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Cresting His Own Wave

Cresting His Own Wave

Jul 2018

By Angus Begg

Tristan Roberts has ridden some pretty extreme waves in his young life, and always comes down on the other side, so to speak. Angus Begg caught up with this highly talented bodyboarder with a wonderful career ahead of him.

Of course I was once scared, everyone will be. But soon you realise you can push limits so much more than you once thought.

“What are the waves looking like out Muizenberg way? I ask the voice on the other end of the line. Camps Bay, Llandudno? 

“Not good...maybe we just do the interview, and we send you some archive shots?” 

Tristan Roberts is placed around number eight in the world bodyboarding rankings, and is a very approachable young dude. That is judging from his email message to me when hearing that I’d like to interview him. We quickly graduated to Whatsapp, and as he would be coming from his home in Hermanus, 90 minutes out of Cape Town, we arranged to meet for a chat the next day, and hopefully a shoot as well. 

His reply reflects the mind of a rising sportsman who is part of a well-oiled public relations exercise, sustained by a combination of words and action shots. 

I explain my reluctance to rely on stock material, as we will need images that refer more directly to our interview, like me understanding who he is, what he’s about – “normal stuff” like that which, hopefully, captures the essence of our chat.

When we talk the next morning he says he’s left Hermanus, and staying at his girlfriend’s place in Melkbosstrand, so we agree to meet at Lagoon beach in Milnerton. 

The beach is a 20 minute drive from where he won the SA Bodyboarding Champs at Big Bay. Both of us have to look it up on Google maps, where we find it behind a cluster of new office blocks and hotels, close to the harbour, with Table Mountain framed behind. 

A couple of lonely freighters are at anchor in the bay, and cranes that hoist containers from eight to five loom large like sentinels at the city’s gates. It’s a work day, with not many people about. 

At 30 degrees plus, it’s the hottest day since summer, on this the second day of spring. Towel wrapped around waist, Tristan strips down into his wetsuit on the boardwalk bordering the beach while I ask him what, apart from the fact that a bodyboarder lies on his board rather than stands, distinguishes the sport from surfing.

“On a bodyboard you can ride more extreme waves, like when a wave is too steep for surfers, often dropping on a reef...we can ride those. We can get deeper in a barrel on a bodyboard”.

Sporting the ubiquitous bronzed beach look that comes with endless days spent toes-in-the sand and riding salty water, Tristan says while the combination of fun and sun is naturally alluring, the “intensity (of bodyboarding) is addictive...the feeling of winning”. And he’s done lots of that, like taking the U15 and Men’s Pro title at the SA National Bodyboarding champs in 2012 as a 16 year-old. 

Today, at 20, he is the ISA Men’s World Champ, as well as the ASB Pro Junior World Champ and finished 8th on the Men’s tour last year, out of 100. 

“You need so much to happen for you when competing”, says Tristan, which who has come such a long way from his start as a seven year-old on the beaches around his hometown of Hermanus. He says the local Onrus community of boarders gave him the push he needed.

“It was over busy summer holidays when the beaches were packed and my brother and his friends were in the water all day. I finally found the courage to take a board and join them, and they were pushing me into waves in the shallows. Once I actually rode one they were clapping and cheering . That moment is what lit the fire inside me and made me want to ride waves every time I got the chance to do so.”

He says it wasn’t about competing, but riding waves for what he calls “pure happiness.” 

“There was and still is no better feeling to me than riding good waves with your friends and having everyone smiling and shouting out of pure happiness. Even the thought of this inspires me to get back out there.”

But with the happiness came a healthy dose of fear. 

“Of course I was once scared, everyone will be. But soon you realise you can push limits so much more than you once thought.” Which, he says, can be problematic, as any veteran pro would agree.

“This confidence we gain is sometimes what gets us into trouble, because you just want to ride bigger and better waves and soon you find yourself in a situation which could be life-threatening. But so we learn and we continue to push ourselves for bigger and better waves,” he says.

As demanding as riding the water became, so too did his life. An understanding school head, in what seems to have been a relationship of mutual respect, allowed him the time off to gain the experience to win titles. “I won my junior world title while at school and left school for a month to compete overseas,” he says, yet he nevertheless met his work requirements, and still became head boy. 

And just as he “found” the waves with his brothers, so the theme continued in the support he received from his mother. “Simply Because she knew it was the best for me and my career with regards to the community and the quality beaches for me to train at, she would constantly drive up and down in the week but make sure she was home to be the supportive mother she was. She waited it out for me to qualify for the world tour after matriculating so that she could finally move down to Cape Town from Hermanus,” he recalls.

On a sadder note, Tristan explains that his dad passed away some time back, “and, as an athlete, losing your father is tough. But my siblings and mother have been my biggest support crew, and I'm forever so grateful.”

Fast-forwarding to the present, this support has taken him to waves around the world. 

After a couple of years travelling the globe as a pro-bodyboarder, Tristan is now settled on his favourite waves. “Tand (‘teeth), a reef break at Tittiesbaai, near Paternoster – now that’s a wave surfers can’t do. It’s too steep and they haven’t the time to turn,” he says. 

He also speaks about El Fonton, in the Canary Islands, and as I write he’s competing in Portugal. Wherever he is, it’s a long way from Hermanus. And he’s only 20.

Source: The Intrepid Explorer

The Intrepid explorer