First, we swim, then we surf 

Swimming is the newest program that Coach Thomas Youth Development runs. We began teaching out of a need that is uniquely South African. Indeed, many South African adults never learned to swim, and so neither do their children. This often causes people to be very fearful of water, especially the ocean. 

Mthandazo Ndabeni – Coach Thomas – met the first group of boys that wanted to learn surfing whilst he was working for Gap Year South Africa. Jessica Gould, his employer, ran the Ubuntu Surfing Program, but she ultimately had to discontinue teaching.

As a result, we formed our own surfing program so the boys could continue learning. Due to their experience from Ubuntu, these boys already knew how to swim. But as these boys grew older and moved away from our surf program, new children came and stepped into the footprints they had left behind. Most of these new members were very afraid of the ocean waves, and this fear was going to prevent them from becoming real surfers. Out of need, even though we were not qualified swim coaches at the time, we taught these kids how to swim and be safe in the water. 

Every Wednesday from Spring to Autumn we swim in the tidal pool of Glencairn in Cape Town.

One day, whilst our swim coaches Mthandazo and Justin were teaching kids how to swim, a woman named Tanya Baird Steward came up to us to see what we were doing. She saw first-hand that we were immensely passionate and dedicated to our coaching roles, despite us having no formal swim coach qualifications. To change that, she arranged and paid for us to do a coaching course. After a few months, Justin and Mthandazo became qualified international STA swim teaching coaches.

What makes the swimming program different?

Our addition of swimming and hiking programs to CTYD increases the accessibility of our organisation to girls. Traditionally, South African girls are expected to stay at home rather than participate in sports, and this has led to unequal gender participation in our programs. we are aware of this inequality, and we want to do our best to convince parents to allow their daughters to join our programs along with their brothers and friends. Nowadays, parents are becoming more and more aware of the importance of free-time activities, and so things are starting to change. Swimming is the program that has highest participation among girls, since it is seen as a necessary survival skill rather than a sport. Being part of this swim program then eases participation into the other programs, but there is still a long road to go to achieve gender-equal participation.