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Surfing and photographing in South Africa really is for the strong of heart. I found that out from my first days as a nipper (competitive junior lifesaver) swimming in the cold, rugged surf in my little speedo. Clinging onto the backline swim-buoy and tears streaming down my already salty eyes, I wanted out. The surf was giant, onshore, and slamming up against the rocks to the right of the bay. Everyone else had rounded the last buoy and was making their way ashore, but I was frozen by fear and calling out to the rubber duck support crew to save me and take me home to my mom and dad. Unknowingly, I had reached one of those critical points in life where something either makes or breaks you—this was one of those moments.
I had never been 100 percent comfortable in the sea since I didn’t grow up at the beach like my fellow surf lifesaving mates. Why would anyone want to leave the comfort and safety of the sand for this? Not me. Not then, at least. Needless to say, it took me some time, both there on that buoy with my feet dangling below the murky surface, and years later for bigger Atlantic surf. But I learned to let go of the fear that gripped me and dove headlong into the rough waves and bodysurfed in, truly understanding and embracing what it means to be a surf-loving person in South Africa.
There will be moments of fear, moments of loneliness, and moments of mental fatigue. But we’re always the richer for it after the fact and once we’ve become a part of it. For myself and many others, it’s the final frontier and where it’s all at. It’s far from the rest of the surfing world, out of the social circus and difficult to read most of the time. But we wouldn’t have it any other way. We’re willing to brave the cold, sharks, and rugged surf like many other harden places around the earth in order to truly feel alive and be a part of this special, miraculous gift we call surfing.