A former pro-surfer and SA Masters Surfing Champ 2016, she is now leading the charge of bringing Adaptive Surfing to our shores. We chatted to Tasha Mentasti, a dynamic and pioneering surf ninja who personifies all there is to love about Surfing.
Q: What have been some of the major milestones in your career that got you to SA champ status in 2016?
I have been fortunate to enjoy the sport of surfing for over 2 decades. As a former pro surfer, I traveled the world, met great people and explored new places. It was thanks to my work as Operations Manager at Surfing S.A. (SSA), back in 2010, that I am now able to share my passion for the ocean and surfing with communities around South Africa.
Winning the title of SA Masters Champ at the historic 50th edition in 2016 was definitely a highlight. Representing my country as both a junior & senior surfer and then having the responsibility as the coach for the SA Junior Team (2005 – 2007 & 2014) have all been a great honour.
I was the first female to sit on the Board of Directors for SSA and also the first female coach to represent South Africa for surfing. One of my most memorable milestones was being selected as Coach for the South African Adaptive Surf Team to go to the inaugural ISA World Adaptive Surfing Champs in 2015.
Q: You are making more waves now by bringing Adaptive Surfing to SA. What is adaptive surfing and how were you inspired to introduce the concept?
Adaptive Surfing is a new sport whereby people with a variety of disabilities (differently-abled people) can get into the ocean and surf the waves on adapted surfboards. This was initially started as a form of therapy for US soldiers suffering from PTSD and/or amputees from the Iraq war. I lived in California, USA for a few years and volunteered with Operation Surf who work with war veterans.
Seeing the positive effects the ocean had with these groups of brave soldiers, I wondered why we couldn’t incorporate ‘surf therapy’ into everyone’s lives. The universe already had plans for me and when I moved back to South Africa in 2010, I was very fortunate to start working with the National Federation of the sport – Surfing South Africa (SSA).
One of my portfolios was ‘Development’, so I started working with various surf outreach programs, training and mentoring the surf coaches and running surf coaching courses. This is how I met Dries Millard, a pioneer in adaptive surfing in South Africa and a car accident victim. Dries now only has 18% mobility of his body – a T8 complete paraplegic.
As part of his recovery, we started getting into the ocean. Based on the positive effects of surf therapy and with the support of SSA we started running annual adaptive surf days in Cape Town. The focus was on getting differently-abled people from disadvantaged backgrounds to get to the beach and into the water. Once they are in the water they feel an enormous sense of freedom and it is very difficult to get them out of the water.
Q: What have you learn’t from the Adaptive Surfing competitors
that you can apply to your own life?
Working with so many inspiring individuals over the years through adaptive surfing I have learn’t that you can achieve anything that you set your mind to. I now never complain about having a bad day – put yourself in the shoes of one differently-abled person for a day and you will understand the monumental effort it takes to do just the ‘normal’ things in life.
Q: How can fellow South Africans experience and support the Adaptive Surfing movement?
Adaptive surf sessions always need volunteers, it doesn’t matter where you are in the world. Extra hands for getting people to the shoreline, extra hands to form part of the water safety team with dedicated surf coaches leading each group. You don’t need to surf in order to help. The experience will always leave you filled with inspiration and the biggest smile on your face.
Q: You are living the dream – a beach office – bikini uniform – nomad lifestyle. How do you earn a living?
Hahahahaha… it’s not easy. This is because the surf industry is fairly small in South Africa and all my time with adaptive surfing is on a volunteer basis. I currently freelance and offer my services to both SSA and WSL Africa. I hold a variety of positions such as Contest Director, Commentator or Event Organiser at surfing events along our beautiful coastline. I also host internationally recognised Level 1 surf coaching courses and offer my services as a private surf guide in Cape Town where I now reside.
Q: I guess growing up on the much warmer coastline of Durban made surfing a natural hobby. When did you start surfing and was there a pivotal AHA moment when you decided that surfing was going to become your lifelong passion & profession?
Yes, we are spoilt in Durban for the surf and the warm Indian Ocean. I was born in the 80’s when female participation in the sport of surfing was very minimal. Luckily my Dad was a surfer so it was a natural progression for me to start surfing at the age of 12. It was only once I started competing in surfing competitions around South Africa and surfing exciting new waves that I decided I wanted to focus on one sport and that was surfing. I was very fortunate that my school recognised surfing as a sport and I was able to travel to national events as well as World Junior Champs with the support from the school. I pursued the professional side of surfing competitions for many years, but always knowing that one day I wanted to give back to the sport that gave me so much. I am very fortunate to make a living out of my passion.
Q: How do you come back from disappointments in your surf career?
Surfing teaches us many life skills, one of them being how to adapt. This is due to the fact that every wave is different and every surf session unique. I don’t look at things that don’t go my way as disappointments but rather as lessons and try take something positive out of every situation. Life can be disappointing, people can disappoint you, but it is your mindset that needs to remain positive to keep you going when the times get tough.
Q: You do so much for SA surfing, from commentating to event organising – what is your favourite pastime out of the water?
I love spending time in nature, off the grid and hiking / camping / exploring without any form of social media distractions. Spending quality time with my wonderful family is always my top priority when not working.
Q: Who should we be watching in the next generation of surfers?
South African’s are so talented. Despite the lack of financial support from Government and our dwindling currency we still feature two South African’s on the WSL Championship Tour (CT) making up the Top 34 best surfers in the world – Jordy Smith & Michael February. Mfeb, as he is affectionately known, is the first black African to make the CT in 2018. This achievement has inspired many at home and we now see three South African surfers in the top 50 in the world.
Names to watch out for are Adin Masencamp (Strand), Joshe Faulkner and Dillon Hendriks (both from the disadvantaged community of Pellsrus in Jeffrey’s Bay) as well as the talented S’nenhlanhla Makhubu (Durban) who is flying the flag for young black women who don’t want to conform to cultural beliefs.
In the adaptive surfing world, keep your eye out for blind surfer – Erynn Geddie who placed 7th in the world at only 12 years of age. And then there is also Caleb Swanepoel, a shark attack survivor who only started surfing after he lost his leg. Both these athletes keep on inspiring me with their determination and ‘never say no’ attitude.
Q: What is your life mantra?
Dream big, live simply, give love, laugh lots and be grateful!
It changes and there are many but currently, this has been a welcome reminder in my life at the moment: –
“If I ever ask for a life without complications, please remind that in time, tree oaks grow strong and tall in contrary winds and diamonds are forged under great pressure.”
Q: What’s next for SA’s surf ninja?
Same as always – educating, inspiring, coaching and sharing the love of surfing while traveling around this beautiful country I get to call home.
Next Adaptive Surfing Event
To get involved in future adaptive surfing events planned along the coastline of South Africa please email firstname.lastname@example.org