Picture: Anthony Grote

Wave rider and adventure chaser Olivia Symcox dedicates her life to being a brilliant mother and businesswoman, writes Sacha van Niekerk.

Durban-born and bred Symcox, 39, matriculated from Durban Girls’ College in 1996, completing a diploma through Varsity College in 1999. 

Married to the man of her dreams, Russell Symcox, for nine years, the mother of two said: “We were blessed with two precious little boys – Harvey, 4, and Kingsley, 2.” 

The owner of Olivia Jones Communications, a public relations consultancy, Symcox is also involved with Shark Angels South Africa, which focuses on shark conservation, and 4 Paws and Tale Rescue as a committee member and foster home for dogs. There is an evident love for animals in this family, who currently reside on the KZN south coast with loads of dogs, cats and chickens. “It is absolute chaos but great fun, and I wouldn’t change a thing,” she said. 

Family picture of Olivia and Russel Symcox with their two sons and dog, Shadow. Picture: Photographer: Mary Balogh 

Growing up, Symcox was passionate about the ocean and animals. “I was pony mad and spent most of my days at the local stables with my best friend, Olivia Donald, until we got into bodyboarding and Nippers. Our focus shifted to the sea, and I had hopes of one day becoming a vet.” However, Symcox decided to study marketing instead. “After my studies, I wasn’t too sure what to do, so I headed off to London for six months. When I returned home a good friend of mine, Pierre Tostee (former pro surfer and then World Surf Tour photographer), put me forward to be interviewed for a position as the Association of Surfing Professionals (ASP) Africa Media Officer. My application was successful and I worked with Gavin Horn and the ASP Africa team for a few years, until funding became a challenge and the office closed down.” 

At this point, Symcox didn’t really have the vision to run her own business. “I ended up being thrust into a situation where it was ‘sink or swim’, as opposed to a calculated or strategic business decision. I loved the work that I did, so I was able to retain a lot of my surf industry clients but continued to work for myself publicising their events. “At the time, Vodacom sponsored the domestic surfing series and I was fortunate to pick up even more work with them, which led to more corporate clients and a wide variety of events, exhibitions and CSI projects. Today, I have an amazing team that I work with.” 

Supping with her son. Picture: Luke Patterson/Pollywog

Taking the plunge was initially rather daunting and financially challenging, but as soon as she had a taste for being her own boss, there was no turning back. “To cope with the loss of a steady income stream I diversified and did as much work as I could – including working as a journalist as the Regional Editor for the Saltwater Girl mag, freelanced for Blunt magazine, was a Fever newspaper columnist and occasionally assisted with TV presenting at events.” 

Balancing a mom life and work life while keeping fit and active can be tricky, but Symcox said she was grateful to spend quality time with her kids. “It’s rewarding to be able to help provide for our family, but my priorities are 100% clear – my family comes first. Children are only small for such a short period of time, so I am really trying to maximise this precious time. I am not sure that I always get it right, but having struggled to have children I am immensely grateful for my boys and do not take a day with them for granted. We love spending time together, we love hearing about each other’s days,” she said. 

Freediving with sharks. Picture: Andrew Woodburn

Symcox said she makes time to do the things that she loved before she had children. “I love being in the ocean – whether it’s surfing, diving or taking my boys body boarding or Stand Up Paddle boarding. The sea washes away stress and leaves you with no choice but to live in the moment. No matter how stressed I am when I get into the water after pushing under the first wave, all is good again.Taking a break here and there to do the things that I feel defined me before I had children makes me a better mom to the boys and, according to Rus, a better wife too.”