Big Wave Surfer Helps Street Surfers

Through shared experiences and common interest, an unlikely friendship was formed between a big wave surfer and marine activist Frank Solomon, and two recyclers Thabo and Mokete, who live on the streets of Johannesburg.

For anyone that has cruised the streets of Johannesburg, the sight of the city’s ‘street surfers’ is as much a part of the landscape as is that of the high rise metropolitan skyline. Framed in tattered clothing and makeshift outfits, street surfers negotiate the city on flatbed trolleys as they haul large silo bags stuffed full of recyclable materials to make an honest living.


Choosing to collect and sell waste over a life of begging, crime, and unemployment, Thabo and Mokete can be seen surfing their way between the city’s cars, pedestrians and pavements as they take their goods to various dumps around the city in exchange for cash.

For Thabo and Mokete, like many others, becoming a street surfer was a decision born from necessity. With cold nights spent sleeping on the streets and exhausting long-distance walks across the city each day, it’s easy to understand why this work would be one of the last resorts.

Rather than being seen as a nuisance, street surfers should be celebrated for their tenacity and opportunism in the face of a harsh reality and admired for their contribution to society both environmentally and economically. While we face a global climate crisis, only 10% of South Africa’s waste ends up being recycled.

See also: Tidal Wave Of Plastic Kills The Planet

Says Frank, “These guys do an incredible job for the environment, yet they live without access to running water and electricity, things we take for granted every day. They’re up from 3 in the morning and graft all the way through to the late afternoon, it’s unreal. To earn just R300, they need to collect 100kgs of plastic. If you do the math on how many bins they’d have to shift through to reach that target, it’ll blow your mind. You know, at the very least the government and people, in general, should just respect these guys, it’ll go a long way.”

And all the while the street surfers, previously unaware of this, are protecting the ocean, helping to stop enormous amounts of plastic from going into our seas.

So Frank took Thabo and Mokete to Cape Town to see the ocean for the first time, giving them some surfing lessons too. Here the two got see how their recycling inland all goes towards preventing more plastic pollution in the ocean.

“When you see street surfers digging through the trash, separating recyclable materials, let it serve as a reminder of how far we have to go, it’s a brutal job, but these guys are willing to do it. The unbelievable reality is, even in the face of such overwhelming adversity and abject poverty, you’ll never see these men not donning a genuine smile,” the big wave surfer says.

To give back to Thabo and Mokete for their humble service to our planet and to positively impact their lives, Frank has created a campaign on donations based crowdfunding platform, BackaBuddy, to appeal to South Africans to support these gentlemen as we lead up to the festive season.

“I hope with our BackaBuddy campaign, we can raise enough funds to transform Thabo and Mokete’s lives so they can be seen as role models in their community. When I met them, I asked how I could assist them, their response was heartbreakingly simple, they need help with ‘life’, they said. With support, I hope to provide them with food, clothes and other living expenses for as long as possible.”



Donations to the ‘Street Surfers’ campaign on BackaBuddy will be used to provide Thabo and Mokete with a ‘surfer’s pack’ that will include:

  •  Two pairs of comfortable, hardcore boots.
  • Clothing for the elements (a few pairs of overalls, wet weather gear and jackets)
  • Two pairs of gloves
  • Monthly food vouchers

The campaign went live on November 20 and has thus far raised R 18 568.64 towards the fundraising target of R50 000, with contributions from 26 donors. Funds raised will be transferred to and managed by non-profit organisation, The Sentinel Ocean Alliance to purchase the surfer’s packs, as the two recyclcers don’t have bank accounts.

Support this cause by making a donation on BackaBuddy:

Backabuddy Street Surfers