My many years of living in Cape Town (from The Netherlands) have resulted in a large variety of interesting cultural integrations. In South Africa, I’ve learned to love biltong, understand all of Trevor Noah’s jokes, question statements by asking ‘is it?’ and when I encounter a difficulty at any establishment, I immediately ask for the manager. I greet people with ‘how are you?’ without expecting an answer, can beat-box the basics of Xhosa and always turn up to a dinner party with more food than anyone can consume.

Mark Wijsman South Africa

My integration with South African sports however, has still proven to be a struggle.

Even though I play football and have shared my experiences on the cycling scene before, neither rugby nor cricket have found an appeal regardless of my attempts to watch numerous matches and spending 3 years of my life researching the rules of cricket. From my understanding, cricket is mostly about a bunch of men standing in a field looking cool while three of them do all the actual exercise. I guess that’s why they take seven months to finish a game.

Cape Town has a few extra sports on offer. I recently cycled past a group of people doing stand-up paddleboard yoga. On a little canal next to the Waterfront, twenty people were standing on a surfboard in a downward facing dog position. Twenty butts, just saying hello.

Normal surfing is perhaps the biggest Cape Town water sport to do, and I have actually gotten to a stage of actual practice. This is in itself a surprise, considering I took about seven years and five different instructors to learn how to swim. To this day, I possess one swimming technique that I’d like to call the ‘breastcrawl’. I read that this is the actual description of a baby naturally looking for a nipple after birth. That kind of sums it up.

I had my first surfing lessons in Blouberg. Contrary to most foreigners’ belief, the oceans around Cape Town are pretty arctic all year round. This means that in order to retain your reproductive organs, you’ll have to dress up like a calamari tube. Whatever crotchal hump is visible in the wetsuit ahead of entry, will be in full retraction for a few days as soon as it hits the first drops of seawater.

My troubles already start ahead of the water, when I’m doing my own Laurel and Hardy routine during my struggle to even get the board to the ocean. Since I’m a beginner, I get a board that is three times my own size, and while every surfer looks cool carrying a board under one arm, I use two and hug it tightly to keep it from slapping bystanders or myself in the face.

The first minutes in the water are part of some composure contest to show the littlest emotion about the fact that you’ve lost complete feeling in your feet. Once you get confronted with waves, you can dive under them with your board to proceed. On television, that is. I normally lift and hold my board in front of me like some vertical shield yelling ‘YOU SHALL NOT PASS!’, as if I possess some magical ability to withstand the force of the ocean.

[quote_center]”I once had a minor cardiac arrest when swimming into seaweed.”[/quote_center]

This mostly results in me washing ashore in foetal position. If you do however get past the first waves, it is key to pick the right moment to get into position and paddle. Whatever precision timing works, in my case I am either too soon which means I get swallowed by the wave and faceplant my board. Or I am too late, which will show me paddling like some spastic starfish on the same spot, while a wave goes under me, accompanied by uber-talented six year old local surfers, smoothly doing their back-flips.

But despite my inability to stand on the damn thing, being on a surfboard and splashing around isn’t even that bad.

What does make it worse in South Africa, is the constant realisation you’ve just gone down a notch in the food chain.

Any time you step into the water, you find yourself in the territory of the white shark. I once went to Muizenberg to surf, and they had nine shark sightings on a day. Nine. But the ocean was full of people anyway.

Now I find sharks to be magnificent creatures, and they are certainly misunderstood by those who fear them. Yet, as much as I’m not the preferable shark food, I can not guarantee the fact that it might mistake me for a seal. I mean, have you seen people in wet suits?

Last Sunday I saw the final confirmation that I’ll only surf in a crystal clear pond as far inland as possible.

Both surfing and South Africa became world headlines, when pro surfer Mick Fanning got attacked by a shark on live television. Spectacular footage, and luckily Mick got away unharmed. I have to give it to him, fighting off a shark like that while remaining so cool and collected.

I once had a minor cardiac arrest when swimming into seaweed. So perhaps dressing up like a seal and going into shark land isn’t really for me. Luckily, surfing just became the most spectacular thing to watch on television.

Thanks a lot, South Africa.

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