From barely able to swim to South African pro surfer in 4 years

Indiphile Osinachi, also known as Indie, began surfing at the age of 11 and had never learned to swim. She was picked to represent South Africa in the International Surfing Association (ISA) World Junior Championships in El Salvador at the end of this month, four years after she first competed. Indie does not come from a surfing family. She is, in fact, the only member of her family who owns a surfboard. So it’s astonishing that she went from being unable to swim to representing her nation in a worldwide surfing competition in just four years.

Indie began her surfing career in Durban, a coastal city in eastern South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal region famed for its subtropical temperature, warm water, and Golden Mile of sandy beaches that lead to some high-performance surf breakers. It’s the ideal environment for world-class pro surfers like Jordy Smith, Shaun Tomson, and Indiphile Osinachi to grow up.

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Indie was initially introduced to the Surf Club by a classmate, a drop-in center on the Durban beachfront’s New Pier that provides surf instruction, mentorship, and daily care for underprivileged youngsters. The club is run by Surfers Not Street Children, a foundation that has been working for the protection of street children and empowering young people at danger of street-connectedness for over 25 years. Participants are instructed by Sandile Mqadi, a famed South African surf instructor and WSL judge. By removing the price barrier to entrance, their effort gives a unique chance for youngsters from lower socioeconomic homes to learn to surf. The club can offer its services for free because of financial and surf equipment contributions, allowing youngsters like Indie to gain water confidence, learn to surf, acquire a new ability, and participate in events like surf contests, which allow her to travel and meet new people along the way.

“One of my classmates began surfing about a month before I did. Indie recalls, “She asked me to join one day after school.” “I was a little nervous since I’m not a great swimmer,” she says. “But we went down to the club, met with our coach, Sandile, got suited up, and proceeded into a more shallow area where the waves were breaking for a lesson.”

“I managed to stand up on my first wave!” As a wave approached, Sandile shoved me forward and said, “Stand up!” So I did, but I fell into the water and was terrified since I had no idea what to do.”

Indie had slipped off her board, plummeted beneath the power of a wave, and found herself submerged for a few seconds. When your body is being dragged underwater by the sheer power of a wave, seconds might feel like a lifetime. It’s terrible to fall for the first time, but a surfer must learn to persevere for the love of wave riding. The wave subsided just as Indie had fallen, and she emerged from the depths of the ocean.

“As soon as I got back to the surface, I grabbed my board and paddled back out,” Indie recounts. “I fell in love with it after that one wave.”

Her initial surfboard rides ignited a desire for wave riding, and she began taking swimming and surfing classes with the club on a regular basis. The foundation stresses aquatic safety in their teaching, and the training helped her improve her swimming and surfing abilities. She joined the charity’s Girls Surf Too program after swiftly honing her wave-riding talents.

“I knew I was supposed to be here as I continued returning to the club and became friends with Sandile and the female surfers. “I’m constantly in the water once I finish school,” Indie explains.

Indie has committed herself to improving her surfing abilities, competing in local events as early as four months after beginning her training. Indie had an obvious natural knack for surfing from the start.

“I recall competing for the first time four months after I began surfing. “I was terrified,” Indie recalls, smiling. “In a competitive setting, there is so much more pressure.” But I didn’t allow fear get the best of me, and I finished third.”

Indie now has a regular after-school schedule that involves going to the Surf Club and surfing in the water, soaking up every last ray of the Durban sun. New Pier is one of Indie’s favorite local surf breakers, and it’s where fellow Durbanite Jordy Smith credits for helping him develop into a pro surfer. This break has some of the greatest year-round surf in the region, with everything from short rip bowls to overhead barrels in the winter.

“I love to surf at New Pier because the waves run a bit longer and it’s quite fun surfing there because you meet a lot of new people. Surfers come from all over the world to surf there,” says Indie. “My favorite wave at New Pier was when there was a big swell and the waves began to barrel, and I didn’t know what to do. Everyone was telling me, “go, go go!” So I did go and managed to enter the barrel. I was so shocked when I made it out.”

It’s this sense of wonder and excitement that makes speaking with Indie so refreshing. At fourteen, she has accomplished so much in such a short time, and it’s clear that she’s enjoying every last moment of the journey. The programs run by Surfers Not Street Children have helped to cultivate a community of young surfers in Durban, instilling a sense of hope for the future for the young people that they work with. As members of the Girls Surf Too program have progressed, they have developed the first crew of black female surfers in the region, which added a new and welcome dynamic to Durban’s New Pier. A monumental achievement within a country that is still healing from its contentious past.

Indie has entered some high-profile competitions including the Ballito Pro this past December, which earned her enough points to qualify for an invitation to represent South Africa at the ISA World Junior Championships in El Salvador towards the end of May 2022. Indie is one of a team of three competitors in the Under 18 Girls category who will compete against other young athletes from all over the world. But because there wasn’t any funding to help the athletes attend the event in South America, Indie needed to raise the funds required to enter the competition.

As soon as he learned that Indie had been chosen to compete in the event, Tom Hewitt, the charity’s founder, set up a GoFundMe page. He detailed that Indie needed to raise the Surfing South Africa required fee of $4,500 to cover her overall trip costs, as well as $500 to equip her with everything that she needed to attend the event. Any money raised above that amount, he promised to use to fund back into the Girls Surf Too program to empower more young girls in the Durban area.

Kelly Slater quickly spotted the post, dug out the photo he had taken with Indie on a previous surfing trip to Durban, and shared it alongside the GoFundMe link on an Instagram story for his three million followers to see. The donations quickly rolled in, and within 24 hours, Indie’s place at the ISA World Junior Championships had been fully funded.

“I’m lucky that through surfing with Girls Surf Too, I’ve been able to meet my favorite surfers. Tom Hewitt took us girls to meet some really cool people, like Kelly Slater, Stephanie Gilmore and my favorite surfer, Italo Ferreira.”

“I met Kelly back in 2019. So when he posted the picture on his story, I was like, how does Kelly still have that picture?” Indie beams. “Then I just went crazy in my house. My mum asked me what happened, and I said, the 11-time champion, Kelly Slater, the GOAT, just posted a picture of me! Then my mum went crazy too, she took a screenshot and showed it to the whole family.”

Even though her family doesn’t surf, it’s clear that they fully support Indie’s surfing ambitions.

“My mum is scared of me drowning, so she just watched videos and pictures after I’ve finished,” admits Indie. “But my dad watches almost every single competition. He comes down to support me and takes videos of every turn I make so I can check back and see how I can improve. Then when I speak to my trainer, he helps me work on what I need to fix, and then we go through everything properly.”

“Surfing means the world to me,” says Indie. “It’s like a home. Anytime I feel down — or really happy — I have to surf. Before I express anything, like writing papers for school, surfing helps clear my mind. It’s what has helped me meet a lot of people, make new friends and travel to new places around the world. It’s just crazy.”

Right now, Indie is focusing on training for her first-ever international surfing event. At just 14, she has excelled as a young athlete and hopes to continue her momentum towards a career in surfing.

“In the surf, I’m able to catch a lot of speed on my forehand. I’m pretty proud of that,” says Indie. “I’ve been working really hard because I want to do well at Worlds. But my goal is to win a world title. I want to win titles, travel the world and meet new people.”

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