Stab Magazine | Meet The Man Changing Street Kid’s Lives With Surfing

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Meet The Man Changing Street Kid’s Lives With Surfing

Introducing Tom Hewitt, founder of South Africa’s Surfers Not Street Children

news // Apr 25, 2018
Words by Jake Howard
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Unless you’re a local at Durban’s New Pier, you probably don’t know who Tom Hewitt MBE is.

And why would you?

He’s a surfer, first, but moreover, for the last 20-plus years he’s dedicated himself to working with South Africa’s street children, only sneaking off to catch a wave when time allows.

Originally from England, in the late ‘90s, Tom settled in Durban, saw a heartbreaking problem staring him in the eyes, and chose to do something about it. He founded a group called Umthombo Street Children in 2004, with the goal of addressing and helping the devastating issues facing kids living on the streets throughout the country.

In 2011, Queen Elizabeth—you know, The Queen—awarded him the Order of the British Empire for his work.  

Feeling it was time to move on, he placed the organization in the caring hands of a local social worker, and in 2012 founded Surfers Not Street Children, in Durban.

“We specifically work with street children and children at risk of street connectedness. We have outreach teams that identify children on the streets and children at risk,” Hewitt told Stab. “In this way, we are very different from other surf/development programs, as we really are specifically targeting homeless street children. Which is a huge phenomenon in Africa. They are some of the most traumatized and abused children in the country.”

The organization’s profile has grown over the past few years, with everyone from Jordy Smith, to Kelly Slater, to Prince Harry taking notice.

Partnering up with Michael February and the Gudauskas brothers, earlier this year the Positive Vibe Warriors Foundation delivered over 700 surfboards to help the cause.

“We have four aspects to our work, and the boards will be distributed across these,” explains Hewitt.

One of the primary tools Surfers Not Street Children utilizes is a Surf Club, a drop-in center based near New Pier in Durban.

“Over 100 children access this in a month,” Hewitt says. “This is for children who are either street children or living at great risk of street connectedness. The project is run by our head social worker and has a team of caretakers, lifeguards and surf coaches.

The center offers mentorships and interventions into the children’s lives. Some of the kids are advanced surfers. They are ‘given’ a board that suits heir surfing ability. The board stays at our surf club overnight.”


image1 1

Everything about this image quite literally says, “Keep the vibe alive.”


The next level of the program involves the group’s Surf House.

“This is our live-in residential facility,” continues Hewitt. “The kids are assigned a board each. Obviously, to be in this program they are pretty committed to serious change in their lives, and are further along the road in our programs. These guys all rip, so they get boards that suit their surfing. About 15 boards have been distributed here.” 

Next in the Surfers Not Street Children efforts is their Independent Living Program.

“These are young adults that have been through our programs and are now independent. We help them source accommodations and have already ensured that they have stable jobs,” says Hewitt. “Each of the young adults in this program has been given a board.”

Finally, the next frontier for Surfers Not Street Children is up around the bend, in Mozambique.

A new project for the group, they will soon be getting the infrastructure in place and a delivery of boards up there.

Hewitt and his team are changing lives, not simply by going to the beach riding waves, but by the lessons they’re imparting and the horizons they’re expanding.

Billy Hamilton once famously said, “Sliding a wave removes our brains out of the ordinary and slips us into the extraordinary of being there now. No more worries about mortgages or strife of being poor or rich. When you enter the domain of an ocean cylinder, that moment, those split seconds belong to the Zen part of just being. Period.”

And therein lies the magic that Hewitt and Surfers Not Street Children have tapped into.


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