Surfing the Waves of Fear: Conquering the Ocean in Cape Town

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e17s1 Surfing the Waves of Fear: Conquering the Ocean in Cape TownSurfing in Cape Town

Juxtapositions of History: Sipping Wine at Robben Island

There is something quite macabre about sipping a glass of white wine while watching the sun descend in a breathtaking color spectacle over Robben Island. For those who are not familiar with South Africa’s history, Robben Island is where Nelson Mandela, together with other political prisoners, were held during apartheid. It has been used as a prison since the 1700s but is most famous for its holding of political activists during the apartheid regime. It stopped being used as such in 1994 when the first democratic elections were held in South Africa. Since then it has been transformed into a museum preserving the stories of life, resilience and resistance lived there. I remember feeling very humbled when I was there my first time in 2015. I definitely recommend everyone who visits Cape Town to take the ferry from V & A Waterfront to Robben Island and its museum. The incredible view over Robben Island, where such horrible things happened, is a contrast that somehow describes South Africa in a nutshell. A country where the contrasts are so huge between past and present, poor and rich, human and less than, that the contrasts themselves are normalized to the degree that they can be almost ignored. Or perhaps that’s just human behavior in general, normalizing, selective seeing.


Blouberg Bliss: Finding Community and Serenity by the Sea

A week ago, I left the buzzling city center of Cape Town for Blouberg, a seaside community 20 minutes outside of the city. My first impression of Blouberg is that it is very beige, every house is in a nuance of beige or gray… the second thing that struck me about this place is the kite surfers. It might not help that the hostel I chose to stay at is a kite community hostel. Every night the dining room is buzzing with the latest coolest stories and stories captured with GoPros. I chose the hostel, Khaya Kite and Yoga Hostel, because it offered morning yoga. After weeks of flues and colds I figured some yoga and salt water would do me good.

I was pleasantly surprised, the hostel was more like a community of nerds than anything else. But that is Blouberg in general, the kites are everywhere! In the mornings, when the wind is but a mere breeze, they are nowhere to be found. But as soon as the wind picks up, the sky over to Blouberg strand is filled with the kites of the surfers. It looks beautiful. I can only imagine the adrenaline rush from traveling at the mercy of two elements, wind and water. For me, one element is more than enough. Despite having loved the water growing up to the extent that  mom practically had to drag me up out of the water every time we went swimming… I almost drowned twice as a kid. A few years after those incidents, a fear of the ocean started growing within me. For many years I couldn’t explain it, I didn’t feel afraid I just did not want to go into the ocean.


From Panic to Power: How Surfing Helped Me Overcome My Ocean Fear

I was about twenty years old the first time I took a surf lesson. The first time I almost stood up on a board it took about three and a half seconds before I tumbled head first into the ocean. The currents were strong even though we were in pretty shallow waters. I could feel the board tugging at my foot, pulling it to the right. At the same time, I was being pushed down by another wave tumbling down on me. I feel the sandy ground brush up against my back. Simultaneously, the underwater current is pulling me out, deeper into the ocean. It takes less than a millisecond for my twenty year old self to convert back to the seven year old me being pulled into the Pacific Ocean. The panic is absolute. Just like when I was seven years old, a grown ups arm reaches down and pulls me up. Air. I find my footing again, I look around. The beach is there. My instructor is right next to me, he laughs and smiles at me. “You are awake now hey?!”

Ever since that first lesson, surfing has been a bridge for me to get back to the ocean. The ocean Goddess Yemaya, from the Afro-Cuban religion Santéria, blessed me a few years ago and now I am once again swimming freely in the ocean. Freely but afraid. This time was different though. After my first two lessons I felt strongly that it was time. I needed to get out there on my own. Be in the ocean and trust my own capabilities. I knew it was imperative. I canceled my third lesson and decided to rent a board from my surf school, Open Ocean, instead. I knew that if I ever wanted to start feeling safe in the ocean again, I had to start being out there on my own. My pulse was high initially but after a few minutes sitting on my board, waiting for the next wave, I started feeling alright. After some attempts to catch a wave I started laughing. It felt hopeless. Trying to catch a wave was like trying to hold water in my hands, it just disappears in front of you. Until suddenly I feel it happening, the wave is lifting me! I’m on it! I went from trying to catch it to actually having it! To say that it felt amazing is the understatement of the century. I felt invincible.


Uncertainty and Possibility in Cape Town

Sitting here now, eight years after my first encounter with this intense city and this immense country, I feel its funny how life works. How one encounter can change the trajectory of your entire life eight years later. If I, by encounter, refer to the country or the guy depends on what day you ask me… I’m definitely not referring to Cape Town, God knows I never liked this city. Until now. Now, with friends here and favorite salsa spots of my own, I can suddenly paint my whole life here. Everything from starting a hostel to digital nomad jobs to applying for fundings for art projects. I could see myself in a pair of hippy-dippy overalls in Woodstock, bringing Salsa to Observatory’s student bars, connecting with musicians, going to the beach on the weekends trying to learn to surf. I can see it. 

Right before I left Cape Town for the Blouberg beach I stayed at a hostel in town. When eating breakfast one morning a woman approached me and struck up a conversation with me. We talked about our lives and dreams for the future, our doubts and prospects. She was a lady of the night and wished for a better life, in a different country, with somebody kind. About my own situation she simply said “It can be hard and impossible for everyone else, that is irrelevant. Cuz you have to try your luck. YOUR LUCK. You can’t base your decisions on other peoples failings, maybe it wasn’t meant for them.” Right then and there, it felt like it was a sign that I should make a go of South Africa after all. Try to stay, get a job, make it happen. But now, after a week of ocean and contemplation, I am realizing staying would be not trying my luck, not betting on me. I can always come back, at a later point when it’s time. For now, I feel something tugging at me to get a move on. There is a strong feeling within, that in order to stay I must go. Perhaps not to find but to rediscover, a confidence and self-knowledge I used to have as a kid and somehow lost along the way. I feel I need to show up, for what or who I don’t really know. I guess we will live to find out!

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