Missing the Point: JBay surfers respond to Cape Town protestors

by Sian Wilson


Jeffreys Bay is one of the five most popular surfing destinations in the country and is listed as number 2 of the 50 best surf destinations in the world as home to the best right-hand ride.


There is an opportunity for local surfers of one of the country’s prime surfing destinations to share their thoughts on the difficulties of keeping out of the water, to alter the growing negative perceptions towards surfers, and to utilise their privilege and influence for the greater good during this global pandemic.


[SOURCE: @letsfeedjbay]


Steven Richter, a surfer of approximately 28 years and restaurant owner, explains that, indeed, surfers have always existed under hues of misconceptions; from being “drop-outs” and “zol smokers”, to being irresponsible and out-of-touch with the land-borne community.


Richter explains that these misconceptions have been greatly challenged by Jeffreys Bay locals since the start of the lockdown, as surfers young and old have “done their part” to adhere to the lockdown regulations and keep out of the water.


At the very start of the lockdown, two young Jeffreys Bay surfers were arrested and fined for breaking lockdown regulations and risking it all to catch some waves.


Since the arrest, other locals have steered clear and practiced insurmountable restraint as per the national objective to curb the spread, doing their duty as citizens of a country collectively suffering through a pandemic.


While surfers have found alternative ways to keep themselves busy and sane during this time, like Richter’s own strapping of a surfboard onto a skateboard and getting involved in Let’s Feed JBay, there are many that believe – alongside the Cape Town protestors of May 5 – that allowances should be made for surfing and similar watersports.


Richter, like many, believes that small towns like Jeffreys Bay can be easily managed during this time, especially when in-line with non-essential travel restrictions.


Richter’s sentiment is that local surfers should be allowed to surf locally. He also agrees that allowing one means allowing all, and expresses his uncertainty when it comes to what the government’s overall plan is to lessen the restrictions on more forms of movement.


“I believe the government started off doing everything in their power to keep us healthy but I think they’ve realized they’ve gone a little overboard. A lot of things just don’t add up. It would be awesome if we could speak to our own municipality.


We’ve stayed out of the water. People who have never surfed don’t understand what a struggle it has been; it has been quite a shock to the system. There have been a lot of cowboys out there taking chances but I hope they don’t mess it up for the rest of us.”


Tabu Burger, a surfer of 22 years, agrees with the protestors and believes surfing should be allowed: “It’s not just for [the sake of] surfing freely, but plenty of businesses rely on surfing as a sport to provide for their families.”


Zenzi Mayana, surfer of 1 year and employee in the Jeffreys Bay tourism industry, explains that surfing and other watersports should be allowed.


“Surfing, just like cycling, is a sport that many people – young and old – use for keeping active and fit. Being in the water poses less of a threat than going on a run with a friend. For some contact sports like tennis or soccer, you can argue for the restrictions, but surfing – like cycling – is contactless.”


In contrast, Mayana expresses his disagreement with the protests that have taken place, saying: “I believe we all have the right to voice our opinions, but I just feel that if we are going to gather around and protest then it just defeats the whole purpose. I feel like we should just bide our time.”


Deon Lategan has been surfing for 33 years. He insists that maintaining certain restrictions during this time, like restricting people from walking on the beach, simply comes down to common sense: “I think the restrictions [of walking on the beach] is to simplify the control of movement and gatherings and to make monitoring of such easier for the authorities. It seems the restrictions are for the overall greater good and I can live with them for now.”


When asked if surfers should be given preferential treatment during this time – as seemed the sentiment for the Cape Town protestors – Lategan explained that if surfing was suddenly allowed, there would be the need for a concession: “I understand the restriction on surfing and why surfers aren’t getting preferential treatment. Where do you stop? What sports do you not allow?”


Responses to the protests in Cape Town called for compromise as many believed that these surfers needed to sacrifice their obvious sense of privilege and endure the lockdown restrictions alongside fellow citizens, as inconvenience is certainly not the same as oppression.


“This is unfortunately not a time for individual needs and wishes and preferences. It goes without saying that surfers want to be surfing. But there are a lot of things that people would rather be doing. Surfing seems low down on that list when you look at the bigger picture,” reflects Lategan. “The needs of the individual need to be secondary to the needs of the general public. So, suck it up.”


