Champion South African surfer Roxy Davis has been blessed by a stellar career and a successful business, yet deeper things motivate her and have helped her exit a painful past. She told SUSAN SEGAR what they are
Nine times South African surfing champ Roxy Davis (35) is the first and only South African to represent her country in all surfing disciplines in the World Surfing Championships: long-boarding, short-boarding and stand-up paddle boarding. Born and raised in the surfers’ paradise of Kommetjie, Cape Town, she now lives in Muizenberg, also a surfing mecca, with her husband William, and their two sons, Daniel (5) and James (1). When not competing or mothering, she runs a surfing business with William. Their surf school is the largest in South Africa, and one of the largest in the world. Roxy is also a registered psychological counsellor
‘I’VE ALWAYS LOVED the way surfing puts you in the moment, unable to focus on anything but what you’re doing. Plus the challenge it offers to stand up and master the situation. I started competing at 12 which is considered late in the surfing world, but through long hours on my board I was able to take part and was sponsored by the global brand Roxy not long afterwards. They’ve stayed with me ever since: our names being the same is simple coincidence.
After school, I thought I’d better get a qualification and studied at Silwood School of Cookery to become a chef. This was followed by a job at a guesthouse, but I hated the double shifts and missed the beach and the sea. There’s something about having salty waves washing over me that calms me, and gives me a renewed sense of energy I don’t get through other exercise.
South African champ and surf coach Roxy Davis feels a strong call to help any girl who’s struggling with an issue | Photo: Graeme Field
One night, paging through a surf magazine, I saw a tiny advert for a chef’s position on a boat on an island called Mentawi Island in Indonesia. They were looking for what they called a salt water girl, a chef for the 2002 season. The successful candidate needed to be female, a surfer and a chef. I thought, ‘There’s probably only one of those!’ I got the job and spent a year on the boat.
Some French doctors prescribe surfing as therapy, says Roxy, and surfing is the top Cape Town request made by children on school tours from overseas | Photo: Graeme Field
I was happy and learnt a lot but decided to return home, study psychology and communications, and start a surf school. With surfing so male-dominated at the time, I was particularly interested in teaching girls to surf and mentoring them.
So, 16 years ago, I started Roxy’s Surf School with an umbrella on a grassy patch on Muizenberg Beach. It was just me, my friend Nicky and a couple more coaches. Today, we’ve about 100 coaches in summer, have moved through various off-beach locations to a prime beachfront spot, and are one of only three surf schools in the country accredited by Surfing SA. We changed our name a while back to Surf Emporium as we offer surfing lessons to the whole family, but people usually still call us Roxy’s!
Roxy and co. on Celebrity Surf Day in aid of Missing Children SA. From left to right: surf reporter Deon Bing, comedian Nik Rabinowitz with his son Adam, TV presenter Katlego Maboe, Roxy, psychologist Dr Helgo Schomer, cricketer Dale Steyn and model Tayla Skye Robinson
I spend a lot of time investing in and mentoring my coaching team, upskilling them not only to be better surfers and coaches, but also trying to help them with whatever they’re going through.
I also spend time trying to help our customers. Daily I see young girls come through the surf school, lacking self-esteem, self confidence and very uncertain of themselves. My team and I share with them our skill and passion to achieve. Most students will be able to stand in the first session: to watch the joy on their faces with their achievement is incredible.
Roxy: ‘There’s something about having salty waves washing over me that calms me, and gives me a renewed sense of energy’ | Photo: Graeme Field
I’ve never said no to an opportunity to surf. If there’s no surf I go to the gym as exercise gives me energy, but surfing is the blood that runs through my veins, the breath that I take! To sit in the line up and take in my surroundings, to paddle out to a morning sunrise, to be greeted by dolphins: there’s nothing like it. When school tours come to South Africa from abroad, surfing is the number one thing the children want to do in their down time. Research increasingly indicates how good it is for you, and I believe doctors in France are now prescribing it as therapy for issues such as post traumatic stress disorder. The dope-smoking stereotype has fallen away now that surfing is an Olympic sport.
Surfing also allows me quiet time with God. As a teen, I started attending get-togethers organised by Sonsurf, a group of local Christian surfers which has now become a global organisation called Christian Surfers. My parents never went to church but there was a searching in my heart, which I now see in our son Daniel. It was the start of an exciting Christian journey. I can’t prove God exists but I’m sure he does, just as I can’t see the wind but I see the trees moving: it’s a heart thing.
‘Surfing is the blood that runs through my veins,’ says Roxy. ‘Daily I see young girls come through the surf school, lacking self-esteem, self-confidence and very uncertain of themselves. To watch the joy on their faces when they stand up is incredible.’ | Photo: Graeme Field
I struggled with an eating disorder for 12 years and went through times of great desperation. In addition, my parents had a difficult divorce. But I took strength from knowing God had a plan and there was a direction I was going in. Ultimately, I believe He’s never taken me to something that He hasn’t got me through. When I look back now, I realise the beauty arising from my painful journey is that I can now help girls going through the same thing.
Life is pretty busy as I still compete in all disciplines despite being a mother of two. Earlier this year, I travelled to China for the world championships with our son James, who was three months old. There was a long delay at the airport during which he slept on a surfboard bag, and I was thrilled to come 11th in the longboard section despite the challenges!
‘Life is pretty busy,’ says Roxy, who competes internationally in all three surfing disciplines, runs a surf business with her husband William and is mother to two small boys
Fortunately, William prefers walking or bird-watching to surfing: if we wanted to surf together, looking after our boys would be complicated! Our son Daniel stood up on a surfboard when he was two: he went through a crisis of confidence after that when he twigged it was possible to fall, but he’s realised I’m always there holding the back of the board and he’s started feeling secure again.’