Who is CS? Pt. 3: Rehgert van Zyl
Rehgert van Zyl is likely a fairly familiar face to those who have been around the Christian Surfers international community for a while. Having founded Aleph Surf International over 10 years ago, Red (let’s be honest, no one knows how to say ‘Rehgert’ correctly!) and his wife Vanessa, have attended many of our International Gatherings representing Aleph, however their credentials have recently shifted with Red coming on board as our Regional Coordinator for Africa.
No stranger to exploration of the final frontier of surfing, Red is distinctly a child of Africa and has a massive heart for the continent and its people and we’re excited to see where that leads.
Dive in with us as we learn more about Red, Aleph and the future of CS in Africa.
Christian Surfers: Ok, let’s start at the beginning, where and when did you first learn to surf?
Rehgert van Zyl: I grew up in the Southern Cape of South Africa in a tiny holiday town called Herolds Bay. It's a great puchy left wedge beach break. We were a motley crew of brothers and friends whose lives revolved around the beach. I learned to ride the boogie and surfboard around 13 and flip-flopped between them until I finally settled on surfing.
South Africa is still a culturally a very ‘Christian’ nation, with seemingly the majority of the population in church on a Sunday morning. How did you come to know Jesus for yourself within that culture?
Being Afrikaans, the Dutch Reformed church is part of your culture. So my family was 'traditionally' Christian. My parents however, became legit born again believers when I was age 7. My sister, brother and I grew up with some incredible people around us and gleaned a lot from them spiritually - my parents especially. They are still such examples, mentors and intercessors for us, but I still had to find faith for myself. I questioned a lot of things, never satisfied with 'that's the way it is'. Surely Jesus can't be the only way? I always wanted to branch out and experience 'the other'. I have always been fascinated by it. This way of thinking took me down some crazy paths and places I never thought I would end up in, but by God's grace, He still had his hand on my life, and called out to me during my darkest of days. Jesus met me and just before my 22nd birthday I decided to lay it all down and say, “Here I am - there is none other but You!” Knowing and being in relationship with my Creator and following our Messiah has been the most beautiful, meaningful journey and reason for my LIFE!!!! Ephesians 2 is where it's at.
How did you first connect with Christian Surfers?
In 2005 there was a small Christian Surfers group in Stellenbosch where I was studying. It was very small, but I felt such camaraderie between these guys. I just joined in more and more with the sessions. It also helped that the crew had a car with which I could catch a ride to the beach. I was a poor student bru!
You founded Aleph Surf over 10 years ago now and we have seen it grow and develop with great fruit over the years. Where did the idea for Aleph initially come from?
I have a degree in Anthropology and wanted to work in community development in some shape or form after university. I was able to apply for a job in George that helps kids living on the street and got the position as a community worker. I worked for a year with street kids and learned so much through spending time with them. For me the biggest lesson is the power of meeting people where they are. I also realized how hard it is to rehabilitate youth after exposure to streetlife, gangs and drugs. We needed to be proactive. Here is the catch though. Kids are not going to sit around a table and let you tell them how to do life. You have to be involved with them. So why not use something that I love and learned from so much myself over the years: surfing.
The name 'Aleph' is the first letter of the Hebrew Alphabet and means the beginning. We read Jesus saying, “I am the Alpha and Omega,” but he was Jewish so in Hebrew it is the 'Aleph and the Tav'. If we can help lay a foundation in kids lives that is built on Jesus, they can withstand the storms of life. Aleph is a combination of many parts of my life expressed in a way that will hopefully bless and encourage others.
Be honest, how much did the waves have to do with moving Aleph to Jeffreys Bay? We know you do get to spend some quality ocean time at a lesser known section of the famous Jeffreys Bay point…but seriously what was the impetus for the move and how has Aleph changed as a result?
It definitely made the choice easier. I often came to J-Bay as a teen on surf trips with friends. I never thought I would call it home one day. Our biggest drivers for moving to J-Bay was for community and the location. Myself and Vanessa needed a group of people who we could work alongside with and help support us (Roy Harley was always planting seeds when I would come to J-Bay for a visit). The location of J-Bay is the second big factor. The proximity of the townships to the beaches made our small budget work a lot easier. J-Bay is also a world surfing destination so we have been able to link up with some great organizations over the years and have made some solid partnerships. J-Bay has been an incubator for Aleph that I am extremely grateful for. The people who live here and we get to do life with is a bonus.
You have recently become our Regional Coordinator for Africa. What has it been like for you personally to step into this new position?
I am a child of Africa and this continent runs in my veins. As crazy and as frustrating as it can be sometimes, I have always wanted to be part of the change that takes place in Africa. I feel honored and stoked to serve in this capacity. It's been a natural progression for me filling this role. The more offbeat the better!
There are many crossovers in your relationship with Christian Surfers, especially as Aleph is also now a project of Groundswell Aid, what is your perspective of the partnership between Aleph and Christian Surfers and how do you see Groundswell Aid helping?
There is a lot of synergy in what we aim to do. The means may look different at times, but the end result is the same - that people may have the opportunity to know and follow Jesus. Life is just better when He is in the midst of it. The relationship with Groundswell Aid has been mutually beneficial I believe. Aleph Surf adds some value to GSA and in the same breath, we have for sure benefitted as well through means of surf equipment, more orders for our manufacturing sector and financial support for our student graduates. Groundswell Aid has been a fantastic platform, networker and encourager for us. I'm very excited to see the relationship develop even more.
You recently headed up a Groundswell Aid initiative to assist in the disaster relief effort after Cyclone Idai devastated nations in southern Africa, what was your biggest takeaway from that experience?
How you react to a crises is the biggest measure of one's character.
You’ve been able to travel through many countries across the continent, what are your thoughts on the further development of Christian Surfers, and surfing in general, in Africa?
Africa is a beast. We have an estimated 30,000 km of coastline, widespread poverty, political and economical instability, insufficient infrastructure and some gnarly diseases. But great reward awaits those who are willing to take the risk. Surfing in Africa is the last frontier to be discovered. We can see this with all of the recent surf clips and photos that are popping up. As for Christian Surfers, I see the development of local African leaders in an African context as the key to success for our continent. Christian Surfers in Africa is going to look radically different to our current understanding of what an affiliated CS nation looks like.
What does Christian Surfers mean to you?
A global collective of stoked out unique individuals who live out their passions for God, who are able to lay down their own wants and needs to see His Kingdom Come! I'm always encouraged by the stories and testimonies of how people are serving through some pretty creative means.