Cape Town - Alfonso Peters jokes that he is not built for surfing. He is too short and almost all his fellow competitors loom over him. But this didn’t stop the 27-year-old from winning the prestigious Tiger’s Milk Winter Classic longboarding competition over the weekend, beating two-times world champion and multiple South Africa champion Matthew Moir to take the title.
What is even more remarkable, though, is that Peters ever became a surfer.
He grew up in Manenberg in a single-parent household, after his father died when he was young, and often used to run away from home.
“I was a naughty child,” he says. “I used to go and live on the street. My mom was always worried.”
Peters says he was full of anger and rebellion and heading almost inevitably towards a life behind bars.
He spent time at a Boy’s Town hostel for delinquent’s which he said was great for a while, but he ended up running away from there, as well as from a shelter in Muizenberg called the Beautiful Gate.
“I liked the freedom of the streets where no one could tell me what to do.”
His favourite hangouts were Long Street and the Waterfront and he slowly entered a life of crime.
One of his mates was a 28s gang member to whom he felt he had to prove himself.
“We used to break into cars to steal things. I even used to snatch cellphones from people.”
But one day they were caught and arrested.
“I spent the weekend in the holding cells at Cape Town Central which was a real wake-up call.”
He was supposed to be sent to a reformatory or to prison, but had a lucky escape because there was no space at the reformatory. After several court appearances, the charges were dropped.
Peters said a social worker, Ryan Dalton, helped him find his way.
“He used to help the guys on the street. He would let me shower at his place and sort me out with clothes.
“He was the one who told me I needed to change my life.”
Peters later attended the School of Hope in Athlone where he was introduced to surfing - and a new life.
“Surfing was never a sport I thought I would like - soccer was my game - but catching my very first wave at Surfer’s Corner, I felt like I was skating on water. I loved it.”
Peters says for him surfing is like “therapy in water”. “I forget all my problems. The only thing I have to worry about is the next wave coming in.”
Longboard surfing became his passion.
“It’s more about style and grace and expressing yourself,” he explains.
He started competing in competitions and coaching at several of the surf schools in Muizenberg. He is currently the head coach at the Surf Emporium.
“Not to boast but I’m a really good coach,” Peters says. “I can get anybody up on a board.”