Surfing life

As a sport and lifestyle, it is not noted for its medical benefits. But an addiction clinic in Cape Town has taken up surfing as part of its rehabilitation programme.

The Tabankulu Recovery Centre says that surfing offers a challenge for patients who may otherwise revert to bad habits. “People who have been using drugs for a long time need to fill their time and surfing offers that,” Hugh Robinson, the British director and owner, said.

“The biggest task for a recovering addict is finding new enthusiasm for life. Surfing gives that - it gets the juices going, new excitement and passion.”

Among those on the course is Catherine Pike, 22, from Fleet, Hampshire. “I’m attracted to dysfunctional men and become reliant on them,” she said. “It affected work, my studies - I tried to go to college three times - and my eating. I dropped friends and just became obsessed with boyfriends to the detriment of anything else.”

She has attended the clinic since May and had never surfed before. “There’s something spiritual about surfing. Being out in the ocean gives you time to think and reflect. Some days are worse than others, but when you get out there it clears your mind.”

Her surf teacher is Lenny Stolk, who was an alcoholic and drug abuser for more than 30 years. Mr Stolk, 53, regularly smoked marijuana, heroin and crack until he collapsed one night.

“I went to rehab but wasn’t interested. Then, one and a half weeks in, I just had a ‘vision’ - call it what you like - and I gave up.” Seven years ago he turned to surfing, set up LJs Surf Clinic and contacted the Tabankulu centre, which agreed to use him as part of a rehabilitation programme that also includes gardening, cooking and shopping.

“It’s easy to say no and go back to drugs and drinking, but learning to surf gives you a real sense of achievement, which is important,” he said.

Tabankulu attracts patients from around the world to its three centres. Most are from Britain and Africa but it has clients from Sweden, the Netherlands and the Ukraine. The nine-month course costs £10,000 and the surf treatment is gaining in popularity; at present 20 people - the centre has room for 50 - take part.

“I was a bit sceptical about learning to surf but Lenny is a good teacher and has given me the confidence,” said A. D. Sabeh, 36, a Ghanaian drink and drug addict who lost his right leg in a police shooting six years ago and had started taking drugs at 13. “It takes my mind off drugs and my treatment.”


SOURCE: The Times