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Anton Wiersma. Picture: BLUE TRIP
Anton Wiersma. Picture: BLUE TRIP

National kneeboarder Anton Wiersma’s journey from Port Alfred to Portugal is one that started in pain but ended in pleasure — and a nice bit of payback.

Surfing has been the Eastern Cape ace’s escape from life’s curveballs for much of his 45 years. And when it comes to those curveballs, Wiersma has been served way more than have most mortals.

So his bronze medal in the Grand Masters (40-45 age group) at the Kneeboarding Surfing World Championships in Costa Nova, northern Portugal might as well have been a gold medal after what he has been through.

Back in 2000, and in the prime of his life, Wiersma suddenly had problems with a swollen ankle. To cut a long story short, the ailment turned out to be a cancerous osteosarcoma and after a lengthy surgical struggle his only option was to amputate the leg below the knee.

“I think I was unable to get back into the water for around a year,” recalls Wiersma. “And for somebody who spent almost every day riding waves it was nothing less than torture.

“But as soon as I could, I got back, slowly as I had to regain my fitness, but surely. I first tried to surf standing up as normal but though I did manage it, it wasn’t good enough for me so then I started the kneeboarding gig.”

That went well but the universe wasn’t done with him yet and less than a year after his amputation doctors picked up cancer in his lung. “They went in through the front of my chest to remove the bad stuff, all of which left a big scar, but a year later they found some in the other lung and this time went through my back to get rid of it.”

One would have thought Wiersma could at last move on and get to grips with mastering the “kneelo” scene. After all, he’d recently met a young woman called Angela who was working in a popular local surfside pub/restaurant and ended up marrying her. They had a son, Carl, now 12 years old.

But while Angela was pregnant the powers that be dealt Wiersma another dodgy deck of cards when doctors diagnosed cancer in his small intestine and he had to have that organ removed.

Fast forward to today and another addition to the Wiersma family in six-year-old Catherine and just as importantly, no additional medical woes for Anton.“Thankfully since then, everything’s gone OK and I’ve got on with my life,” he says.

But the battle was mentally just as draining as the physical struggle. “I’d been surfing even since I arrived in Port Alfred aged seven. Being in the sea is my freedom ... something many nonsurfers don’t appreciate. Any worries that I have really wash away when I’m in the ocean.

“So I got back into the water the minute I was cleared to start again. For a long time I think I was trying to get back to the level I was at before my illness but I’ve come to terms now and just want to be the best I can and make do with what I’ve got.”

Angela is Wiersma’s rock out of the water. “When I first met Anton, I didn’t even know about his first cancers or the amputation ... he was just this most amazing guy.

“He’s been in remission for more than 15 years now ... he’s always tried so hard at everything he does, amazingly positive and just the nicest guy I’ve ever met.

“He really deserves to go as far as possible in whatever he does ... and going to Portugal was a magnificent milestone for us as a family. We’ve got Dutch students staying with us and they followed his heats on TV here at the coffee shop after they heard his life story. He had such a following, yet just stays as humble as ever.”

Very much on the mind of any ocean sports aficionado is the constant threat of shark attacks, especially so after the recent death of a Cape Town woman in Plettenberg Bay down the coast from Port Alfred.

But it does not stress Wiersma unduly. “Touch wood, sharks aren’t a real problem here. We see them now and then and they’re normally raggies [ragged-tooth], not the dangerous Great Whites. We see them splashing around in the river mouth but if they’re near to where we’re surfing that day the fishermen will normally warn us.

“The only time I don’t go out to surf or swim is when the water is chocolate-brown after bad weather or flooding, that’s when you’re asking for trouble.”

Wiersma was part of a 10-strong squad of South Africans who travelled to Portugal earlier in September and four of them brought back gold medals in various divisions.

“It was awesome travelling to a place I never thought I’d visit,” says Wiersma, who now runs the one-man Eastside surfboard manufacturing and repair business in his hometown.

“We went over individually but had an amazing time once we all got there and I was so proud to wear the Proteas blazer in the opening ceremony held in the town’s main street.”

The bronze medal was especially significant to this cancer survivor who had been all set to compete for SA in the ISA World Para Surfing Championships in La Jolla, California two years ago.

“A funding page was started and we got the money raised but just before the event the SA surfing body informed me that the classification criteria had changed so I lost my slot on the team.

“So I must say, winning that bronze in Portugal was really my way of paying back all the people who had placed their faith in me two years ago.”

Getting this far in life and sport ... Wiersma is fully entitled to a positive type of swelling for his achievements. 

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