Boarding school: How to become a surf teacher in ten weeks – in South Africa

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A 10 -week surf safari and volunteering program along South Africas coast culminates in an instructors qualification that could defined you up for life. We join the new intake

Its a bright afternoon on Cape Towns Muizenberg beach and Im racing down the sand in a wetsuit, stopping to lunge or star-jump as coach-and-four Nikita hollers orders. I may want to lie down and sob as I overheat and struggle to keep up, but the group encouragement get me through the bootcamp-style workout before we jog into the waves for a two-hour surf lesson.

This is day five of a 10 -week South African surfing adventure with Ticket to Ride, a British company that runs surf vacations and camps around the world. Im here to sample its longest trip-up( also run in Morocco ), which offers the chance of qualifying as an instructor at the end and fitness training is high on the agenda.

South Africa surfing map

Some people just come for the experience, but most end up doing the qualifications anyway, says Chris Bond, TTR head of operations. Weve had complete novices qualify its astounding to insure the mental and physical changes people go through in 10 weeks of being in the ocean every day. Plus its a great way to consider South Africa.

After two weeks in Cape Town, the 16 -strong group will journey east along the coast, the water warming and scenery changing, and finish up north of Durban two months later. Its a road that the companys founders, Linley Lewis and Will Hayler, did independently while backpacking before university, and went on to recreate as a group trip, use the best local coaches and surfer-friendly accommodation.

Besides surfing and training, theres plenty of day for exploring. Community work with NGOs and charities is another key part of the itinerary, with days dedicated to anything from painting classrooms to teaching English or cleaning beaches.


Muizenberg beach. with golden sand and long, gentle waves.

Giving something back is at the heart of what we do, says Chris.

Muizenberg, with its surfy vibe, golden sandy beach, long, gentle waves and mountain backdrop is a perfect spot to begin. Were staying at the oceanfront African Soul Surfer hostel, a bright, fun place with dormitories and got a couple of private rooms. After a tough afternoon in the waves, we kick back on the terrace with a brew, exchanging surf notes and playing pool.

Youd perhaps expect such a long journey to attract kids on a gap yah, funded by wealthy parents. But its a mixed bunch, aged between 18 and 30, and some have been doing two jobs for months to save enough to come. Were largely Brits, with a sprinkling of Canadians, Dutch women and a guy from Dubai, and of mixed abilities; some have been surfing for years while others, like me, have scarcely stood up on a board before. Many are travelling post- or pre-uni, but others just want a infringe from everyday life, like Taha from Buckinghamshire, a junior physician who is stepping out of the real world for a little bit. Some are planning a career change hoping to swap the office for a life by the sea.

Its a brilliant mixture of backpacking, volunteering and surfing and whats even better is you might get a qualification at the end of it, says Jennifer Snell, 20, from Wiltshire, who combined an office task with working as a fishmonger in Tesco to raise the money. Theres enough freedom, but everythings organised for you so you can really focus on surfing.


Jane, on the left, heading for the waves in Muizenberg

The next day were out early on the water again. As a novice, I practise popping up on my committee on the sand before taking to the waves. The instruction is patient and promoting and after many failed attempts, I briefly stand up and wobble towards the beach. There are tattered signs warning surfers to look out for sharks and a hilltop watchtower overlooks the bay but in the water I soon forget my fears.( Chris, who has surfed here for 23 years, assures me hes only ever seen one and not while surfing .) More people succumb taking selfies( falling off cliffs, being hit by trains ), or from coconuts falling on their heads, than in shark assaults, he tells me.

The buzz from catching a wave is amazing and I soon appreciate the others addiction to surfing.

Staying a week or longer in each of the 7 destinations entails theres time to get out and do touristy things. We visit the penguins at Boulders Beach and hang out at a local marketplace one evening. Climbing Table Mountain and reaching the nightlife are on the agenda too, as well as surfing Cape Towns more challenging places, from Long Beach to Kommetjie.


Jennifer Snell with kids from the Waves For Change foundation. Photograph: no credit

But a big part of the programme is working on community projects in each place. In Cape Town, its Waves for Change, a foundation started by an former TTR employee, Tim Conibear, which operates HIV awareness and youth leadership programs in the townships, employing surfing as a platform for education.

We join the children for a warm-up on the beach before they jump into the ocean to practise their surf skills with the help of the TTR group. Portion of the bargain is that the children must go to school, and attend after-school lessons at the project centre.

These children come from the streets, from gangs and broken homes, says Tim. We help them gain confidence, find a sense of belonging and learn important life skills and they get a hot dinner, too. There needs to be something cool to get them interested and surfing has that cool factor.

Our group will be back next day to help paint the shipping containers used as classrooms.


The beach at Plettenberg Bay. Photograph: Peter Unger/ Getty Images

Sadly, I dont have the luxury of 10 weeks at my disposal, so the next morning I set off ahead of the group with Chris to check out a few of the other places on the itinerary. Its a beautiful drive to Plettenberg Bay, the next stop, and en route different groups will get the chance to test the worlds highest bridge bungee jumping, at Tsitsikamma. Plett has a long arc of unspoiled sandy beach and the accommodation, Albergo for Backpackers, is a great spot with an open braai in the evenings.

Further along the coast, Jeffreys Bay is a surfing mecca a stop on the world tour and backdrop to Bruce Browns seminal 1966 surf movie The Endless Summer.( It was also the site where surf champ Mick Canning once got attacked by a shark but we wont dwell on that .) Island Vibe, the hostel used by TTR, sits on a bluff overlooking Kitchen Windows, one of J-Bays most well known waves, and I can imagine the fun different groups will have here.


Plettenberg Bayalbergo for backpackers

Etienne Venter, coach of the South African surf team, will be working them hard too. Swim trained in local ponds, video analysis of surfing techniques, lessons in surf etiquette and lifesaving abilities are all taught along the way. This is a turning point in their journey, says Etienne. Theyll truly start to put into practice and fine tune what theyve learnt so far.

Time will also be spent in township schools here, helping with upkeep and teaching, as well as with the Supertubes Surfing Foundation, a community-run conservation project with a brilliant recycling initiative.

All too soon, its day in order to be allowed to fly home from Port Elizabeth, sad not to have time to visit the more remote destinations on the itinerary, but keenly aware how only being out in the ocean every day for 10 weeks must have a profound affect on a person. As they venture further around the coast the landscape will change again, the dramatic mountainous scenery of the Western Cape transforming into the more tropical, lush east coast.


Island Vibe hostel, Jeffreys Bay

Chintsa on the Wild Coast north of East London brings warmer waters( as the Indian Ocean heats up, wetsuits are cast aside ), empty waves and the chance to visit game parks. Then theyll head to Coffee Bay in the Transkei, another Africa altogether, with traditional settlements and rolling hills, where accommodation is at the Coffee Shack camp, run by Dave Malherbe, one of the countrys most successful competitive surfers. Durban, South Africas surf city and Ballito, 45 minutes to the north, where the lifesaving and instructor exams take place, round off the trip.

Weeks afterward, back in the UK, I email Jennifer to find out how the rest of the journey went. She qualified and is now teaching with Ticket to Rides Newquay office over the summer, hoping to eventually work for a surfing or ocean conservation charity.

Catching waves alongside dolphins, the beauty of the Transkei, visiting traditional Xosha households, surfing legendary Jordy Smiths home break, building lifelong friends shes hard-pushed to name the highlight of the journey. I simply had the time of my life, she concludes.

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