Paige Alms and Friends Spend Six Weeks in South Africa
SANUK: Why would you leave tropical summer in Maui for frigid South Africa during their winter?
PAIGE: Leaving summer for winter, definitely a tough one. Our summertime is usually flat, while the southern hemisphere has a lot of swell. But the grand purpose was to have an epic, fun-filled adventure with two of my best buddies, hopefully score some big waves, perfect barrels and righthand pointbreaks, and experience true South Africa! I’d been there twice before, and it’s somewhere I absolutely loved and wanted to go back to. Bianca [Valenti] and I had been talking about doing a trip there and decided that this summer was the time!
How did you go about planning a six-week sojourn to the opposite side of the planet?
When you are traveling halfway around the world, and it takes two days to get there, literally as far as you can go from Maui, you have to stay for at least a month. It’s too far to go and not spend some time there. We started talking about it last winter, when Bianca and Tammy [Lee Smith] were both at my house. But we really started “planning” it probably two or three months before going. Tammy is from Ballito, South Africa, so she did most of the planning. And she was the best tour guide ever and showed us an awesome time!
What’re two of the funniest stories from your trip?
Haha. There were so many! The baboon was pretty hilarious—hairy little dude stole our food and scared the crap out of us. Then a bunch of funny moments where Bianca literally made me cry laughing by singing and dancing in bed or doing wild warmups before we surfed. And Tammy’s laugh is pretty much one of the funniest things you’ve ever heard—she made me laugh every day.
Looking back, which three things should you have brought with you?
A 6’6”, more layer long-sleeves and Sean (my fiancé). I came pretty prepared, somehow.
If you could trade places with any animal there, what would it be and why?
A dolphin, for sure! My spirit animal is a dolphin-eagle. We saw plenty of dolphins having way too much fun in the surf.
What exactly is a “dolphin-eagle?”
Ok seriously, what could be better? Dolphins get to catch waves all day long, are one of the smartest animals in the animal kingdom and are the only mammal to have sex for pleasure. And who doesn’t want to fly? Eagles are one of the strongest birds of prey and get to soar and glide above. A combo of both, best spirt animal ever?!
Jeffrey’s Bay is definitely one Happy Place on just about every surfer’s bucket list. Was it everything you imagined?
It’s definitely pretty dreamy, but the crowd sucks. It’s so perfect, so easy of a wave to ride, that the lineup gets filled up with surfers of every skill level. Then, combine that with hungry locals who take everything that comes to them, and it can be a bit hard to get your wave count up. The speed you get on a J-Bay wave is pretty amazing, but I still love big, blue barrels at Honolua a lot more.
What are the two biggest things you learned in South Africa?
A month is too long to be away in cold water, and that my friends are awesome. The second thing I knew already, but it was a great reminder.
Who are the raddest people you met there?
Neil Webster. He’s an all-out super rad human, and gave us some of the best tour-guiding and advice ever. The Bakers—Twiggy, Kate and Billie—well, we knew them already, but getting to spend time at their home was pretty rad. And the whole Waves for Change crew.
Tell us about Waves for Change. What’s the story behind the local groms gathered in wetsuits?
Spending the day with Waves for Change in Muizenberg, Cape Town, was one of the highlights of my trip. Bianca, Tammy and I were invited by the Rebel Sessions crew to join in the program. Frank Solomon has done a lot of work with this organization, and we were super stoked to meet up with him and connect. This non-profit is simply amazing. It uses surfing as a form of therapy to engage the youth, provide social support and help change lives, one wave at a time. Waves for Change gets kids into a safe, family-style environment in groups, where they learn trust, boundaries, sharing, etc. They learn that people are there for them and really care about them. The program takes kids into the water and engages them in a fun, social, ocean activity that we all love!
What is day-to-day life like for kids in the Waves for Change program?
All of their lives are different, but all of the kids we met live in the township nearby. A lot of them live without electricity or running water, and they all have seen or experienced some sort of violence—some on a daily basis. In order to be a part of Waves for Change, the kids are required to attend school, which for some is a safe haven, too. I was told some of the kids go to school specifically to be in the program. They get to attend Waves for Change once a week and look forward to the next one, every time.
What are the social pitfalls the program helps these kids avoid?
It helps teach kids there is a different path besides violence and crime. Most kids who grow up in unstable environments suffer from emotional stress and develop long term, high-risk behavior. This program teaches them to have self-confidence, courage, a sense of belonging, and trust. I saw, firsthand, how the kids all really trust in their coaches, and you can see the impact of having positive role models really makes the kids feel good. They know people are there who care about them and want to see them excel and succeed in everything they do. It really is a form of therapy, just in a completely different setting than just sitting and talking to someone.
Which part of the Waves for Change experience made you smile the widest?
Watching the stoke of the kids riding waves all the way to the sand and jumping off, cheering! The pure joy of how happy a wave or just being in the water can make you feel. I smiled all day watching them. It really is amazing to see the impact that ocean therapy provides and the smiles surfing puts on these children’s faces. It was an honor to spend time with the coaches, give them some pointers and advice on how to help in their coaching, but also see how they are with the kids in the program and each other. You can see how much this program means to these kids, how much stoke it brings them—to be out of their normal environment and in the ocean. It was a great reminder for me how important the water is for myself, my heart, my family and friends, and to never take it for granted. Can’t wait to go back and spend some time with these kids again!
What two things surprised you most during your month in South Africa?
The divide from the poor to wealthy is very, very apparent. You may as well draw a line in the sand; it really was sad to see. Super fancy houses right next to a township with thousands of people living with basically nothing. That made my eyes open every time we went anywhere. The segregation is still there; it really made my heart sad.
Second, with all of the amazing, huge, lush land in SA, most people still shop at supermarkets similar to Walmart or Safeway. There were hardly any local food stores. Anytime we had the chance to shop at a local grocery store, we did. One of my favorites was just on the outskirts of Kommetjie, the cutest little fruit/veggie market with fresh bread, eggs and cheese delivered daily. We definitely bought a lot of fresh bread and avocados. We ate avo toast almost every day of the trip.
What was one of your favorite moments of the trip?
The whole trip was great. Lots of laughs and I learned a lot. A highlight, though, was bungee jumping. That was on my list of things to do there. It was one of the scariest things I’d ever done and one of the most amazing feelings ever. I’d definitely recommend it!
Favorite unexpected moment?
Penguins! That wasn’t planned and was so cool to see. And scoring a few barrels. You always hope for them but can’t expect it, so they’re always an added bonus.
Born in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, Paige Alms’ family relocated to Maui when she was nine years old. At just 15, Paige paddled into her first big-wave session and was instantly hooked. Today, now 29, Paige is one of world’s best big-wave surfers and a rad role model for young women. She’s self-taught and self-motivated. When there’s waves at home—be it 4-feet or 40-feet—Paige lives to spend as much time in the water as possible. When the island goes flat (and it always does), Paige is no stranger to chasing swell around the globe. When she isn’t surfing, traveling or training hard at her local gym, you can find her gettin’ artsy, nurturing her green thumb, or even playing ping-pong at her home in Haiku. A multiple-time XXL Big Wave Award Winner, Paige continues to push herself to ride the biggest waves possible alongside her peers, and hopes by doing so she can inspire other people to push their limits and live their dreams.
For more grin-spiration, follow @paigealms on Instagram.