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Everything To Me

Originals, Videos November 17, 2022November 29th, 2022

South Africa is a beautiful and conflicted place, and there is no other place that encapsulates this more than Jeffreys Bay. 

Jeffreys Bay, to the outsider, to the visiting surfer, to the average punter, is paradise. It is etched on every surfer’s mind. As our Dutch neighbour says to us after his session, “This is bucket-list surfing.” The water is impossibly green and blue and the light is divine. The waves are endless and the locals friendly. There is one road, two petrol stations, a selection of restaurants, but you will always eat at Nina’s anyway. It is Byron Bay. It is Hossegor. It is any surf town. Beach mansions named Dreamland sprawl amidst borders of well-kept grass. Immaculate boardwalks descend to the beach where J Bay fires down the line. It marks the end of the Garden Route and is undoubtedly the jewel in the crown of South African, nay, African surfing—and rightly so. 

Rafaldo Abersalie was 20 years old when he was murdered in Jeffreys Bay, just days before his 21st birthday. Hacked to pieces, 20 metres from his house by men wielding knives and machetes. Limbs severed, his face unrecognisable, Rafaldo could only be identified by his family, minutes after he was killed, by the shoes he was wearing and a tattoo on his wrist. He was a promising surfer, former Billabong rider and Joshe Faulkner’s cousin. His crime? Two weeks of ‘walking’ with a gang had him murdered by a rival gang. The senselessness of his death is numbing. Ten arrests were made, by all accounts a rare strike of police effectiveness. And then, all ten were released. No charges, no court case. Call it lack of evidence. Call it lack of public interest. 

Call it what it is: a gross miscarriage of justice and a damming insight into the day to day reality of life in Pellsrus. 

“How did that affect me? I couldn’t sleep. I was too scared to go to the beach, too scared to surf. They even told his mother they would kill her as well. Those guys are all free to do it again. They could do it to any of us. My whole family was deeply affected.”

Sharktown

Scotland

Rich Gang

Ma B Boys

Rough clowns

Spot boers

Scottanners.

These are the names of the Gangs of Pellsrus.

Past Jeffreys Bay is Pellsrus. Now, South African townships are nothing new. By and large, every town and every city will have one, if not more, townships. But Jeffrey’s Bay is staggering. 100 metres separates lattes and avo toast from corrugated iron shacks, zero public sanitation, and the Gangs. The weekend before we arrive, a body is found with all organs removed, cut open from the neck to the pelvis. An apparent retaliation to a beheading the night before. And the reasons for such monumental trouble? Mass employment. Drug addiction. Extremely limited opportunities form the perfect storm for gang culture to thrive in. Couple that with a township that has nearly trebled in size over the past few years, and the storm keeps on brewing. “It’s so bad. So so bad,” Joshe’s aunt tells us of the gang problem when we arrive outside her house. “We have little hope. Joshe is the only hope we have.” 

“Growing up, surfing saved my life. I could have been in those gangs so easily. I knew I didn’t want to be like that. When I started surfing, everyone said I wouldn’t make it. They all said I would be like my father, one of the biggest gangsters in J Bay who went to prison when I was five months old and got out only two years ago. I knew I had to prove them wrong. I had to surf every single day. I feel safest in the water. My mind is clear when I am in the water; it takes away everything. I don’t have to think of home. I don’t have to think at all.” 

Joshe Faulkner started surfing when he was seven years old. Inspired by his older cousins who were already winning local comps, Joshe followed suit and started collecting trophies. Then from age 11, Thys Strydom, the owner of Rebel Surfboards took Joshe and a crew of friends under his wing and started giving them boards, taking them to local comps and to different waves. From there, Joshe’s trajectory was set. Fifth in the ISA World Games in 2015, a fixture on the QS, winner of the Port Elizabeth QS and winning the SA Champs in 2019. Joshe’s crew of friends and cousins have grown with him the same, surfing better and better and taking down local comps and SA champs. Joshe is a local celebrity, a hometown hero. A role model. Driving through town, we are stopped every 100 metres. “Ahoy Joshe!” comes the greeting, whispers of Joshe getting the J Bay wildcard are gripping the town and every single person we meet tells us how proud they are of him. How far he has come, how much further he has to go still and how he is carrying the community with him.

The local wave is Kitchen Windows, in front of the township. A wave that anywhere else would be noteworthy but here is overshadowed by Supertubes. A very rippable A Frame, a sand and rock affair. It’s every inch the hometown spot, the vibe in the water is electric. Joshe’s friends give tourists lessons on the inside, hollering and shouting as the kids rip the peak. High-pitched laugher and general heckling mixes with the harshness of Afrikaans, the first language for most of the lineup. It’s the pure, unadulterated joy of surfing, a vibe increasingly hard to come by in lineups in more developed countries. 

“The new group of groms are such cool kids, always frothing to surf, always in the water. I see myself in them, they want to improve every day. As soon as they see myself, Angelo, Jerry, Daniel, the local guys surfing, they come surf too. They want to be in that environment. They are still really young—give them five or six years—you are going to see some champions.” 

It’s a cold night in Jeffreys Bay. With the sun setting at five, dinner is an early affair and is done by eight. We eat, we drink beers, for tomorrow will be the arrival of the phantom swell that has been eluding us all week. We drop Joshe home, where the familiar ping of a WhatsApp message sounds and Joshe leaves his house to see a friend. 

