Surfers Not Street Children Interview

We recently caught up with Tom Hewitt (MBE), founder of NGO Surfers Not Street Children. Tom talks about his background, how the NGO came about, the challenges in getting it setup and the success stories. Read on to learn more.

tom hewitt

Tell us about your upbringing. Where were you born and raised?

I was born in the UK. My family are from the south coast of West Sussex. I schooled in Guildford. 

What’s your fondest childhood memory?

Probably surfing in Cornwall as it was so much better than surfing on the south coast. 

How did you get into surfing?

I went to visit an American school friend who had returned to the US. We surfed in Florida and I was hooked. I was 13.

We see that you studied stateside in San Francisco. Was it the wave at Fort Point that drew you there?

Fort Point is a pretty rad novelty wave but I used to surf at Ocean Beach where I lived. I went a bit later than most as I was 28 when I went there. I got a bursary off the back of my involvements in South Africa so it was a great opportunity to further my work in SA after graduating. I lived in SF for 4 years and surfed the coast between Santa Cruz and SF extensively. I studied International Politics.

What did you do after graduating?

I went back to South Africa and continued my work with Street Children. 

How did the idea for Surfers Not Street Children (formerly DST) come about?

I actually started it in 1998. I had been working with Street Children organisations for some time and moved up the coast to Durban as the situation for street children was much worse up there. I started a team in 1998 that would identify children in the streets and look at ways to assist them. 

At the time it was not related to surfing but we had an array of activities such as soccer, art, drama and music. We started a small surfing program and the kids absolutely loved it. After a while they got so into it that it became the core of our identity. Our programs fuse surfing with mentorship and care to empower street children and children at risk of street connectedness. 

surfers not street children

What were some of the biggest challenges in getting the organisation setup?

Obviously finding funding to run the organisation with the right trained professionals was really difficult. But aside to that the hardest thing about this work is that fact that the children have been through incredible hardship and so association and trauma make the work really difficult.

What’s the greatest accomplishment of the NGO to date?

We have had a lot of extraordinary success when you consider how far the kids have come. We have had kids go on to be lifeguards, surf coaches, coffee baristas, and restaurant staff.

In 2018 you opened the Tofo Surf Club in Mozambique. What was the motivation behind this?

I have been visiting Mozambique since the civil war years. And Tofo, in particular, since 1997. It was always a surf escape for me. But I also saw the effects of tourism on the area and always wanted to be part of something positive with the young people of the area.

I used to run trips up there with the Durban surfers from Surfers Not Street Children and we met a young grom called Mini Cho. Over the years we really connected and he now runs our Mozambique program called Tofo Surf Club. The club is a drop-in centre that fuses surfing with mentorship with a goal to inspiring the youngsters to seize opportunities available to them.

Are you planning to expand to any more countries across the African continent?

At this stage we just want to remain strong where we are, especially given the pressures of the pandemic.

How can people support the NGO?

At this stage, due to the pandemic, the best way is financial support. We are trying to build an army of small monthly givers. So for example, supporters who give £10 or £20 pounds a month on a direct debit. This can be done through our website and really enables us to achieve our goals. 

What’s the best wave you’ve ever surfed?

My favourite wave is probably Supertubes in J-Bay, followed by Tofinho Point in Mozambique. Also Queensbury Bay Near East London, South Africa. But I also love both New Pier (Durban) and Croyde (UK), both of which are home breaks to me. I loved surfing Blacks in the US and also the array of quality waves at Margaret River (AUS) is astonishing. 

Longboard or shortboard?

Short board.

What are your thoughts on surfing as an Olympic sport?

Pretty rad! Why not?

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