• FROM SAFARI TO SEA

As surfers, the ocean is such a huge part of our lives. But some have never seen the waves rolling into the shore, felt sand between their toes or experienced the weightlessness of floating on the surface. We were able to introduce Legeso and Kagiso of the Ndebele Village to the ocean for the very first time. It was such a special trip for all involved and one we will never forget.

Team rider Gina Smith shares the story...

It took longer to leave Lanseria airport than it did to fly there from Durban. We finally made our way inland for roughly an hour and 40 minutes through desolate, wide open spaces, masses of tangled trees, informal settlements and dirty little towns that reeked of disappointment. We came to wall like structure that announced our arrival at the 'Mapoch Village'. We followed the dusty road into the village itself. Stepping out of the car I found myself surrounded by many perplexed goats and little rondavels with their trademark walls painted with shapes and patterns in red, blue, yellow and green. While the people living there seemed to do their best at keeping the little village well-kept, it had a tired look about it. A wall crumbled here and there and a fine layer of dust seemed to cling to everything, even the air itself. Yet there was an undeniable beauty in it all, the wild simplicity and uncultivated lands as far as the eye can see.

The sun beat down upon us as the people quickly tumbled out of their homes. The village was uncrowded as men were at work and the children at school, so it was mainly woman who greeted us, some with impossibly cute babies bouncing on their hips. Everybody was exceptionally friendly and welcoming; I was surprised to find that the majority could speak English. We were introduced to the two girls who would be joining us on the trip, Kagiso, 15, and Legeso, 16. They were both dressed up for us in their celebratory wear and were very excited to meet us. But it was a quick introduction before we were swept away into a simple little home where a few woman efficiently stripped us of our clothes and dressed us up by wrapping a patterned blanket around our waists like a skirt and adorning us in their beadwork; necklaces, bangles, a headband and a waistband. They then declared us ready to learn some of their songs and dances. We moved outside and I felt my true African roots rise to the surface as I joined in on the dances and songs they taught us in the incredible rhythm that every black African seems to possess. We tried our best to overcome fits of laughter and unyielding limbs to copy the routine.

Next, they took us to do some painting on a house. Although enjoyable, the painting was short lived in the scorching heat and we soon retired beneath the shade of the trees with Kagiso, Legeso and some old women who had been making beadwork their whole lives. They helped us do some very simple beadwork as women of various shapes and sizes - but all of good nature - sat around us, chattering and chuckling in Ndebele, undoubtedly about us strange white girls. They were all so warm and encouraging that it was hard to be offended by their harmless jest. It was really heart warming to hear how the support from Billabong has truly changed the community’s lives and standard of living.

My highlight was when a collection of young, precious souls returned from school. Never in my life have I seen such beautiful children all in one place. They couldn't speak any English, but I had the best time communicating with them with their bright, expressive eyes, simple playing and laughter as they fought for my attention. So it was with a heavy heart that we left the Ndebele village, but at the same time I was excited for the adventure that lay ahead with Kagiso and Legeso.

The airport alone held a cacophony of new sights and sounds for the girls; beeps and buttons, escalators and scanners. The girls had never set foot in an airport before and were about to embark on their first flight in the midst of a thunderstorm. The stormy skies swirled around us as I watched the girls grip each other during take off and landing. They had overcome their first fear and were exhilarated as we went for a late dinner.

The next few days held an overwhelming series of events. On day one we headed to gateway to get the girls kitted out in Billabong gear. It was rather emotional for me to see Lesego walk into the store, consciously covering a little hole in her shirt, and then walk out confidently with a brand new Billabong outfit. Go kart racing, bumper cars, pizza and a ride in a 3D simulator followed the shopping spree. We retired that evening by swimming and brazing beneath the stars. I sat alone with Kagiso and Legeso for a while and had the privilege of getting to know them a little.

The girls are fantastic each in their own way. Legeso is the epitome of African elegance. Beautiful and poised, it was always such a treat to see her break out into a huge smile and fits of fascinated laughter. Kagiso is much more spunky and carefree, too concerned with being young and free to worry about self image. The ideas and statements that she came up with never failed to amuse. Her background has also taught her to be attentive and independent. And so we spoke about passions and dreams. Legeso wants to become a doctor or a singer. She shared with me her desire to help people and treated me to a few songs. Her heart is golden and her voice melodious. Kagiso shared with me her dreams about becoming a journalist. Being passionate about writing myself, I was able to coax more out of Kagiso seeing as my singing abilities didn't quite render Legeso into a verbal frenzy. Kagiso told me that she loves to write about things that people can learn from, about love and kindness and respect. Being so young and not having life handed to her on a silver platter, to hear her speak wisely was really profound. We sat happily wrapped up in a blanket of stars, sharing about our lives with the ocean whispering in the background, coaxing secrets out of the deepest parts of our minds.

The Billabong girls snuck in a few surfs and early morning shoots between the daily activities. On day two, after the latter, we loaded the car with bikinis and girls and made our merry way to uShaka marine world for what would undoubtedly be a day of fun. I did, however, have concerns for Kagiso and Legeso who were only vaguely familiar with the water. But my fears were very quickly replaced with admiration as the girls overcame any fears or inabilities and we took the park by storm. We slipped and slid down rides, gallivanted through the aquarium, fed manta rays, piled on top of tubes and squealed louder than necessary. An early dinner was well received that evening at Moyo, an African style restaurant on the beach, as we reflected on the days events.

We were all having the time of our lives but were utterly exhausted by the last day so it was agreed upon that we would spend the day focussing on swimming, quality time, surfing and relaxing. The girls were nervous and the conditions to unsuitable to actually take them surfing in the ocean, so after showing them the steps on the beach we headed to the tidal pool. Kagiso and Legeso clambered and paddled on boards while we helped them keep balance and made a lot of noise. It was wonderful to see the girls have so much fun and to feel laughter and trust bring us together. The girls wanted to spend the rest of their last day swimming in the pool and we became prunes by spending hours in the water.

Legeso and Kagiso came alive in the water. I would never have thought that the rippling waters of the unknown is where they would ultimately find their place of solace. The girls faces were constantly lit up in a bright smile when they were in the water - be it a swimming pool, the ocean or a tidal pool. This trip was so special.

To get to know such wonderful girls and introduce them to so many things was an experience that I truly thank Billabong for. The girls taught me many things too, they refreshed my mindset with their fierceness and determination. They overcame more fears in one trip than many people would in a whole lifetime! It was incredible to see the girls grip on to every experience that was made available to them.

This trip has made me grateful, it has opened my eyes to the hearts of those around us and just how beautiful a dream is, no matter how big or small.

Visit Tanika Hoffman's blog for more.