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Catching EL's pioneer wave riders

Date Released: Wed, 5 December 2012 11:01 +0200

SOCIAL activist and surfer Glenn Hollands, 53, is due to release his selfpublished book on East London's original wave riders this weekend.

The 245-page The Reef: A legacy of surfing in East London took the Mbumba Development Services researcher six years to write.

Hollands interviewed dozens of "ballie" surfers, scoured archives at the Daily Dispatch, the East London Museum, and even had a removals company unload large shipping containers to find notes, clippings, photographs and film from the "old days".

Hollands grew up surfing the axe-like refraction wave at Llandudno Beach in Cape Town, and became involved in the United Democratic Front. His political science master's degree at Rhodes was supervised by Professor Peter Vale, and he worked for the Black Sash in Grahamstown before joining Afesis-corplan in East London 16 years ago.

In recent years, he has done research and training for the government and communities - all of this as far from surfing as could be. However, in an interview, he spoke of an enduring love of the ocean, spurring his curiosity to find out how East Londoners first came to ride the waves.

Purist stand-up surfers will be surprised to know that bodyboarders, previously scorned as "speed bumps", actually gave wave-riding it's original impetus in the 1920s and '30s when "surf swimming" set the trend for healthy living.

"Taking shoots" on a then Eft (1.82m) plywood board, with its turned up nose, on a wave breaking off East London's Orient Beach was good for "keeping the bowstring tight", they said.

But it was stand-up surfing which brought innovation and craziness.

"Early pioneers of longboard surfing are a dying breed," said Hollands, who hurried to get their interviews. Two died while he was busy writing the book.

The first stand-up boards were 20ftlong (6.1m-long) - they easily caught waves, but were impossible to turn.

Historically, the original lifeguards and surfers were the same individuals, who body-surfed, swam in the open ocean, paddled from Nahoon Beach to the harbour and back, and even started trying to ride the heavy Nahoon Reef.

Legendary East London lifeguard and surfskier Johnny Woods was also a stand-up longboarder, said Hollands.

But the mantle of innovation belonged to early hardcore surfers like the Joubert brothers, Ralph Prince, Stan Day and Bunny Barnes.

When the first Hawaiian boards appeared in East London in the 1950s, Barnes was quick to "knock them off".

The Joubert brothers and Day started shaping boards from unyielding, bubbly styrofoam, and glassing them using chopped-strand fibre glass and resins with catalysts of varying temperament.

One colourful anecdote tells of Bobby Joubert and Prince working faster and faster to squeegee fast-setting resin onto the blank (foam shape) until Joubert finally rushed out of the Nahoon lifesavers' clubhouse screaming, and hurled the can of resin into the air where it exploded into flames.

There are stories of surf trips to farms at Jeffreys Bay and St Francis where bowel-relaxing Epsom salts crept into the salt cellar, and insane solo swims for fun across the bay to bodysurf the Reef and then swimming back.

Hollands says the emphasis on beach development in the 1950s was central to the strategy of city governors to market East London as a manufacturing, tourism and lifestyle haven.

LONG RIDE: Researcher Glenn Hollands, 53, relaxes on the Rob Stone memorial bench at Nahoon Reef with his new book, 'The Reef'

Picture: Mark Andrews

By Mike Loewe Chief Reporter

Source: Daily Dispatch