Sharing waves with vulnerable kids from South African townships – not to mention the back seat and stories aplenty on a long drive through the night to J-Bay – Apish and Noah formed a strong bond when they first met in Cape Town this spring. So when we invited Apish to Donegal with us on a late summer quest, Noah leapt at the chance to show him the breaks, beaches and fishing spots of his adopted home, relishing some true Irish hospitality, and mountain paths with not a lion in sight.
Apish, can you tell us a bit about your personal journey with Waves for Change?
I was in a township, still in high school, and I was just helping my coach with playing football back then. Tim [Conibear – Waves for Change founder] used to come to Masi, where I’m from, as a tourist…then we got to know each other. A couple of years later, he came back. I was still doing the same thing – volunteering in the community, involved in the social activities. He invited me for a surf lesson and I liked it. I’d never surfed before; surfing is not so big in the black community.
That’s how it started. Then Tim had an idea of starting Waves for Change, and I was there to help him, because he didn’t really understand the background of South Africa, life in the townships.
We wanted to work with young people who were using drugs and were vulnerable and at risk in the community. Kids were coming from poor backgrounds where the community isn’t really functioning well, they’ve been through a lot of trauma – coming from families that are very neglectful and ignorant. The social workers aren’t really helping, so Waves for Change was the kids’ space to come and feel safe and comfortable – to share their problems.
Waves for Change isn’t just about surfing; we use surfing just to get the kids hooked and have fun. But our main focus is to work with them, to teach them how to cope and how to communicate, how to behave in a good way – just how to express themselves. Also, how to respect themselves and other people around them.
I’m so excited about how it’s grown and what we’ve achieved. There’s so much that we’re doing in the community, and seeing the results is the most important thing.
What were your first impressions when the two of you met in Cape Town?
Noah: Apish is a pretty incredible guy. Even just meeting him and hanging out with him, that was fairly evident straight away. But then when he took us along to Waves for Change, it was really eye-opening for me as to how you could use surfing as a tool to enact these really positive changes. I was really just blown away by how different it was to a surf lesson in somewhere like Ireland.
“When Apish took us along to Waves for Change, it was really eye-opening for me as to how you could use surfing as a tool to enact these really positive changes.”
After showing us around his home, we did a big road trip together. When you spend 24 hours a day with anyone for more than just a couple of days, you get to know them pretty quick. It was really fun.
Apish: We spent five days together, drove to Jeffrey’s Bay and then we spent five more days again, I think. In those 10 days we really connected. It was very easy and comfortable to show Noah and the team around. The guys were so friendly, so curious, so eager to see the other side of South Africa. Even asking personal questions, I didn’t feel any pressure.
How did it evolve into going to Ireland?
Noah: We stayed in touch after the trip. You form a pretty strong relationship with someone when you spend that much time together. It was really special to get to see Apish’s home – eye-opening and exciting and different. I thought it would be a great idea to try and show him around where I live and what I do here. It’s not where I’m from, but it’s a really beautiful part of the world – and very different to Cape Town and South Africa. I thought that would be a cool experience for both of us.
Apish: It was my first time in Ireland, and only my second time in Europe. It was a double experience, being here in South Africa with these guys and then being there in Ireland, with Noah and everybody showing me around. I felt so motivated to achieve more.
What about the trip itself?
Noah: We had a few days in the south west of Donegal, pretty close to where I live, then moved further north. We met up with Easkey [Britton] and [her dad] Barry, which was pretty special. For me, it felt like I was really giving Apish a proper experience of what the local scene is like, what the north west of Donegal looks like, and what the people who live here are like – particularly through the eyes of a surfer.
We were really lucky with weather; we got a bit of everything. It wasn't too cold, or too hot. One of the first nights, we had Finn along; she’s a chef, originally from Dublin, and we cooked outside and spent the evening on the beach. That’s pretty rare anyway, for Ireland, but to be able to do that with a bunch of really great friends was really memorable.
Apish: We were always around nature; if not surfing we were just at the beach or walking around the mountains. That particular moment, when we were cooking at the beach, after a long day of surfing, we just decided to hang around and watch the sunset. That’s what we normally do in South Africa, and that feeds my soul, just watching the sunset. It was incredible. I didn’t feel like I was working as well!
“I’m from the township, outside Cape Town. We’re very close to the mountains, but hiking and walking in nature is not really our thing because of the crime – and there are also lions everywhere. In Ireland, it felt very safe. Even swimming in the water, and going surfing, I didn’t have to worry about sharks.”
I’m from the township, which is very different from the urban areas of Cape Town. We’re very close to the mountains, but hiking and walking in nature is not really our thing because of the crime – and there are also lions everywhere. In Ireland, it felt very safe. Even swimming in the water, and going surfing, I didn’t have to worry about sharks. I didn’t have any fear in Ireland – even walking on the streets.
And the surf communities?
Apish: The people, how they treat each other – they just welcome each other in a very good way. They share their space very well, they’re so friendly, very kind. When I met Noah’s friends, I was expecting them to be very nice because they’re Noah’s friends, but even others who he didn’t know where super chatty. People are very curious about South Africa, they just wanted to know more, and wanted to talk, even if we were just sitting somewhere randomly. That doesn’t happen in South Africa – you only talk to people you know, mostly.
Noah, was there anything in particular that you really wanted to show Apish, or have him experience?
Noah: I wished it was a bit colder, to be honest.
He got it easy, did he?
Apish: I’ll come when it’s cold, don’t worry.
Noah: You’re coming back when it’s cold. In February, when it’s snowing. But seriously, it’s just the landscape and the people; just the experience of living and surfing in Ireland. I just wanted to repay the favour, for what Apish did for us when we were there.
Apish: I stayed on with Noah after the Finisterre team had gone back home. We surfed and swam and cycled around the town. And I had my first ever fishing lesson. He taught me how to fish. I’ve never fished before but now I know. We went off the rocks, but we didn’t catch anything, but it was good to learn and just take the time to sit there. I want to get a rod and keep fishing when I go home. The swell is gone now, we don’t have many waves. I think I’ll just spend more time doing something new with my life. I’m inspired.