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Bianca Buitendag on Life, Loss and Surfing Through It

Bianca Buitendag was, as she puts it, born into surfing. Growing up near Cape Town, on the southern tip of South Africa, when she was 12 her family moved four hours up the coast, to the beach town of Victoria Bay. The water was always part of the family DNA: They would go to the beach together, exploring rock pools and building sand castles until the children learned to swim. Later, her brothers would push her into waves and they would paddle out together.

Buitendag's best result this year was a third-place finish in Fiji, where she took down defending event champ Sally Fitzgibbons along the way.

Today, the goofyfooter is ranked No. 10 on the women's Championship Tour and is one of the lethal weapons of the CT. Despite this success, she's had her share of setbacks. She lost her father last year, and surfed through it, to finish at her career-best at World No. 4. But as she makes her way through another season, she took time to reflect on where's she's been, and how she made it through a difficult time for an upcoming WSL video profile. Below is a preview of her very personal interview.

On Her Culture

Bianca Buitendag was eliminated in the Quarterfinals. Buitendag earned a fifth-place finish at the 2016 Margaret River contest, where she put her comfort in heavy surf to good use. - WSL / Ed Sloane

I grew up speaking Afrikaans. I actually couldn't speak a word of English when I went to school. My parents decided to put me in an English school, so that was interesting. The first year of school I hated -- I'm very grateful though that they did that. When you're travelling Afrikaans won't take you very far. But I'm still proud of where I came from and the culture I still try to portray.

I feel like Africa is one of the richest places in the world. Might not be monetarily, but definitely in culture.

I think people have a very wrong perception of Africa, never mind South Africa. I find it quite funny. I feel like the international media really does [portray it] as dangerous. And the whole poverty mentality -- I feel like Africa is one of the richest places in the world. Might not be monetarily, but definitely in culture. Obviously the big cities, Johannesburg and Durban there's a lot of areas you should stay away from but I've been there for 22 years now and I don't plan on going anywhere else.

On Her Athleticism

I played every sport that could exist. I loved sports at school. I played hockey quite well, swimming quite well but I was really small, very short and tiny and light.

Bianca Buitendag warms up. It's hard to believe that Buitendag was kicked off the netball team as a kid for being too small. These days, her powerful surfing ensures her place deep in the tube. - WSL

I was actually kicked out of the netball team because I was too small when I was 12. I only grew really late. When my growth came, my boredom in sports came almost at the same time. I felt very confined to a track or a swimming pool and I felt like surfing gave me an opportunity to express freedom so I chose that, which is very not heard of in my culture. No one even knows what surfing is in Afrikaans culture.

On Her First Big Win

My first big event that I won was the world juniors in Narrabeen. I was 17 at that point. We were just discussing whether I was going to surf or study after school. My parents really emphasized the importance of academics and education ever since a young age. I would always have that as a priority and surfing just as a bonus.

Bianca Buitendag prior to her Quarterfinal heat. Growing up it was school first, surfing second. Once she decided to commit full time, it paid off. - WSL / Ed Sloane

I thought surfing was very stimulating but intellectually I felt quite numb if I had to surf continuously. I'd go on a trip for two weeks, pack school books in the airport and just grind on the plane. Come back and have tutors from dawn to dusk. If we didn't come back with straight A's my parents would be a bit disappointed in me and my brothers. Very performance-driven household.

On Her Friendship with Johanne Defay

I had to decide [whether I was going to commit to pro surfing]. My mom just mentioned to me that she actually went off to school because of the conservative culture she grew up in. Traveling wasn't an option and at that time there was Apartheid as well. So South Africans were very isolated from the world. So she didn't have the opportunity to travel and she told me it was one of her biggest regrets. So when I had to decide she said, "Bianca I give you one year."

I came from this quiet town in South Africa without much experience and Johanne came from Reunion Island and we set out with great ambition to make this thing a reality. It was us against the world, it felt like.

And I took the year and was blessed with amazing support from Roxy in Europe and I did the QS. And just before that I won the pro junior so I kind of knew what direction I was going into. It gave me a bit of courage to actually step out and do that. In my culture it's not very popular to go out and travel. You have to go to school, go to university, get married... .

Johanne Defay after winning the 2016 Women's Fiji Pro. Bianca and Johanne Defay (R) met during their early competitive years, and have become even closer on tour. - WSL / Ed Sloane

The first year of the QS was intense but it was also the first year I didn't have to do school so I took a year just to surf. And I travelled with Johanne [Defay] and [Roxy coach] Mathias Maallem. It was us against the world, it felt like. I came from this quiet town in South Africa without much experience and Johanne came from Reunion Island and we set out with great ambition to make this thing a reality. We worked really hard. That was the first time I was exposed to Johanne's determination, her strength, her character, her training. I was inspired by that as well as encouraged by Mathias. I think that team really invested a lot into my career. I only made one round in seven months and then I won two QS's at the end of the year.

On Losing Her Father

I don't think you deal with what happens. I think it deals with you. I don't think you necessarily ever overcome a tragedy. I think it changes a lot of your youth, a lot of how you see the world, a lot of what you depend on. You become less selfish. It changes you but you never overcome it.

I don't think you deal with what happens. I think it deals with you.

That's where God comes in. I'll tell you the truth. Some days I couldn't get out of bed. I was really in a deep, dark place. And you're angry with God and you're angry with things. You don't want to be surfing a contest. You get that whole questioning thing. But I'm telling you without God's grace, I would not be sitting here right now.

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