This piece was commissioned by Zig-Zag Magazine for its 35th annniversary edition.
I can’t believe that Zig-Zag is 35 years old. That’s a lot of pages.
Wasn’t it only yesterday that the mag was pasted up in a garage, and we shot pics in Kodachrome 64? I can still remember those first muddy black and white “action” shots, and the ultimate luxury, a grainy double-page colour spread.
But it was an era in which it was a privilege to grow up surfing. The waters were less crowded, False Bay sharks were mellow and there was genuine camaraderie in the line-up.
In my part of the woods, Johnny Paarman had earned the moniker, “Iceman”. In the power zones he was fearless and unbeatable.
I also pioneered surf photography down south, swimming at giant Sunset for the first time and getting my sinuses flushed with kelp.
Those were the days when Pierre de Villiers and Peter Button had just ridden a spot called Dungeons near Hout Bay.
“It gets bigger than the Crayfish Factory,” I remember Pierre telling Davey Stolk with typical understatement. Pierre and Peter used to hike over the mountain and then paddle out. Thank God I never swam at Dungeons. My sinuses.
But I think some of my most cherished memories are of the mid 80’s when South Africa was living through turbulent times. Of course, we carried on surfing. That’s what surfers do.
Many of my surfing mates were on the other side of the apartheid fence. Catching waves came against the background of police harassment and prejudice. But, hell, it was still fun.
It all started when Davey Stolk and I befriended people such as Shani Nagia, Ahmed Collier, Mogamad Davids, Tahir Davids, Faeez Abrahams and Rafiq Bagus. Rafiq, who won the SASU title before Cass swept the boards, was a street-wise survivor like Stolk.
In fact, I challenge anybody – even today – to throw Stolk or Bagus from the top of a building. By the time you’ve caught the lift to the ground floor, they’ll both be wiping the butter off their feet.
Another indomitable character was Ahmed Collier, father of Cass Collier – a talented athlete and fearless big wave rider, who went on the ASP Tour without surfing a single heat in SA against a white competitor.
Cass definitely got his balls from his father. Ahmed never stood back for anyone, and it was he who first paddled out at Long Beach, breaking all the racial taboos and really getting in your face if you didn’t like it.
Shani had started Wynberg Surf Club, the backbone of non-racial surfing, and later SASU, which was aligned with the anti-apartheid body, SACOS. Shani – still an unheralded and unrecognised figure – would also be one of the leading forces in surfing unity.
By 1984 Wynberg made contact with surfers in J-Bay, Port Elizabeth and Durban. The Jappie family in PE, the Jeggels’ in J-Bay and Terence Naidoo in Durban were the stalwarts.
SASU held national champs in J-Bay, Cape Town and Durban, and I remember Cheron Kraak of Billabong being the first sponsor. It was at Kitchen Windows that Cass Collier and Steven Jeggels first showcased their talents.
Stolk and I joined Wynberg, much to the shock and chagrin of the establishment, but we both felt that we were right. Black surfing was on the rise, and black surfers weren’t allowed to surf on white beaches. We felt we could make a difference.
The Cape Flats, where most of the surfers came from, was burning. Stolk and I got caught in the middle. We realised the seriousness of the anti-apartheid uprisings when we saw people dying in the streets.
But there was a funny side too. This is because the Security Branch started to take a keen interest in Wynberg Surf Club and its members, some of whom were the sons of a famous UDF activist, Essa Moosa.
The Branch took to following us around. We got to recognise a certain officer Mostert, who sported a bristling Voortrekker beard. He was relentless. Late one night he managed to collar one of our members, Addie.
He took him to a police station, and started slapping him around, as was the usual custom.
“Where is the fokkin guns? We know you donnerse fokkers has buried them on the beach?” thundered Mostert, who was trying to catch Rafiq for public violence.
“What does you discuss at your secret meetings on the waves?” he asked.
“Uh, we talk about J-Bay,” answered Addie innocently.
In their paranoia the Security Branch had thought we were about to launch a military attack on the Western Cape. But even when it became obvious that Addie (and the club) were not part of an Umkhonto Isizwe unit, Mostert still didn’t give up.
“And who’s that blonde lady with you?” he asked. This time Addie was really perplexed. Blonde lady? But his interrogator was insistent. It was then that that Addie realised Mostert was referring to me. In the 1980’s I still had hair.
True to form, Mostert pitched up at my work early one morning, but I managed to escape. As usual I was late, and Mostert – his usual impatient self – was leaving as I arrived. Ah yes, those were the days.