From street children to champion surfers

Posted - News Posted for South Africa News, World Surfing News.


With a programme of sport and coaching, the Umthombo programme in KZN helps turn kids with no future into winners Growing up in Amaoti outside Durban, Sihle Mbutho used to travel on foot to Phoenix where there was a public swimming pool. This is where he taught himself to swim.

Little did he know that one day – at the age of 20 – he would become a champion surfer, thanks to Umthombo Street Children, a South African non-governmental organisation that empowers street children with alternatives to street life.

Mbutho, who once regarded surfing as a “white sport”, won the second Umthombo Surf Contest held at Durban’s Dairy Beach recently. Ntando Msibi came second and Sifiso Mhlongo third. Umthombo made headlines in 2010 by spearheading a campaign to end the rounding up of street children during the Fifa World Cup.

They also hosted the first Street Child World Cup in 2010 and will be sending a team to the next event in Brazil. There are currently about 200 children under the age of 18 living on Durban’s streets. Mbutho, Msibi and Mhlongo are three of the shining products of the Umthombo project.

Mbutho spent six years at Umthombo and started surfing within his first two months of being there, after “realising that the sea treats everyone equally”. He has progressed from just being able to swim to winning surfing competitions and attracting media attention both locally and abroad.

He has also completed an International Surfing Association level 1 coaching course and can often be found in the surf helping youngsters with their technique.

He is now sponsored by Durban surf company, Peg, and has featured in Zigzag and theBOMBsurf magazines, among others. He has also set up his own surf school with the help of Umthombo.

“When I’m not surfing, I enjoy soccer and skateboarding but falling off a surfboard hurts less than falling from a skateboard,” he said.

Umthombo has been making waves in Durban with their surfing initiative, which aims to give street children an alternative to the many vices to which they can easily fall prey.

The programme provides surfing equipment and instruction to the kids and the sport is an integral part of the psycho-social counselling provided by Umthombo which prepares them for re-integration into society.

A total of 22 black surfers put on a world-class show at the Umthombo surf contest, the first to be conducted entirely in IsiZulu by judges, tabulators, commentators and other officials.

The contest was the result of a Surfing South Africa and KZN Central Surfriders Association transformation and development programme.

Other partners were Mark Snowball, theBOMBsurf magazine, O’Neill wetsuits, Surfing South Africa and KZN Central Surfriders Association.

The 15-year-old Msibi, who came second, has already represented KZN at the SA Junior Championships and will be competing in the national junior selection trials this month.

Third-placed Mhlongo has also represented KZN and the SA development team on a number of occasions.

The winner and runners-up won medals as well as cash prizes, part of which is kept in a trust for them by Umthombo.

– Matthew Middleton