In the latest episode of the Inspired Surfers Podcast, Jim is in conversation with Tom Hewitt MBE, founder and CEO of Surfers Not Street Children – a charity that uses surfing, mentorship and care to intervene in the lives of children living on the street in South Africa and Mozambique.
After first encountering street children on an anti-apartheid fact-finding visit with his father, Tom settled permanently in South Africa at the age of 19 and set about working with local organisations to improve the lives of the kids sleeping rough around his neighbourhood.
It wasn’t until many years later that he was inspired to combine his lifelong passion for surfing with the programme and establish a new structure that offered mentorship, intervention and distraction through the act of riding waves.
In this conversation, Tom recounts the charity’s origin story and the significant moments in his own life that led to its inception and development. He dives deep into the logistics of operating in a fast-changing South Africa in the early days and the importance of embracing anarchy as well as the myriad ways SNSC has since established itself, from forging relationships with local gang members to applying global media pressure to the South African government via a well-timed newspaper editorial.
He also discusses the unexpected challenges – like the backlash faced by local white Durban surfers when young black kids from the programme took their place in the lineup – and the humbling rewards – like when a group of kids in his care stepped in to face down a man threatening him with a machete.
When the conversation took place, SNSC’s Mozambique director and top-level surfer Mini Cho happened to be over on a trip and was able to join Jim for a quick chat about his experiences of surfing in the UK so far. The brief encounter was both a heartening and fitting way to round out an incredibly inspiring conversation, with Mini’s words making tangible the thousands of individual lives who’ve been transformed by the charity over its 30-year history.
Listen here or wherever you get your podcast:
Click here to donate to Surfers Not Street Children and follow them on Instagram.
- Reconnecting with the UK after living all his life in South Africa
- Heading to with his South Africa on an anti-apartheid trip aged 18.
- Encountering street children for the first time in Mozambique
- Started asking around in South Africa- but they were consumed with the change from apartheid
- Navigating an anarchic and fast-changing South Africa to establish the charity’s first iteration- The Durban Street Team in the ‘90s.
- The encounter that inspired Tom to add surfing to the programme.
- How the success of the programme began to change the racial demographics of surfing in Durban and the community’s response to it.
- Why surfing works so well as a means to provide mentorship and care.
- The risks and rewards of street outreach; negotiating with local gang members and the scariest incident of Tom’s career.
- Looking after your own mental health against a backdrop of constant loss.
- “Life becomes cheap” when the kids are forced to internalise the idea they’re second class citizens.
- How Tom and his colleague fought against government ‘street cleanups’ – where children would be rounded up and subjected to violence.
- Heading up to Thurso with two of SNSC’s team members.
- A conversation with Mozambique programme director Mini Cho.