Blind surfer takes on pros … and wins!

Adaptive surfing champ, Danito Mondlane with his coach, Julia van Zyl.

MEET Danito Mondlane, a thirteen year old surfer who likes nothing better than hitting the waves on Durban’s golden beaches. What sets Danito apart of hundreds of other young surfers is the fact that he is blind.

The Grade 8 learner at Durban’s Open Air School has not only mastered the art of adaptive surfing, but was recently crowned South African champ at the SA Adaptive Surfing Champs in Muizenberg where he pitted his skills against a group of pro surfers who agreed to be blindfolded as he was the only competitor in the visually impaired category, and won the heat.

Danito has been surfing with surfers and KZN adaptive surfing coaches, Wez Smith, Julia and Leon van Zyl and Stuart Grant since 2014. His coaches from Adaptive Surfing KZN drew their inspiration from Cape Town NPO Extreme Abilities’, Dries Millard who established the adaptive surfing process in South Africa. They believe all surfers, despite disabilities, should be allowed the freedom of being in the water.

Julia van Zyl said Danito started out on a bodyboard where he worked on his confidence.

“We practice every Sunday morning for two hours. Danito progressed from the body board and after six months we started teaching him the techniques of surfing and practiced standing up on land before going into the water. He has been on a surfboard since then,” she said.

“It’s very exciting being in the water. It was a bit cold at first and a bit difficult but it kept getting easier. Now I have no idea what to do with a body board! Julia and the other coaches used to count down when the waves were coming, but I have learnt to manage alone. You do get some ninja waves though, which are silent and creep up!” said Danito.

Julia said the surfers have a pusher and a catcher as well as volunteers to help if the surfer falls off the board, but they discovered last year that new International Surfing Association (ISA) rules state the surfers have to be unassisted in competitions.

“Since last year we have been getting him to paddle alone and now he can paddle into his own waves. We are able to speak to him and advise him if he needs to move in any certain direction. We are so proud of Danito and there is never a dull moment with him. He is special and is always willing to take on a challenge whether it is in surfing, soccer or PE. He is always so humble in his victories,” she said.

The SA Adaptive Surfing Champs in Muizenberg was only the second ever event of its type held as adaptive surfing is still a relatively new sport.

“The water was very cold and I could feel my feet burning, but it was a fun experience surfing against the pros,” said Danito.

Julia said the next step would be for Danito to go to the Worlds in San Diego, US, in November, however as he is Mozambiquan, he wouldn’t be able to compete as a Team SA member.

“Mozambique is not registered with the ISA so we are trying to work on building a refugee team, as he can’t miss out. We are doing everything we can to get him there,” she said.

  AUTHOR
Lauren Walford
Journalist

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