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Para surfing legend…

Determined, resolute, ambitious and slightly obsessive. This is how South African para surfing champion David Williams’ friends and family might describe him. We think he is also incredibly brave and inspiring. This is his story.

How does someone who only took up a sport a year ago, go on to win the national championships and be chosen to represent his country overseas? Determination, courage and a passion for the sport he has fallen in love with, that’s how. A bilateral congenital amputee, David knows a thing or two about determination and courage. Born without legs, David has had to work harder than most to achieve success in his 34 years of life. But that hasn’t held him back. In fact, one might say it’s made him stronger.

Despite having only started surfing just over a year ago, the Umhlanga IT specialist recently won the KZN para surfing championships and went on to be crowned the SA para surfing champ in the kneel division. Now he’s getting ready to represent his country in the ISA world para surfing championships in the USA in December.

When he was born, David’s parents were told he would never walk. “My mom was adamant and, even though it was incredibly painful and hard, she persisted with the prosthetics until one day I was walking.” As a young child, David never thought he was different to anyone else until he started going to school. There, he says, he suffered years of bullying. “I’ve only started talking about it quite recently. The bullying was bad. Kids will be kids, I guess, and often I just laughed along with them when they teased me.” Those experiences had a long-lasting effect on him and influenced the person David became. “One of my favourite sayings is, ‘love all, trust few, harm none.”

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After school, David got a job at the bank. Five years later, despite having no experience or qualifications, he applied for a temporary job in software testing at Dervico. “God only knows why I thought I could get job, but for some reason, I did!” Adamant to prove to his peers (and himself) that he was the right guy for the job and get a permanent position, David and spent the next two years studying as much as he could and worked his way up to test manager. He is now an IT quality assurance manager for Mr Price.

Although he attempted able-bodied sports at school, it was only when David was 24 years old and met South African Paralympic athlete Tyrone Pillay that he discovered the world of disabled sports. “I found a swimming coach in Durban and started participating in hundreds of disabled races at able-bodied galas. I am very competitive and slightly obsessive when I decide to do something and I threw myself into swimming training. I did well, even breaking a few records and trying out for the Rio Paralympics. I also tried my hand at adaptive rowing, where I also placed in several provincial events, but I never quite made the cut to represent SA. ”At the beginning of 2020, David was invited to try out adaptive surfing with a non-profit organisation called Made for More. “I was nervous. I have feared the ocean my entire life,” he says, “but the Made for Me team were amazing. They made me feel so incredibly safe and welcome from the first day. I will never forget the way I felt when I caught my first wave. I fell in love with surfing immediately.”

Since then, David says surfing has been about just having fun. “When you’re training for swimming or rowing, you know you are training to compete. When I’m surfing, I’m just out there having fun and conquering fears!”
David was invited to participate in the KZN para surfing champs in March this year and was blown away when he won. He was automatically entered into the SA champs. “I can’t say it was a dream come true, because I would never have dared to dream this. Surfing was so far out of my mind and my world and it was just such an honour to compete against the top para surfers.”

With his family and friends there to support him at the SA champs in May this year, David headed into the water with a goal of just having fun. In the end though, he took first place and became the SA para surfing champ in the kneel division. “It was the best sporting event of my life. My mind literally went blank when they called my name,” he says. Now David will join the rest of the SA para surfing team as they head off to compete in California in December. He and his team mates are raising funds to get them to the event through their respective Backabuddy pages. “Representing my country and wearing SA colours is the biggest dream come true for me. I wouldn’t have been able to get here without the support of my incredible girlfriend, Kayla, who has stood by me through all the good and bad times. I’m also so grateful to Elton Lee Irleand Els surfboards for sponsoring my boards and fins and all my other sponsors and the people who have donated to our fundraising drive.”

Details: To sponsor David or any of his team mates or donate to the fundraising, contact him on 071 259 5886, @dave._.williams, www.backabuddy.co.za/champion/project/david-williams

Text: Leah Shone

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