OPINION: Surfers Not Street Children ambassadors visit Croyde

North Devon Gazette

If you visit Down End car park in Croyde during a big swell, you’ll find the Beach Cafe’s outdoor seating area filled with local surfers, photographers and frothers of all ages, watching the waves from above as they slurp down lattes and munch on freshly made bacon baps.Â

It’s a hodgepodge community that gathers together in the often cold, wet outdoors with a shared passion for surfing.Â

One of the most notable of this group is Tom Hewitt MBE. A man who has rubbed shoulders with the likes of Kelly Slater, Prince Harry and Pope Francis, earned sponsorships from global brands like DryRobe and O’Neill, and founded the international charity, Surfers Not Street Children, which has a base in Braunton.Â

“I had been working with street children since the early nineties and moved to Durban because it was where the situation was the worst in the country. We set up this team to look at ways we could best assist the street children,” says Hewitt, who has worked in this field for three decades. “Over the years that morphed into a professional setup with social workers and childcare workers, alongside lifeguards and surf coaches.”

Hewitt is well-known for advocating to end the forced removals of street children in Durban, which took place to clear out the streets ahead of international events. He’s also pioneered a surfing and mentorship program, and worked with the South African Department of Social Development on implementing new policies to protect street children. He’s since been invited to assist other international street children projects and received an MBE in 2011 for his work.Â

Tom had invited two guests to join him at Down End, to surf in cold waters for the first time. Mini Cho and S’Nenhlanhla Makhubu are two of the World Surfing League’s (WSL) Qualifying Series professional surfers and global ambassadors for Hewitt’s charity, Surfers Not Street Children.

Cho is the director of the Mozambique division, known locally as Tofo Surf Club. Whereas Makhubu is the global ambassador for Girls Surf Too, a diversion program for girls to get into surfing, build confidence and navigate adulthood without falling into the many pitfalls that life can bring whilst growing up in the Point area of Durban, South Africa.Â

“The colour of the water is a lot different here,” joked Cho, who is used to surfing turquoise breaks in his hometown of Tofinho in Mozambique. “I thought it would have been more difficult surfing in a neoprene wetsuit, but it’s fine.” The extra layer certainly didn’t affect Cho’s surfing ability, as he had just dominated at Croyde Surf Club’s open competition the day prior.Â

Of course, not every child can become a pro surfer, like Cho and Mukhubu. The beautiful aspect of Hewitt’s charity is that it recognises the value of combining surf coaching with mentorship and psychological care. The professionals working for the charity have built an encouraging environment to bring a sense of hope for the children that they work with.Â

The goal isn’t to train up an army of World Surf League surfers, it’s to empower young people to become independent, self-sufficient individuals who go on to lead fulfilling lives. Something that any parent would wish for their children.Â

The three main programs that the charity runs in Durban are the Surf Club, Surf House and the Independent Living Program.Â

The Surf Club is a drop-in centre with an outreach program that offers surfing, mentorship and life-skills building.Â

The Surf House is a live-in program for homeless children, which helps prepare them for adult life, and helps them find employment opportunities.Â

The Independent Living Program is for graduates of the Surf House, which helps them find independent accommodation and assists them in becoming self-sufficient adults.Â

If you’d like to support Surfers Not Street Children, you can donate to their charity at www.surfnotstreets.org/support