For the Kalk Bay fishermen’s children, life has become the surrounding ocean, but not in the way that is crucial to their parents.
The children are part of the Kalk Bay Crewzers, a family-run bodyboarding and mentorship programme, which is a chance for them to take to the sea, to surf, to be safe.
Zac Verlaque-Napper runs the programme with his brothers, Alex and Sebastian. “The Kalk Bay Crewzers, to some extent, happened by chance in 2013,” said Zac.
He was skating to Muizenberg one night when he met two youngsters from the Kalk Bay fishermen’s village.
“They had seen me numerous times in my wetsuit walking down to the reef in Kalk Bay, and asked if I would teach them how to bodyboard. I couldn’t give them a yes at the time, as I knew I would need some help, and would have to ask my brothers what they thought,” Zac said.
That was a changing point in the lives of the brothers and the children of the fishermen’s village.
Zac and his brothers organised a beach clean-up at the harbour in early 2013, where they introduced themselves to roughly 20 to 30 young boys and girls.
The following Friday, they all met at the same spot, where the youngsters had their first lesson. That day, they learned where to lie on the board, the posture to maintain while doing so, and how to kick and paddle.
This was done on the beach, flapping around on the sand for a good hour or so, before they took to the flat, calm waters inside the harbour walls.
From there, the plan was to surf every Friday after school, and Saturdays and Sundays after madrassah.
The crew that stuck to it, about 14 in all, had an absolute blast of a summer holiday in 2014, bodyboarding as much as possible, and loving every second of it.
“The lack of fins or flippers, however, made progression quite tough, as the rip currents were a battle, and waves were tough to catch without the extra speed. This unfortunately also created a slight loss of interest in some of the crew, as they potentially felt frustrated that they could not improve, and were just flapping around,” Zac said.
Since the idea kicked off, Zac and the Kalk Bay Crewzers, as they came to be known, have had a good relationship with a wetsuit company that has provided the crew with wetsuits, free of charge, and fins and leashes at cost price.
“We also received a 1 000 euro donation from a friend who was working on the yachts.
“The donation was used to pay for swimming lessons at an indoor pool in Muizenberg, and has since been used to buy leashes, fins, for WP trials and competition entries, as well as for transport costs to and from the beach for occasional outings. The money spent on fins and leashes went to those that showed the most commitment to bodyboarding, which has contributed to a massive improvement in the crew’s riding, as they felt more comfortable and confident in the water,” Zac said.
Since its launch, members of the close-knit crew have spent all their free time bodyboarding the local breaks as much as possible, filming and watching footage to get the excitement levels up, as well as analysing the footage in order to improve.
On flat days, they skate.
The kids also enjoy the occasional outing to Kommetjie, Witsand or Derdesteen too.
“While we teach, the coaches chat to the crew, but not just about how to improve their wave-riding abilities. We are all firm believers that learning doesn’t only occur in the classroom, and so with each time we see each other, we share stories and provide life lessons, which we hope will resonate with the crew as they did with us, when we were taught such things. This being said, learning is a never-ending process, and we are also constantly learning.”
The boys and girls they work with are between 7 and 19 years old.
Zac says the older, more experienced members of the crew are always willing to help the younger kids find their place in the line-up when the official coaches aren’t around.
“The ocean was never a foreign concept to these kids: they knew about tides, and the cold water in Cape Town, but that was from the perspective of fishing. When we first started with them, I noticed how afraid they were the moment we went past knee-deep water. This was when I realised a lot of them didn’t know how to swim. So that was the first challenge: making them feel comfortable and confident in the water.”
Zac laughs and says he is now convinced that some of them are half dolphin, as they can now paddle faster than he does.
His exposure to the kids also changed the course of his own life. He started studying and is now the Grade 6 student teacher at Bay Primary school in Kalk Bay.
“These children have become family to my brothers and me.
“We are so blessed to call them our brothers and sisters and feel so at home in a community that up until roughly five years ago we knew nothing about and nobody who lived there, despite living not even half a kilometre away.”
Zac shared some comments from the children’s parents. Janine Walker said her son, Jordan-Lee was “more confident” after joining the Crewzers and always did his homework before bodybuilding.
Rudewaan Salie said his son, Sardick, was “crazy” about the Crewzers and wanted to be in the water all the time. “He really enjoys the water, and I am happy for him, he must keep at it because to do something that you love is very important.”
Martine De Bruyn said her son, Jesse’s grades had improved and his teacher said he had become more focused since joining the Crewzers. The children themselves said, in written interviews, that their coaches are amazing.
Some indicated that they were there to be safe and to learn to surf, others said their main focus was to learn new things, and some said all of these aspects were important, including speaking to their coaches.
Sadick Salie, one of the Kalk Bay Crewzers said: “I love surfing because it makes me feel most myself. It brings happiness in my life, it keeps me away from doing bad stuff.” The Kalk Bay-born and raised youngster says: “I feel that there’s no better sport than surfing for me because everybody is involved in surfing. It’s a everyday sport it makes you realise you have a life…. because when you are in the water, the pictures you get, it made you think… look what success you can get out of the sport.”
He said it makes him excited when they won competitions.
“It feels like you won the world, because everybody cheers you up,expecially when its people you dont know, who make you feel happy because you do the same sport.”
He said fellow surfers motivated him. “In a way and we can motivate them too.” He said: “It’s a sport where you improve everyday and meet different people everyday, and its actually a cool sport because there’s other people wishing to explore the country… and in surfing you can go for free because your sponsors sponsor it for you.”
He said: “That’s why I would like to thank my coach Zac who teaches me and who brought me into this world of surfing. Because there were hard times when he helped me … before I started surfing I couldn’t swim and he taught me, just like he helped me in the water in bad conditions.”
Sadick added: “Zac made me believe in myself… I surf so well today. I thank my parents also, for allowing me to do this sport. That’s why I shout out a big thank you to Zac and the crew for giving me a chance to share my speech about why I am surfing.
Sadick said: “I would love to teach other children, based on how I was taught, by a legend, a man i could call my father.”