by Alyssa Ramos
Wednesday was my fourth day in Muizenberg, South Africa, and the day that the unthinkable happened. After volunteering at Christian David Primary School, I hopped into Karl’s van along with the rest of the volunteers like usual, except for one that wasn’t usually there. Mr. TDH. He had mentioned that the IVHQ Surf Program volunteers alternate volunteering in the Sports Program twice a week…so that wasn’t the unthinkable part. (If you missed who Mr. TDH is, check out My Week in Muizenberg Day 1).
The unthinkable part was that he (and an awesome girl from Australia) somehow convinced me to go surfing in the freezing cold and rainy weather. I was about as thrilled as a cat doing the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, but how could I possibly say no to surfing in South Africa? I had about five seconds to grab my laptop, GoPro, phone charger, and change of clothes before I was rushed out the door of the Albertyn House and on my way to the Dreams To Reality surf shop.
It was beyond freezing, so I started to have a change of heart on the walk there. Using the free Wifi at Slow Life, the vegetarian café next door to the surf shop sounded like a way warmer idea, but all it took was, “When’s the next time you’re going to be able to go surfing in South Africa?” from the naturally beautiful blond haired, blue eyed, free-spirited and always-smiling Australian volunteer to get me to walk next door.
“I’m probably going to need a kid’s size wetsuit,” I said as I walked into the wet and sandy surf shop. A giant smile crept onto Mr. TDH’s face as he rushed to take my bag from me and show me where the wetsuits were. He picked out the cleanest one he could find (according to him they were all smelly and gross) while I changed into my bikini in the small bathroom stall that was similar to the ones that I dreaded using at the public swimming pool back in summer camp that always had wet toilet paper and mysterious black muck everywhere.
It took me a while to get out of my boots and all of my layers (without touching the gross muck-floor) and into my bikini, and of course when I was mid top-tie I hear, “Everything alright in there?” Why do they all get so concerned when we’re in the bathroom for more than five minutes?! I didn’t bother replying, I just finished tying and opened the door to give him a glimpse of what was under my five layers of clothing before wrapping my towel around my torso.
“Uhm. Here, let me help you, hold onto my shoulders,” He stuttered as he knelt down to help me into my wetsuit. I took hold of his broad, muscular shoulders as I attempted wiggling my foot into the wetsuit. I could obviously see him starring at my stomach which I couldn’t blame him for since it was right in front of his face, and tried not to laugh although it was hard not to considering my severe struggle to get into the suit.
When I was finally suited up and ready, he stopped me at the door, “Wait, here, I’ll carry you,” He insisted, since we had to leave our shoes in the shop due to the risk of theft. “Oh, no, it’s really OK.” I seriously had no problem walking barefoot across the street…I am from Florida after all.
“No, there’s glass, and you don’t know what else, I’ll carry you.” He demanded in his thick Turkish accent. “Can you carry both boards?” He asked one of the other guys, who was obviously thrown off and bothered that he was being given an extra task because of me.
I felt a little embarrassed being carried on his back as if I were some prissy girl who couldn’t walk on her own, but I can’t deny that I somewhat enjoyed the whole Damsel in Distress façade. How cute. We had to cross a busy street, go through a parking lot, and under a tunnel which actually did have broken glass all inside of it, then another parking lot to get to the beach, where the next obstacle awaited me…the freezing cold water.
“It’s OK, the wetsuit will keep you warm!” He promised, waving me into the water. There was just one problem…I wasn’t joking when I asked for a kid’s size wetsuit…even their smallest one didn’t fit my arms which meant the freezing water easily washed in and out of my suit.
“It’s too cold!” I yelled, avoiding being blasted in the face by another icy wave. I was shivering spastically as I hovered over the board, trying my best to “help” push it with him. “You know, it’s best if you just dive in.” He laughed, clearly feeling bad about how cold I was. “No! It’s too cold!” I screamed back.
Of course since he was nice, he didn’t dunk me under, but the Wisconsin boys weren’t as nice. The second that they realized my struggle they came bounding over like Labradors. “It’s not cold!” The blond one said casually before throwing a tidal wave of cold water at me and shoving me under the water.
I let the icy cold saltwater surround me for a brief moment before jolting up like the metaphorical ALS Ice Bucket Challenge cat if it were to have fallen into the bucket instead of dumping it. I could see the little kids giggling wildly on their longboards as their instructors shuffle-swam back to them in triumph. None of them realized that my wetsuit wasn’t working.
“OK now get on the board and start paddling and I’ll help you!” Mr. TDH instructed. Because it wasn’t awkward at all to have him pushing me from behind. He was clearly finding great amusement with my paddling attempts, especially when I would get slammed in the face with a wave.
But apparently I somehow managed to “catch all of the waves” (meaning I went forward, stood up for 1 second, then fell) that I had attempted surfing…Which was only about four before I was too cold to even swim.
I also had this grand idea to make an awesome GoPro video by shoving my GoPro in the front strap of his wetsuit so he could film me, but that failed miserably. As did all of my “these are going to look so cool” GoPro shots of me on the board that just look like I’m terrified and about to drown.
Of course all of the elementary school kids rode the giant, deadly waves in with no problem and didn’t complain at all like I did. One little boy who was also a huge fan of Mr. TDH excitedly swam out to him and managed to climb up to his shoulders where he shivered uncontrollably, but denied that he was cold so he could keep on surfing with the volunteers.
Since it wasn’t Mr. TDH’s surf volunteer day (hence my lesson) we headed back to the surf shop while the other volunteers continued with their lessons. After I peeled off my wetsuit in the back changing area, the cutest little boy in the world instructed me to, “leave it there, I wash them”, as he very proudly continued swirling around the wetsuits in the bucket of soap and water.
“Are you coming surfing tomorrow?” He asked me excitedly, even though I hadn’t met him yet. “Maybe! Are you?” I replied with a shiver. “No, I work in the shop, but I’ll be here!” Said the very serious eight year old.
I joined Mr. TDH and a few other volunteers who were setting up some food for the kids (I decided to just help with all the programs instead of only the one I signed up for) – something that is not required for the program, but that they do on their own anyway since most of the kids don’t get lunch and probably haven’t eaten anything all day. Afterwards I finally made the dreaded, freezing cold walk back to the volunteer house to get ready for the famed kareoke night at Brass Bell, with a new appreciation for the volunteers who get in the water with the kids everyday.
The Dreams to Reality / IVHQ Surf Program is a free after school program for the kids that go to the schools we volunteer at and the program is largely funded by the surf program volunteers. It gives the local kids with disadvantaged backgrounds the opportunity to spend their free time in a safe, healthy, productive, and happy way.