Waves For Change: Community Outreach Through Surfing

Waves for Change South Africa
Waves for Change Project
Cape Town, South Africa

Volunteering in Cape Town with Waves for Change was a highlight of my trip to South Africa. They use surfing to provide health and education support for township kids.

Life in South African townships can be rough. Many communities are plagued with high crime, drug use, and murder rates. Kids drop out of school to join gangs at a young age. Finding a successful way to reach these kids is difficult. That’s where surfing comes in.

Waves For Change turns unused township beaches into a kind of free surf camp, giving high-risk kids a chance to challenge themselves by learning a new sport that happens to be very addicting.

This means they come back for more on a regular basis, allowing local community members to give them additional social, health, and educational support. It works incredibly well.

If you want to go surfing, you have to do your homework first!

Surfer Girl South Africa
Khanyi Shows the Boys How it’s Done
Volunteer Cape Town
Volunteering in Cape Town

Volunteering In Cape Town

Spending an afternoon surfing with kids from Khayelitsha Township was super fun. They have their very own surf break called Monwabisi. We arrived and pulled on our wetsuits in front of 50 excited kids asking non-stop questions while trying to rub (or slap) my shaved head.

Walking down to the beach, I started surfing with some of the older kids first. Their surfboards are donated from all over, but many are in pretty bad condition. Some were completely broken. Yet somehow the kids managed to ride them anyway!

One aspect that struck me was how sharing they all were with the waves. Sure you might be riding a wave with 10 kids at the same time, but no one complained. The rest of us could learn something from them…

It was organized chaos, but everyone was having a blast.

Surfing Cape Town
Teaching Abenathi the Basics
Waves for Change Charity
Surfing Gives You an Appetite

Teaching Kids To Surf

Next I paddled over to the shallows to help the younger ones stand up on a board and ride smaller waves. They were all anxious to try, but not enough surfboards to go around.

The program currently works with 270 different kids, and over 400 total since it began in 2011.

Yet those waiting their turn were helping me by pointing out good waves, strapping the surf leash on others, or cheering for whoever was up. Surfing is building friendships in a community where kids are often recruited young to fight each other in criminal gangs.

Everyone benefits when these future leaders are given the opportunity to improve their lives and those around them.

Waves for Change Charity
Lunchtime at Waves For Change
Waves for Change Charity
Future Kelly Slater?

The Power Of Surfing

Waves For Change provides more than just a positive recreational atmosphere. Kids show up every day because they’re addicted to surfing, however they also participate in leadership training, HIV awareness, homework tutoring, or life-skills programs before they can use surfing equipment provided by the organization.

Everyone is served a healthy lunch once they return from the water, and for some it’s the only food they’ll eat that day.

Many of the 13 local surf coaches are former township gang members or drug abusers themselves who have been rehabilitated with help from surfing. They mentor the younger ones and can relate to their problems.

Local coaches are in the best position to motivate & inspire these kids to lead positive lifestyles that will give them better chances to succeed in future endeavors. ★

Travel Planning Resources For Cape Town
Location: Cape Town, South Africa [Map]

Project: Waves For Change (Facebook & Instagram)

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Waves For Change: Community Outreach Through Surfing! More at ExpertVagabond.com
Waves For Change: Community Outreach Through Surfing! More at ExpertVagabond.com


I hope you enjoyed my story about community outreach through surfing in Cape Town! Hopefully you found it useful. Here are a few more wanderlust-inducing articles that I recommend you read next:

Do you have any favorite charity projects?


Hi, I’m Matthew Karsten — I’ve been traveling around the world for the last 10 years as a blogger, photographer, and digital nomad. Adventure travel & photography are my passions. Let me inspire you to travel with crazy stories, beautiful photos, and money-saving travel tips.
Matthew Karsten
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Comments (14)

  1. This is amazing. Something like this in Lagos Nigeria would be great. Lots of beaches, but little or no surfing. What do we do to get guys like you here?

  2. We found Cape Town, and indeed South Africa, full of wonderful social initiatives to help the disadvantaged. Waves for Change is one we weren’t aware of and one which we’re suitably impressed by.

    South Africa remains one of our favourite countries and this solidifies why!

    Great post!

  3. I actually plan on leaving in a year or so to travel the world as well and have been thinking about taking a board with me, I’m curious have you seen any others travelers doing this? Anyway awesome work, love your blog.

    • Sure! But only for surf-specific trips. Not sure I’d lug a surfboard absolutely everywhere. But you can do what I’ve done this past month and buy a new/used board, then sell it before you travel to places without waves for a while.

    • Hey Trim –
      I’ve been on the road for 4 months now, surfing every chance I get. I highly suggest NOT bringing a board with you unless you’ve done an extensive amount of research into where you are going, when you’ll be there, and what airline you can fly a board with (at a reasonable baggage rate). Most airlines damage boards more often than not. I just surfed the coasts of Spain and Portugal by buying a board in Hossegor, France and selling it in Sagres, Portugal (for only 80 euro less than what I paid for it, and it was brand new!). I’m currently in Taghazout, Morocco and am staying a surf camp that has an OK selection of boards to rent. Point is, if you are flexible with your board selection, you will survive.
      Weigh your options, but I think a board is going to be a huge hassle for you, and this is coming from a traveler that surfs every chance he gets! Good luck!

  4. Hi Matt,

    Absolutely smashing job. I love what you’re up to on this blog, and heck what a great cause, helping out these kids.

    South Africa looks awesome; water perfect for surfing.

    Giving and cutting the strings is fun. Kelli – my fiancee – and I seek out street dogs and cats wherever we go during our world travels and help them out with food, and sometimes, shelter. 3 soi dogs and 2 soi cats down, in Thailand, and we’re helping out 3 street cats here in Fiji.

    Whether you’re helping 2 or 4 legged peoples/furry friends, it’s so much fun to give for the joy of giving. Well done!

    Thanks so much for sharing Matt.

  5. These kids will always be thankful of this opportunity from the Waves for Change. It’s amazing to see that these kids are having fun while also gearing towards a responsible future.