Sink or swim? I chose to surf

 
 
 

Alfonso Peters didn’t think he’d be caught. But there he was in a holding cell in Cape Town Central Police Station. It wasn’t just the car he’d tried to break into that got him there. Years of tragedy and harsh circumstances had led to this. After losing his father at a young age, Peters moved to Mannenberg with his mother, an alcoholic who left him to fend for himself. He started stealing as a way to provide for his siblings. It soon became a way to impress the older kids and escape his broken home. “I had a lot of anger bottled up inside me and that’s how I ended up on the streets,” Peters says. Sitting in his cell, the possibility of a prison sentence and a criminal record loomed ahead. Peters knew that this was it. Rock bottom. “I realised that I needed to make a change,” he says. In that moment, he could either sink or swim. Peters chose to surf.

When Peters was released, a social worker helped him complete his education at the School of Hope in Athlone. During that time, he heard of an outreach programme offering free surfing lessons. Though he imagined himself as more of a soccer player, Peters thought he’d give it a try. It was the beginning of something better. “The ocean became my new home,” he says. Not only did Peters have something to occupy his time, he had people to look up to and goals to work towards. “Surfing saved and changed my life and it gave me everything I have today,” he says.

After a decade in the water, Peters got his lucky break. In 2014 he became the Western Province Longboarding Champion. Two years later, he won the Tiger’s Milk Winter Classic Men’s Longboarding Final. In doing so, he beat renowned world champion – and Peters’ role model – Matthew Moir. “It opened my eyes and made me want to strive for even more,” Peters says. In 2017, he travelled to Papua New Guinea to compete in the Longboard World Championships, and earlier this year, he was selected to represent South Africa at the ISA World Longboard Championships in China. Peters is now an ambassador for Waves for Change, a Laureus Sport for Good project that uses surfing as a form of therapy and social reform. His goal is to offer free lessons to kids and give them the opportunities otherwise denied to them. “Surfing has taken me off the streets. Imagine what it can do for others just like me,” Peters says.