Getting stoked with a surf champ!

I feel as clumsy as a turtle nesting on the beach, scooping up the sand on which I am laying down with powerful strokes. On the horizon white foam tops off the powerful waves of the Indian Ocean. In front of me multiple South African longboard champion surfer David Macgregor counts the number of strokes with his deep voice: “one, two, three, and up!” Getting up swiftly on the imaginary surfboard that we drew in the sand, I position my feet and arms. “Yeah, it starts to look more like it, girls! Two more and then you are ready for the real thing”, David enthusiastically exclaims. Today South Africa’s longboard champion is running his own surf school and camp in the town of Port Alfred and we are his eager students!

It is time to put our sand training into practice. With our wetsuits zipped up and the leashes of the surfboards tight around our ankles, we get into to the water with the large foam boards David has provided us with. Large and wide to provide sufficient buoyancy, and light and soft to fall easy on our heads: they are the perfect learning surfboards. Mimicking the pro, we follow him fighting the waves. Once positioned in the foam, laying down on the boards, and looking at the incoming waves, David shouts above the roaring sound of crashing water: “peddle, peddle, peddle!”. Following his instructions to the letter, peddling hard, I feel the little push that David gives my board to give me just enough extra speed to be picked up by the foam. Repeating the learnt movement, I motion a push up and stand up, drag my left leg closer to the centre of the board and bend my knees while balancing my weight with my arms. First wave, first ride! All the way to the beach!!

As I proudly look back at David with a huge grin, I see his contempt as he smiles at me while watching Claire standing and also riding her first wave all the way to the beach. Clearly, learning how to surf with a champ is pretty efficient. And also pretty exhausting! We keep catching waves, riding some and falling as we get more tired and painfully feel our shoulder muscles.

A bit later, we are happy to rest at David’s home and surf camp, a few minutes from the beach in the sand forest. Laying down in a fishing net turned huge hammock, we are taking some strength with a delicious banana bread with chocolate chips baked by his wife. “My surf camp is more like a homestay” David describes. The passionate champion and journalist loves meeting new students or experienced surfers who stop by, and sharing stories. His wooden house and surf cabin he built himself from upcycled materials at the edge of an ancient dune forest not cutting down any trees is the perfect spot to spend several days surfing.

David’s surfing talent may very well be rooted in his genes! He remembers a photo of his granddad dating back to 1927. His dad and uncles followed, and David of course, and today, his sons Cuan and Kye are the fourth generation. They are running Shaka Surf School with David, and the three of them cumulate five national longboard surfing titles! And looking at the tricks the fourteen year old Kye practices during a sunrise surf session before school, this number will only go up. The stunts are simply amazing, and the teenager is a virtuoso of the board. We have a long way to go…

Waiting for the best conditions, we are back in the water a couple of kilometres further. The waves are slightly larger and this time we are not in the foam anymore but trying to catch them. David knows the area like the back of his hand, and explains the local drift currents, rocks and shallows so that we can safely ride. Peddling out avoiding to be tumbled over (most of the time), we sit on our boards by David, trying to read the waves and deciding which ones to catch. Timing is everything: peddling really hard from the right location to gain enough speed to be picked up by the wave at the right time. There is nothing like sitting in the ocean with the champion to get a feel for it. It is not easy, and the satisfaction to catch a wave, ride it, change direction, and fall down when decided is indescribable!

“Everyone gets stoked” David smiles looking even more satisfied than we are. “I teach everyone from 6 to 60. Actually, Kye was 3 when he started!” And today, David is thrilled as he is collaborating with Nemato Change a Life, an award winning youth empowerment group dedicated to getting a better future to kids of the Nelson Mandela Township in Port Alfred. Just like he trained junior professionals, he wants to create opportunities for these kids by teaching them this new Olympic sport and develop talents to give them a way out of the township. With so many young talents, and the skills and pedagogy of David, Cuan and Kye, the sky is the limit! And we will most certainly keep hearing about the achievements of the Shaka Surf School in Port Alfred.

Marcella & Claire

Travel tips:

  • To learn how to surf or have great sessions for experienced surfers, reach out to Shaka Surf School!
  • Shaka Surf School is a certified surf school with all accreditations and excellent gear, the only one of the Sunshine Coast.
  • Click here to find out more about Nemato Change a Life.
  • Check out this interactive map for the specific details to help you plan your trip and more articles and photos (zoom out) about the area! Here is a short tutorial to download it.

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