The champion surfer who couldn’t swim

 

“The ocean is that woman you respect. She’s that lady who can smack you as soon as you think you’re the best.” Kwezi Qika would know. South Africa’s first black longboarding champion, Qika didn’t know how to swim for the first two years of his surfing career.

Growing up, he was drawn to the ocean. But unable to swim and too embarrassed to admit it, he stayed on shore, hanging out at the beach while his friends were in the water. Daring and energetic by nature, his fascination won out over caution. One day Qika joined them in the ocean, relying on his board to keep him afloat. Eventually he started swimming, learning doggy paddle in a pool. With the help of Gary Kleynhans, a former surfing champion and owner of his own surf school, Qika started competing in national tournaments. Success followed. He won the South African Junior Longboard Championship in 2005.

Qika went on to compete in the ISA World Championships in California and in France back to back, climbing to 43rd in the world rankings in 2007 – an extraordinary achievement for a hyperactive kid from Ocean View. Surfing is a release for his energy and enthusiasm, an outlet and escape into nature.