Meet The Street Surfers Of Soweto In This Moving Short Film
“Man, I don’t think that many people in the world even know places like this exist,” says Frank Solomon.
Cut in the grimy shadows of Johannesburg, the short film, Street Surfers, details Frank Solomon’s inward look at the black “street surfers” that scrap for recyclables in the hopes of earning enough money to make it to the next day. Drifting the back alleys and forgotten corners on their improvised carts, in these desperate circumstances, a load of plastic is as good as gold.
From Solomon and Parley’s point of view, it’s these unsung heroes that are a key link in the chain helping stem the tide of plastics into the ocean.
“Man, I don’t think that many people in the world even know places like this exist,” Solomon said of the dire Joburg neighborhoods.
An Apartheid stronghold, site of the ’76 Soweto Uprising and home of Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu, the racial chasm that divides the city has not been diminished in these more modern time. Black and white continue to lead very different lives.
“I was literally blown away. It feels like you’re in a refugee camp, or in the scene of some movie, it was a surreal experience and deeply humbling for me. We can never complain about anything,” Solomon describes. “You know, the guys don’t have running water, electricity, things most people take for granted every single day. When the guys came to Cape Town I had to show them how the shower worked in their Airbnb because they had never used one.”
The film focuses on two friends, Thabo and Mokete, that toil on the streets, endeavoring to turn trash into cash.
“We had actually shot the whole story last year already with two other street surfers, but we couldn’t find them again to finish it off,” Solomon says. “You have to understand, there are literally hundreds of thousands of people doing this, and most of them have no identification or any means of contact. We actually got the first two guys we worked with cell phones, but I think they sold them.”
The film culminates with Solomon taking Thabo and Mokete surfing and sharing with them what his very different reality looks like.
“Once I went there it just made sense to bring the guys down and show them what they are helping to protect,” Solomon says. “They loved it, but they live so far from the ocean and live in a type of poverty that most people can’t understand, but yeah, I would love to go and find them and show them the video.”
Solomon admits that he never set out to be an agent of change. He set out to be a surfer. But the problems facing the world today are so severe and require such drastic action, he felt there was no other option up to step in the ring and take a swing.
“What’s that famous Gandhi quote, ‘Be the change you wish to see in the world,’ I think that’s so powerful because that’s all you can really do is be the change and make a change,” Solomon says.
Perhaps how we celebrate our surfers and who we elevate to the status of hero needs to be reevaluated. For now, the hype meter is set to respond to the biggest airs, the biggest waves, the most points when the horn blows. All well and good, but given the degrading health of the ocean and our planet, maybe it’s time we hold those striving to have an impact in the highest regard?
“I have a tiny voice compared to the guys on the CT, or yeah anyone really, but I do hope that some of the guys on tour, or whoever would start pursuing some of the issues we face at the moment,” Solomon states.
“I mean, surfing is fun, and yeah it’s amazing to win world titles, I’m sure, but there are so many bigger issues and problems in the world. When you step back and look at the whole thing, it’s really just you going surfing and a pretty selfish sport, so I dunno, I just think as a sport, in general, we could have a bigger voice.”
Street Surfers strives to raise that voice and put a value on the toil those existing on the edge of society and yet still managing to have an impact. It makes the case that everyone has a role to play in this plastic crisis, none are more noble than the other. Surfers and street surfers, we’re all in this together.
“And man, the guys are gnarly. I tried skating down those hills with them and it’s no joke,” Solomon laughs.
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