Joshe didn’t see the gang hiding behind the wall of his house. He didn’t know who pulled the gun, and didn’t know if it was loaded. But he did know that with the barrel pressed firmly against his head, he wasn’t in a position to argue. With 40 gang members, all aged under 21 encircling him holding knives and machetes, he keeps calm. Mouth shut. Eyes ahead. One slip of the tongue, one comment, any reason and this is where it ends. Phone. Wallet. Keys. Jacket. Shoes. Socks. The only words of protest that leave his mouth come when they try and take his trousers. 

The next day we pick Joshe up and he tells us of the night before with the same tone of someone who’s just misplaced 5€. A mixture of indifference and slight annoyance. He has no phone, no ID—nothing. We go to the police station to file a lost ID report. When asked how the aforementioned ID was lost (“robbed at gunpoint”) the police clerk doesn’t even bat an eyelid, despite this robbery taking place about 900m from the station. We ask Joshe if they are even going to open a case. He laughs. We surf supertubes. Joshe surfs a five hour session. We check Kitchen Windows, eat half a pizza and Joshe surfs until dark. An incredible standout. One of the sharpest backhands I’ve seen in a long time. At the time of writing, a secret wildcard in the J Bay Open; at the time of publishing, the event will be done and dusted. One hopes the ramifications of Joshe’s wildcard in the event further cements his stature as a real role model for the local kids—a shining beacon of hope in the local community. 

“When I started surfing there were way more surfers—there were five or six programmes dedicated to getting local kids surfing; each one had 50, maybe 60 kids. The water would be packed, every day. We were frothing, we started doing contests, some of us were winning, others losing. The ones that started losing slowly drifted away. Some did other things, got jobs, became teachers, police officers. But I would say that out of us that started, 80% are now involved with gangs. I still see them every day. Surfing was there for them but it didn’t offer enough.”

A flame of hope burns defiantly in Pellsrus. Joshe is a stellar role model for the kids and it’s clearly having a lasting affect. Kitchen Windows is a thriving scene of around 20 kids, all hollering, laughing, smiling. And ripping—we were blown away by the ability of these kids. On busted boards and in oversized wetsuits, but perfectly in tune with the wave. One day it rains, oversized drops hitting the corrugated iron roofs, stagnant pools overflowing as water runs down the once-dusty streets. “You won’t see the kids today,” chuckles Joshe. “Too cold.” But still, we rally. 15 kids turn up for a kick-about soccer match and team surf organised by the Wave Point Church. One of the founders tells me how important a role model Joshe is for these kids—a shining example of hope and proof that there is a life out there away from gangs. That there is more, and with a little work and a little drive, the change is coming. “If I can do it, why can’t any of these kids?” Joshe says, almost to himself. “It can be surfing, soccer, rugby, anything.”

The solution to all of this is to start with the kids. Start them young to instil the desire for a better life. Could be surfing, could be skating. Start with the schools—ask the kids what they want to do and support that. We have to get them to do more constructive things after school.  I try and surf every afternoon with the kids to set the best example I can. The new kids coming up are so good. I love surfing with them. The gangs love getting new members but we’re stronger than that. We can offer a better life, and make them fall in love with surfing. Within five to ten years, something will change. We will have a much better community.”

We arrive in Cape Town. Cape town is New York and London and Africa and the World combined, and its charm is endless. Joshe spends a lot of time here, a welcome break from home and a place he feels free and safe. We walk the streets. Us and four million inhabitants go without electricity for three hours in the morning and four hours in the afternoon and evening, and if you thought covid restrictions were boring, welcome to load shedding. “It’s the corruption! They say they are fixing things but they get richer whilst we get poorer,” Anita tells me with a sigh of resignation whilst she cuts my hair by torchlight at a barber shop that wouldn’t look out of place in Soho, New York, except that it’s nearly pitch black. We look over Khayelitsha, the very township that graces this cover, and wonder how exactly the situation got so fucked up like this and how to fix it, wonder if anyone knows how to fix it. The macro social economic issues of South Africa are so profound, complex and heartbreaking that it’s often hard to see a way out. With more and more domestic and international immigration, townships are at breaking point and with less opportunity and rising costs of food, it’s not looking too bright on the horizon. When large-scale issues are so overwhelming, it’s the grass roots that really count, the small moments that represent positive change. The day to day role models, inspiring their communities and carrying them with them through individual successes. Enough of those moments of hope, led and inspired by role models such as Joshe Faulkner all patched together really will make a lasting difference. 

“I am free. I don’t have to look over my shoulder like the gangsters. To the sides. To the back. I can look forward. Surfing is my freedom. Surfing is everything to me. I don’t have to worry. I am free.”

To support Joshe and his journey, you can donate or be involved via the Amandla Surf Foundation: https://amandlasurffoundation.com/ 

To support the Kids of J Bay, the amazing work of Wave Point.

“When I started surfing there were way more surfers—there were five or six programmes dedicated to getting local kids surfing; each one had 50, maybe 60 kids. The water would be packed, every day. We were frothing, we started doing contests, some of us were winning, others losing. The ones that started losing slowly drifted away. Some did other things, got jobs, became teachers, police officers. But I would say that out of us that started, 80% are now involved with gangs. I still see them every day. Surfing was there for them but it didn’t offer enough.”

Surfing has been there for the kids but didn’t offer enough. When the raw daily struggles of survival are as real as they are in Pellsrus, recreation takes a back seat. 

 

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