Other locals believe that there are far better things to be doing with one’s time and privilege than lamenting over how unjust the government’s restrictions appear to be.


“I believe that it [surfing] should not be allowed, as regulating surfers will be yet another task for law enforcement,” enthused 18-year-old Jeffreys Bay surfer of 12 years, choosing to remain anonymous.


“There are definitely more important things going on now than surfing. Protesting for surfing to be allowed is like complaining that COVID-19 ruined your golf trip. People are in much worse situations than we are.


We are all in the same boat and we must learn to be thankful that we have a roof over our head and food to eat. I have been volunteering at the Let’s Feed JBay project and that has made us [surfers] more aware of how little people have, which I think has humbled the JBay surfing community.”


[SOURCE: @letsfeedjbay]


Anyone with the time and ability to devote to giving back has been actively involved in the Let’s Feed JBay project.


Professional surfer Dylan Lightfoot, alongside his long-time friends Chokka Trahms, Tobias Schroeder, Remi Petersen, and Steven Sawyer, have launched a locals-helping-locals campaign in their free time.


[SOURCE: Steven Richter at @letsfeedjbay]


Lightfoot, despite being a career surfer, has welcomed the unforeseen break from surfing and found himself “enjoying doing something else for a change”.


The Let’s Feed JBay project started after Chokka Trahms had been helping with the implementation of the lockdown in the informal settlement of Tokyo Sexwale alongside law-enforcement.


Trahms began noticing that people were already greatly starting to feel the effects of the lockdown, having been robbed from their ability to work and any source of future income. He took to their WhatsApp group to pose the question to his childhood friends about the possibility of using newly-found freedoms to help those more vulnerable.


“We jumped at the opportunity to help put food on the tables of these people,” Lightfoot exclaimed over the phone. “And in something like two days we had already raised about R200,000. Surfers like Mick Fanning and Jordy Smith and Filipe Toledo shared our project. People just have a strong connection to JBay. People all over the world started donating – not just to JBay, but to the people that come along with it.”


The Let’s Feed JBay project aims to feed families of four for two weeks with every package they deliver.


And with the help of the Kouga municipality and meticulous mapping-out of routes for drop-offs to avoid unsafe congregating, Lightfoot estimates that approximately 2,500 packs have been delivered since the start of the lockdown, which amounts to about 10,000 people and 240,000 meals.


“It’s just a bit of relief for the community,” Lightfoot says humbly.


[SOURCE: @letsfeedjbay]


When asked if he sees him and his friends continuing this objective well after the lockdown has ended, as hunger never sleeps in South Africa, Lightfoot explains that sustainability is a goal for them.


They are faced with many questions daily about the good they sincerely hope they’re doing: “Are we actually helping these people? How can we sustain this? Can they sustain themselves? But, when lockdown ends, we also have to go back to our lives. We have to go back to work. We have to try to support ourselves.”


Lightfoot explains that if they were able to achieve the funding and they could make the project more sustainable, they would like to carry it on into the future.


On the topic of privilege, professional and long-time surfers like Dylan Lightfoot and Steven Richter admit that surfers – unlike participants of other sports – did highlight their own privilege with the protests in Cape Town, but have since started to use this same privilege to aid their immediate communities.


“I understand that people are attached to the ocean. But with the coronavirus and the lockdown, it’s not as though our rights are being oppressed. Instead of rallying for something unrealistic, look at the bigger picture, look at the people in need,” Lightfoot urges.


“There is a reason why 20% of the world is in lockdown. It’s because there’s a global pandemic. I can’t see any government wishing this upon its people. And, of course, they have considered the ramifications for the economy. It has been for the protection of South African society as a whole. I hope it doesn’t come to it, but only when people closest to us are the ones being affected, will we start to realise how serious this is.”

For more information on Let’s Feed JBay:

GoGetFunding - https://gogetfunding.com/Letsfeedjbay

Instagram - @letsfeedjbay

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Rhodes University (UCKAR), Makhanda (Grahastown), Eastern Cape

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