By Jake Howard
“It exceeded anything we could have imagined,” said Dane Gudauskas.
Home for less than 24 hours, the jet lag hasn’t even set in yet, but the vibrations from the recent experiences have him buzzing with “triple platinum stoke.”
Spending the better part of two weeks in Cape Town, South Africa, Dane and his brothers, Pat and Tanner, just put the capstone on a project that saw their nonprofit organization, the Positive Vibe Warriors, team up with groups in South Africa to bring surfboards and hope to kids in need in some of the region’s most impoverished townships.
“To be able to be there on the ground, to go into these communities, these townships, it was an eye-opener, for sure,” Dane said. “It really reset my whole perspective on things and the power that surfing can actually have. Surfing is giving some of these kids opportunities they’d never have had.”
Working with South African non-governmental organizations Waves For Change and Surfers Not Street Children, which utilize surfing to help change and transform the lives of some very downtrodden youth through various forms of outreach, participation and empowerment, they were given a unique opportunity to experience firsthand what exactly “surf therapy” entails.
“Every day these kids witness violence and live in some really challenging conditions. I don’t know if you can understand it until you’ve really experienced it,” Dane said. “Surfing is a tool to help get them out of that for a little while. It gives them an opportunity to take a breath. It also gives them the chance to develop a network of friends and peers that is based around something that’s healthy and positive. It builds confidence and hope. It lets them be part of a bigger world. When you’re a surfer, you’re a surfer, it doesn’t matter where you’re from.”
Last autumn, the Positive Vibe Warriors, led by Dane, Pat and Tanner, rallied the tribe for their “Can’t Steal Our Vibe” surfboard fundraiser. They teamed up with South Africa’s most accomplished black surfer, Michael February, who nearly qualified for the WSL’s Championship Tour in 2017. Boards came in by the truckload. They were able to fill a 40-foot Matson shipping container with over 700 boards, as well as wetsuits, fins and other surf gear. They put it on a cargo ship and sent it off to Cape Town.
The boards arrived at the beginning of 2018, and for the last couple of weeks, the brothers have been in the country distributing them and stoking out a lot of kids. Based in Cape Town, they were able to visit a number of different communities during their time there and, with the help of their sponsors, even hosted a rendition of their classic Stoke-O-Rama contest.
“Pops always said surfing will be the vehicle you’ll learn about the world through, enjoy it and be thankful,” Tanner reflected. “Waves For Change is doing amazing things for kids in Africa who can use the help and stoke. We went to Monwabisi Beach, one of the largest coastal townships in South Africa, and got to enjoy a day with over 250 kids learning about the ocean. ‘Protect, respect, communicate’ are the ethos taught, giving them and the community the positive option of being together and enjoying mother nature. Surf therapy!”
All of this has been transpiring at the same time that a “worst-in-100-year drought” is ravaging Cape Town. Reports indicate that unless some miracle deluge arrives from the African skies sometime soon, the city will be out of water by April. Think of that for a second: a city of over 400,000 people completely without water. And we thought things were dire in California for a few years. Despite this, Dane, Pat and Tanner went all-in with their friends and still delivered more than 700 surfboards.
“What’s really awesome is that despite everything these kids are going through, once they’re in the water they’re just as stoked as any grom anywhere,” Dane said while smiling. “They’re hooting and yelling and smiling, just like back home.”
And even more awesome than that? The boys don’t see this as a culmination of their efforts, rather merely another chapter in their journey.
“Sometimes, when you have an idea, you just have to go out and do it,” Dane said. “You may not know how to do it, but you learn and you keep going. We learned a lot from our first board drive we did in Jamaica and were able to apply a lot of those learnings to this South Africa project, and then when we do the next one at some point we’ll have it even more dialed in. And the beautiful thing is that we’re not the only ones doing stuff like this. Surfers around the world are standing up to make a change and make a difference, whether that’s through surfboard drives, or plastic waste, or clean water, or whatever, it’s a pretty powerful thing to have surf communities everywhere genuinely stoked on making a difference in the world around them.”