“Close your eyes. Take a deep breath. In through the nose, out through the mouth. Again.” This mantra can be heard at every Waves of Change (W4C) surf therapy class. This meditation technique is called Take 5 and it helps you to let go of anger, fear or stress.
“When you are out at sea and the waves are crashing around you, it can be scary.
“Fear affects our ability to make good decisions. When you feel threatened or angry, it is important to reach out to the calm,” says W4C Hout Bay site manager, Katekani Rihlampfu.
This is one of the life lessons taught in W4C’s programme.
The initiative, aimed at 9 to 14-year-olds from communities affected by violence, poverty and conflict, was founded by Ashoka Fellow Tim Conibear, who spent time in South Africa after graduating from a university in the United Kingdom (UK). Ten years later, W4C has sites at Masiphumelele, Monwabisi, Lavender Hill, Port Elizabeth, East London, Harper (Liberia), and now Hout Bay.
Ash Heese of the W4C Muizenberg office says the organisation put out feelers to determine the need for its services in the community last year during February.
“We started small, first offering a class for boys on Saturdays and later a class for girls on Fridays. We wanted the communities to get to know us. To earn their trust,” says Heese.
A year later, an official programme was launched at Hout Bay beach. At present, it accommodates four groups (two boys and two girls) of 22 to 25 learners each. The two-hour-long classes are held after school. On Saturdays, it holds the weekend surf club for programme graduates.
Rihlampfu says Hout Bay is the only W4C site where boys and girls are divided into different groups.
“The request came from the children. The girls felt that the boys could be bullies some times, and the boys said they didn’t want the girls to laugh at them when they shared their feelings. W4C is all about creating safe spaces, so we listened to them.”
W4C follows a 12-month weekly surf therapy curriculum during which children are taught skills to cope with stress, regulate behaviour, build healing relationships and make positive life choices.
The organisation works in partnership with Sentinel Primary School and Disa Primary School.
“Teachers, following a list of criteria, refer kids who will most benefit from our teachings. We make regular school visits to get feedback on the children’s progress and we conduct teacher training,” he says.
Four coaches guide each group through their training. According to Rihlampfu, the coaches are the second beneficiaries of the organisation’s programme.
“They are taught surf coaching, lifesaving, child and youth care work and job readiness. They are also mentored by mental health professionals,” he says.
Bridgette Isaacs, a W4C coach and a qualified surfing coach, says this is the perfect opportunity for her to follow her passion.
“I want to be a psychologist, so this gives me the chance to work with children in preparation for my career later.”
Moricia from Sentinel Primary School is also grateful for the chance to participate in the programme.
“The coaches teach us to be bananas,” she says, lifting her hand to form the international surfers salute. “Being a banana means to protect, respect communicate and share.”
Ashlyn, also from Sentinel, wants to be a doctor one day.
She says the programme teaches her how to deal with her feelings and how to focus on her school work.
“I also share what I learn with my friends at school. When I see them being angry or upset, I tell them to just Take 5.”