf Club and Surfers Not Street Children (SNSC) will take to the waves
in a fun tag team event. The young surfers will have the privilege of surfing and engaging with with Sal Masekela.

Visitors will have the chance to meet legendary South African surfboard shapers crafting on site. The Ballito Pro Music Concerts presented by 5FM featuring top South African acts will be free of charge. There will be After Dark Parties – hosted by Crush Ballito. Other highlights include meeting Simon Keys and Siouxsie Gillett, the hosts of popular Nat Geo WildTV show
‘Snake City’, getting involved in the Save the Waves recycling campaign including the Litter4Tokens Recycling Programme, as well as Ballito Pro Food presented by Ballito Junction Regional Mall.

Be sure not to miss out on ten days of non-stop fun for the entire family at the Ballito Pro presented by O’Neill!

Words by: Pierre Tostee and Farzanah Asmal