There is nothing quite as liberating as heading down the coast in a groovie surf-oriented camper van, chasing sand and swell and setting up the van camping gear wherever you find waves.
It’s not surprising then, that, for as long as he can remember, all Cyril Cele wanted was to learn how to surf and go on epic off-grid surf adventures with his friends.
What started as a young boy from an under-privileged background’s modest dream of learning to swim and maybe one day standing up on a surfboard, set in motion a journey that would ultimately see Cyril becoming South Africa’s the first black surfboard shaper.
Growing up in Margate on the KZN South Coast, Cyril and his brothers often walked down to the beach to go and play.
“I always loved watching the surfers getting barreled, but I was too afraid to go into the sea because I didn’t know how to swim”, Cyril recalls.
At the age of 16, the opportunity to realise his lifelong dream presented itself and, not being one to let the grass grow under his feet, Cyril found his stoke in the water.”
“I love the feeling out there; It’s a euphoric, yet peaceful feeling that only a surfer knows. Everything changes when your board touches the water. Surfing is like “saltwater therapy” because it takes care of your stress, depression, and negative thoughts and feelings.”
Cyril says the thrill of dropping into a peaking wave, making that first bottom turn and then expressing yourself on the blank canvas that every wave presents, is addictive.
His face lights up as he describes feeling the rhythm of the swell and becoming one with the ocean. To Cyril, the privilege of being surrounded by a pod of dolphins passing through or saying hello to a turtle popping up right next to you for air, is almost sacred.
“People pay a fortune to go on tourist boat trips and catch a glimpse of dolphins, whales and turtles but as surfers, we are lucky to surf alongside them all the time.”
A close call
Having said that, the ocean is a powerful force to be respected, as Cyril found out the hard way.
“Oneday I got stuck alone in big, rough conditions. The waves were massive and the water brown. I got caught in a rip current and washed out to sea. Seeing my life flashing before my eyes, the thought of never seeing my family again frightened me most.”
Fortunately a couple recognised Cyril and realised he was in trouble. The man (also a surfer) raced into the water and swam out to rescue Cyril.
Cyril the shaper
In the meantime, Cyril’s two older brothers have been working as sanders, glasses and spray painters at Safari Surfboards under legendary shaper, Spider Murphy.
With drug abuse and crime being rife back home, they organised Cyril a job at Safari Surfboards in 2002 where his brothers passed their skills onto Cyril.
Pouring his heart and soul into his work, Cyril excelled and learned the art of shaping to become the first and only black surfboard shaper in the country.
Currently, shaping under well respected shaper, Daniel Keggie at Point Surf Company in Durban, Cyril is living his dream: “I love shaping. It’s an art and expression of creativity. During the shaping process, I grow attached to the boards.
I sometimes wish I could keep all of them but knowing that there are more boards to be shaped makes it a little easier to let them go.”
When Cyril is not in the shaping bay or out discovering secret spots, he gives back to the sport that has given him so much by helping to run a surf camp for youngsters from under-privileged backgrounds.
Based at Umtentwe on the KZN South Coast, Genesis Surf Academy has more than 75 members and is run by Sikobi Philani. On weekends, Cyril helps Sikobi to run the camp and coach the groms and also keeps them safe by fulfilling lifeguard duties.
Cyril is one of the fortunate few who earns a living doing what he loves most and it doesn’t feel like work. He wears shorts and slops to work in an “office” with ocean views and surrounded by fellow surfers.
Together with his wife and six boys, Cyril is living the dream on a down-to-earth budget.
Tips for your next van camping adventure
Surf culture’s biggest surf van icons are without a doubt Volkswagen’s Transporter and Westvalia models. The surfing community have adopted modified and maintained them since 1950.
Continuing the legend, Volkswagen launched the California Camper in 2018, aimed at the next generation of adventurous surfers. Already equipped with the features and camping accessories of a premium camper van, the reimagined icon will set you back a few notches over a million Rand.
However, making memories doesn’t have to come with a fancy price tag. Whether buying, renting or building a surf van, getting the basics right is key. Ensuring that you have the right camping gear is a good place to start.
Of course, camping gear that works wonders for one will not necessarily work well with another. What should be on your camping gear checklist should be based on your own budget, van space, travel style, and specific preferences. That said, there are a couple of camping gear must-haves that should be at the top of your list.
To make it easy for you, we’ve compiled a list of key camping gear and other outdoor accessories to help you plan the van camping adventure of a lifetime. Feel free to note them down or share your own camping gear must-haves in the comment section below.
Essential camping gear and outdoor accessories to get you started
- A bag of small items like cable ties, bungee cords, batteries and garbage bags to be prepared for small or large fixes.
- A portable fridge/freezer.
- A comfy mattress and a warm blanket.
- Insulation blinds (keeps the van cool on sweltering summer days and toasty on chilly nights).
- Rechargeable light.
- Solid roof rack for extra equipment.
- Portable clothesline.
- Collapsible food containers (a huge space saver!).
- Versatile cooking set.
- Compact gas braai or charcoal braai.
- Inverter and solar power bank for electricity needs.
- Foldable camp chairs.
- Insect and mosquito repellent.
- Portable shower system.
- Portable vacuum cleaner (beach sand get in everywhere!)
- Outdoor gazebo for additional shade or rain shelter.
- Rubber mullet.
- First aid kit.