Muizenberg seems much like a grubby little kid who has grown into the friendliest surf-dude imaginable. On the southern outskirts of Cape Town, this beachside suburb on False Bay, near St James and Kalk Bay, is one of the top surf spots around. It’s also quirky and eclectic, and certainly doesn’t take itself too seriously, but how can you do so when most people are barefoot?
“Everyone has a surfboard, everyone has a skateboard, and everyone comes to the beach at least once a day to see what’s happening,” says Gary Kleynhans of Gary’s Surf School, quick to add that, “When people are uptight, they need to surf to calm down.”
Like many of the people I meet, Gary grew up here and started his career by teaching his sons surfing in 1989, only to become a doyen of the surf-teaching world. He’s immensely proud that he coached local surfer Michael February, who has gone on to compete in championships across the world, but just as “stoked” that he teaches a group of older women who come for weekly boogie boarding, for the love of it.
Peter Wright has owned The Corner Surf Shop since 1971 and is a legend in ‘The Muize’ for the surfboards he used to make, and for the surfboards he now just sells. He has more than 150 in his collection, the oldest a 1944 board made of canvas and wood. With his wild, white hair blowing in the south-easter, he describes his surfing as, “A little bit above below average.”
A newbie in the surfboard world, Cobus Joubert comes from a winemaking family and travelled the world selling South African wines before starting his Muizie venture of Wawa Wooden Surfboards. “Three kids and living life out of a suitcase didn’t work,” he explains. “I turned my hobby of carpentry and my love for the sea into handmaking custom surfboards out of recycled foam and wood.”
We used to fight over a slipslop
“When I was a kid we used to fight over a slipslop as a hand slide for bodysurfing,” says Cobus, in his quiet, sunlit workshop
in Main Road. He now manufactures beautiful wooden ones. “It’s electric to feel the ripple and chop of the wood and water underneath you. The wood on the board erodes and looks like shark skin,” he says, going on to chat about retro boards, various woods and designs.
What strikes me most in this village is the enthusiasm of everyone for the ocean. The stand-up paddlers, the boogie boarders, the canoeists, the body surfers and the swimmers all tell me how magical it is to be out there. They extol the virtues of various surf breaks, of cold water for the body, of what the ocean does for mental health.
“You look at the world differently when you have the ocean in your life,” says Daniel Botha, who fell in love with surfing three years ago and decided to give back by starting a development programme called Surfpop, to help children from disadvantaged backgrounds.
“I use a powerful formula of surfing, education and nutrition to try and create long-lasting opportunities for these kids,” he says, waving at the happy faces in the surf. “They talk about themselves as surfers, not children from the township, and their growth has been incredible.”
Muizenberg is on the edge of the Cape Flats, an area complicated by poverty, gang warfare and drugs. Thre are many programmes here aimed at trying to take children off the streets and keep them busy in the afternoons after school. What better than surfing? Waves for Change is another development programme that uses the rush of surfing, along with mind-body therapy, to help vulnerable children cope with stress and make positive life choices.
Now in his teens/twenties, Ntanda Nqadala was lucky enough to have been part of a development programme. “When I was seven years old my friends and I decided to walk to the beach. I had never seen the sea or waves before and wondered what these people were doing on boards in the sea,” he tells me, as he shows off his prowess as barista at the coffee shop at African Soul Surfer backpackers.
Last year he won the Western Province Surfing Champs at Long Beach in Kommetjie, this year competed internationally, and now coaches surfing. Look out for this legend’s brave, innovative surfing style on the backline.
“I like to take a couple of development kids as they come out of school into the real world, and help them build confidence and learn some skills,” says Jamie Nye, who started African Soul Surfer and helped Ntanda. He also has a passion for showcasing the beauty of the Cape. “I wanted to be part of the Muizenberg regeneration. This place is iconic, and is so diverse in terms of racial groups and intermingling.”
Whatever the weather in Muizies, the beach is always busy. I walk with the dog walkers who can let their dogs off-leash down towards Sunrise Circle. Trek fishermen are busy pulling in nets glittering with silver fish. A yoga class is being taught on the sand, and the lifesavers are practising rescue. A seal waddles up towards where the river from Zandvlei Nature Reserve spills into the ocean.
As I wander down the walkway past the iconic, brightly coloured bathing boxes, I’m struck by how many local and foreign languages I hear. “This is one of the best places in the world to learn to surf,” Gary tells me. And it’s clear that travellers flock from across the globe for these perfect waves, incredible views and beach that lasts forever.
A small commotion around the Shark Spotters office on the beachfront draws me in. A shark has been seen by the spotters on the mountain. The white flag with a figure of a shark is flying and the sea has been cleared of swimmers and surfers. But instead of fear and horror at a shark sighting, most people seem excited. “It’s a bronze whaler, good to hear the sharks are back,” says a surfer.
“The white sharks have all but disappeared from False Bay and we are worried,” says Sarah Waries from the Shark Spotters office. “No one is sure why. We think they are just afraid of the two orcas that have come into the bay, but we’re doing research to find out what is happening.”
Serving the community
Sarah explains that Shark Spotters is a pioneering project that began after a shark attack on Muizenberg Beach more than
15 years ago. It’s been a major success and now monitors six beaches 365 days a year, with spotters on the mountain from where they can get the best view.
“Our approach is holistic,” says Sarah. “We do research on shark behaviour and social research on people’s perception of sharks and how people behave when a shark is spotted. We also run education programmes in schools.” The staff, all from previously disadvantaged communities, are trained in shark spotting as well as first aid, emergency treatment and even drone flying.
This is a tight-knit community and the small village feel is strong in Muizenberg. “We try to serve the community,” says Sarah, “so we do first aid, we look after lost property, we take in injured birds and distressed baby turtles and pass them on to relevant care organisations, and even act as a tourist info centre.”
Wayne Turner, ex-South African policeman and now a volunteer law-enforcement officer, has lived in Muizenberg for 30 years and is passionate about community and his Active Citizen project. “I believe in building relationships with all the locals,” he says, explaining that he helps with law enforcement regularly alongside the police patrol, and encourages people to get involved.
But there’s more to Muizenberg than brightly coloured huts and the beach, as is revealed on a walk inland along Palmer Road into what is known as Muizenberg Village. I take a stroll past the interesting shops in York Street and am tempted by the smell of freshly baked artisanal bread and good coffee. Then it’s time to look at the old houses, at a shul that used to be the centre of the Muizenberg Jewish holiday community, and The Masque Theatre.
Wherever I turn here, I find traces of history – old cannons, graves, plaques and stately homes. In this beachside suburb, founded back in 1742 when Sergeant Muys ran the tollbooth in the area, many well-known historical figures such as Abe Bailey and Cecil John Rhodes spent holidays here. Apparently even Agatha Christie used to surf here. In fact, there’s so much history, best return for it another time.
Graffiti as education
But I won’t be leaving The Muize before taking a closer look at the exquisite street graffiti. Artist Serge One has lived in Muizenberg for more than ten years and, along with other graffiti artists like DfeatOnce and Care One Love, has taken to beautifying the Muizenberg streets with their art.
“I was always drawn to hip hop and graffiti and would look at the drawings on walls and trains,” says Serge One. “We are modern-day rock artists, and do what the indigenous people used to do on cave walls,” chimes in DfeatOnce.
They work in collaboration with a crew of other graffiti artists that call themselves Handcantrol360. “We are using graffiti
to educate people about our oceans,” says Serge One, as we head off to see the fish graffiti along Killarney Road. Each one represents an indigenous fish and is painted by a different artist.
But you need to look carefully because, as with everything in Muizies, the more you look the more you see.