Waves of Transformation and Development at the Ballito Pro presented by O’Neill

Sunday July 7, will see the culmination of the Ballito Pro presented by O’Neill with the crowning of the men’s champion for the first QS 10,000 Series event of the 2019 season on the World Surf League.

The past week has seen action-packed surfing with a combination of picture-perfect weather, great waves and huge crowds, proving that KwaDukuza is the ideal venue for the world’s longest running professional surfing event.

While the Ballito Pro showcases the sport’s best athletes, development, unity and transformation have remained at the heart of the prestigious surfing event. Since his arrival, event ambassador Sal Masekela, son of jazz legend Hugh Masekela, has been inspiring young surfers and coaches alike from surfing development organisations in and around KwaDukuza.

On Sunday June 30, Sal kicked off his African Surf Adventure at the Ballito Pro by officially opening the first community swimming pool in Shaka’s Head in KwaDukuza. The project was undertaken by the KwaDukuza Municipality as part of its commitment to uplift local communities.

The pool will be used by the Ubuntu Learn to Surf and Swim Club to teach young children the essential life skill of swimming. Children from the club also seized the opportunity to spend a few hours swimming and interacting with Sal, who in turn shared his experiences of learning to swim and how it helped him with his surfing.

The children will engage with Sal once again at the Ballito Pro on July 7, at the Sea Harvest Surfing South Africa Development Surf Day. 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 which will showcase the development and transformation in the sport of surfing.

Drawing comparisons to his own childhood, Sal said there were no people of colour in his community who surfed. He encouraged the children, saying “This is one of the luckiest days of your lives. Own this pool like it is yours. Have fun. The skills that you learn at this pool, you will be able to take to the ocean!”

On Tuesday July 2, Sal spent the day with Surfers Not Street Children (SNSC), learning more about how the Durban based NGO has used surfing and mentorship to help vulnerable children, who are either living on the streets or at risk of street connectedness, to leave street life behind. SNSC fuses surfing with mentorship and psychosocial care to empower street children and successfully reintegrate them into society as self-sustaining adults.

“I surfed with 30 or 40 kids from SNSC that looked just like me. It was ironically at the same beach (New Pier in Durban) where I went surfing for the first time in 1991, and the cops tried to arrest me. I was escorted off the pier for committing an illegal act. To have this experience almost 30 years later as a grown up, at the very same place, and jumping off that same pier with so many kids…I was fighting back tears. It was such a joyous moment for me,” said an emotionally charged Sal.

He added that the future of transformation in the sport looked very bright. “If this is what is happening now, I can only imagine what surfing here will be like, ten years from now. The opportunity is there to see some kids performing at a high level as athletes, possibly making the World Tour, like Michael February (Cape Town) who made surfing history last year, as the first black person to make it onto the world stage.”

A hugely successful fundraising event was hosted on Wednesday July 3, at the Fiamma Grill, Coco de Mer Hotel in Ballito. South African champion Jordy Smith and Sal Masekela drew a large audience to help raise much-needed funds for the iLembe Surf Riders Association. The evening highlighted the plight of these organisations and the instrumental roles they play in the local communities.

Sal is also the founder of Stoked Mentoring, a non-profit organisation which uses action sports to empower children from underprivileged communities in the USA.

Words by: Pierre Tostee and Farzanah Asmal