Aleph Surf International is a non-proft organization that provides the joy of surfing and artwork to disadvantaged youth, along with a chance for a better education and occupation. They aspire to transform members into confident community leaders through recreation, mentorship and economic development. Surfing is meant not only to bring joy to the children’s lives, but also to teach them the significance of discipline and control to help them grow as individuals.
Aleph Surf International also values education by offering tutoring sessions after their student’s classes in school. In return, members are encouraged to influence others and become a great role model to the community. In the exclusive interview below, The Surf Channel caught up with Aleph Surf International Founder & Director, Rehgert van Zyl, to learn more about the organization that is changing lives in South Africa, California, and soon in Mexico.
How does surfing support Aleph’s mission?
Rehgert van Zyl: In our world, we come across a wide spectrum of people from different cultural backgrounds. People often have preconceived notions about one another. Surfing is the icebreaker we use to make connections and sustain relationships. Surfing is such a disarming activity when it comes to meeting new people, it levels the playing field and allows people to have fun together in the ocean that belongs to everyone. The ocean is there for everyone to use, but surfing is not always accessible to everyone. Mostly because of various socio-economic reasons. Aleph Surf gives this opportunity to those who don’t have access. We also teach many life lessons through surf analogies we developed over time. When you teach a person to surf his/her first wave, you are forever etched in the memory of that person and what you teach stays with them for a lifetime.
Where is Aleph located?
RVZ: Our main base of operations are in Jeffrey’s Bay, South Africa. We also spend parts of the year in California. Our next goal is to have a fully functional base in Mexico within the next year.
What are Aleph’s goals for 2015?
RVZ: Continuing with the foundation laid in Jbay since 2010. We have local leaders running the surf sessions and being a voice of positive social change in their local communities. These local leaders all came from previous years’ groups that went through Aleph. A few more goals: 1. The launch of our Aleph Mexico base in Ensenada 2. Presentation of our new 100% made in Jbay, South Africa apparel line using local fabrics and tailors (we are so excited about the Aleph Surf Brand). 3. Educating others on good practices on surf development and sustainability, not dependency. Aleph aims to set the standard when it comes to surf development.
How is Aleph accomplishing that?
RVZ: Our program in Jbay runs every afternoon on weekdays. Kids have to attend school during the day and we assist them with tutoring in the afternoons. We also teach various life skills that help build character and community. From there, the kids can grab boards and surf with our local surf coaches. Kids who have been through our program need to give back by teaching younger kids and being role models to them. We also create jobs by producing products here in Jbay at our small workspace. We have hired previously unemployed adults from the local community and gave them an outlet from which to learn more skills and in turn, earn an income with. We sell these products as a way to earn a more steady income for Aleph Surf International operations. These products share our message and story with people.
Why should all surfers be involved with Aleph?
RVZ: When you get involved with Aleph Surf you get informed and gain different perspectives. It helps to keep you in a place of gratitude. Grateful for the things we have and how easy we often have it. Surfing is something that should be shared or at least good chunks of it. Whether its knowledge, resources or a simple word of encouragement. Seeing kids from tough backgrounds experience the joy of surfing in its purest form helps to remove a lot of the hype and noise we see in the surfing world nowadays. I think it’s also good for surfers to look critically at themselves when they travel and surf within third world countries. Surfers can often act in ways that offend locals/native people living in these places. Always remember that we should contribute and not negatively impact the environment and people living in these places. Surfers need to set a responsible example. A good verse from a wise book says: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’. Take that with you wherever you may go.
How can surfers get involved with Aleph?
RVZ: Three easy ways: 1. Follow our social media outlets Facebook: Aleph Surf International Instagram: @alephsurf 2. Find out more about us, send us questions and sign up for our newsletter on our website Alephsurf.org 3. Buy products from our online store and support our events we will be doing later this year in California.
What makes Aleph unique to other non-profits?
RVZ: We don’t believe in aid but rather development. There is a fine line between these two. Aid is given to people in poor conditions or challenging life situations. They are often the victims of circumstances or surroundings. If you keep giving people only aid, they will always stay in a victim mindset and grow up to have a poverty mentality. What I mean by this is that they start believing that they are destined to be poor and are only good for handouts because they are poor and in need. They see people (with good intentions) coming in to drop things off with them only because they are poor. It is easy to give a disadvantaged kid a surfboard, get the pic and walk away. The real challenge lies in teaching those kids not only to be successful in riding that board, but to also be successful in all other areas of real life. We want our kids to be responsible for their own future. What we don’t want is for them to always be dependent on Aleph for everything they need. Think of our methodology as high impact with low damage. We don’t want to be the surf nonprofit that always gives out cool stuff for free to kids or people in need only because people are poor. We are the guys who help teach them how to take care of that board, how to fix those dings and how to start saving for their next board. We don’t give handouts – we create opportunities for them to earn something and be proud of it. When people earns something it carries value and this gives them worth. They realize I do have things to offer and I can achieve goals. Aleph helps to give these opportunities. Aleph is an enabler. Cool stuff does not solve problems, mentoring does.
Which communities have been impacted the most?
RVZ: Outside of the community of Jeffrey’s Bay where kids have received years of mentorship, scholarships and opportunities to grow as leaders – Aleph Surf has also inspired, trained and help setup other surf development projects and organizations in Huntington Beach, Cape Town, West Coast South Africa and even some skate related non-profits.
Do you have any special stories/moments that stand out to you most?
RVZ: Probably Apiwe from 2011. He has a condition of Hemiplegia (a form of Cerebral Palsy). He came every week with the group of boys to our Aleph sessions. He knew he had this disability but still wanted to partake and try out surfing. I saw this kid and his dedication to stand up on a wave and it inspired me. Week after week we spoke words of encouragement, prayed and strategized different techniques for him to get to his feet. And week after week he ate it hard! But after many sessions on a warm Tuesday afternoon – Apiwe finally got up to his feet and stood only for a few seconds, but he rode that foamie. I can’t explain the feeling of accomplishment he experienced when he did this. Absolute joy. For many people out there, activities like surfing seems like a worthless and wasteful use of time and resources – but they fail to notice that it is only a means to an end for us. Our prize is bringing a sense of worth and value to another human being’s life. Surfing is only the vehicle we chose to accomplish this. Never underestimate small beginnings.