Well, I survived my first surf lesson in the waters of Cape Town! Given the hype about sharks and the abundance of terrifying Youtube videos, I assumed the surfing itself would be the most notable part of the day’s experience. To my surprise, it was our instructor, Apish, who turned out to be the center of focus.
I should say, Apish and the organization he works for: Waves for Change (W4C). When I looked for a surf lesson during our stay in Cape Town, I used Airbnb Experiences—I liked their focus on local development and wanted something that didn’t have a strong tour-y vibe. I booked Surf with Purpose, something Airbnb calls a Social Impact Experience. That means that 100% of what you pay for the Experience go directly to the host’s organization. When I read more about what they do, I couldn’t have been happier.
Taking a Surf Lesson in Cape Town
About Waves for Change
At the heart of Waves for Change is an award-winning program designed to improve the well-being and emotional stability of young people who have been adversely affected by violence and abuse in the townships of Cape Town. They call it surf therapy—you can listen to the founder of the program talk about what is down at the bottom.
From an initial reach of 10 children in the township of Masiphumelele, W4C has since grown to reach more than 400 children, teachers, and parents every year. Apish told us that he works six days a week with rotating groups of kids. He and the other instructors teach life skills, surfing, and lifeguarding, giving the kids mentorship and a sense of value and community. The kids start the program at age 10, and stay for 2-3 years, though Waves for Change stays invested in them after they’ve moved on.
Learning to Surf at Muizenberg Beach
We cannot recommend this experience enough. First of all, the surf lesson was wonderful— Apish was a straight-forward, patient instructor who really made you feel comfortable as you gained confidence in the waves. The lesson took place at Muizenberg beach, which is considered one of the best places to learn to surf. At low tide, the beach typically has nice, gentle waves, and the sand is clean and smooth underfoot. The day we were there the water was more like a washing machine—which was good in that there were lots of waves, but bad in that you got swished around a decent bit. The area around Muizenberg is really sweet and bohemian, with a classic beach town vibe. There are plenty of little shops and cafés to poke into, and a wide sandy area for relaxing when you’re down with the lesson.
Visiting a Cape Town Township
What we really found of value in this experience, however, wasn’t just the surf instruction. After the lesson, Apish drove us to his township, Masiphumelele (pronounced Mas-i-poom-i-lay-lay), which is named after a Xhosa word that translates to, “We will succeed.” Masiphumelele is a 15-20 minute drive away, but at least a two-hour walk for the kids that live there and visit the beach to participate in the program. On the way, we passed one of the boys Apish works with. As he rolled down the window to wave, he told us the story of how he used to collect metal on his own childhood walks to the beach, which he would then sell at a scrapyard to get money for food.
Masiphumelele was much larger than I expected—though to be honest, I didn’t know what to expect. Apish estimated that about 40,000 people live there. The gravel streets are lined with concrete shops and businesses in bright colors. The township looked pretty self-sufficient: there were national banks housed in small cargo containers, law offices, hardware stores, mechanics, electricians, hair shops and fashion stores, little markets and people selling fruits out front. For lunch, we went to the equivalent of local tavern/township pub (one of three in the township). It served a rotation of beers, braai (South African barbecue), and breakfast. Lunch consisted of milli pap, which is a type of corn mash, cold chili soup (there was a running joke that no one wanted to eat it hot), and braai meats. An older local man sitting at the table beside us offered running commentary and life advice, to the entertainment of everyone. At the end, Apish gave him the lunch leftovers, telling him: “If you get the food, you have to teach them something.” And so we got an impromptu (and pretty improvised) lesson in Xhosa, the click language.
This experience provides both high levels of interest and engagement and gives you a real 360-view of Cape Town’s vibrant cultures. It was eye-opening—and not just because the saltwater stings.