CRAIG JARVIS writes for KW

There is a theory out there that to be good at surfing you need to surf as many contests from as young an age as possible, so that competition surfing becomes second nature, it becomes the only way you view surfing. 

The only way this can happen is if parents instill it in their kids. If parents enter their children into contests, drive them to events, and make sure that they are well looked after at these events. 

There is also a theory that if you want to become good at something you need to put in 10,000 hours. This theory, postulated by Malcolm Gladwell, states that 10,000 hours of “deliberate practice” are needed to become world-class in any field.


“He needs to figure things out for himself”says dad Jason.

In surfing, the 10,000 hours theory could well hold true, but it’s logical that it’ll be 10,000 hours of unrestricted and unrestrained surfing that will deliver talent and hone skills. 

Surfing is all about technique first, and strategy and tactics later. A surfer needs to be competent before he or she can become good, before he or she can become excellent. 

Former long time CT surfer Greg Emslie from East London was talking to me recently about the state of junior surfing in South Africa, and told me that he thought there is a chance that the young kids are surfing too many contests, that they should only be encouraged when they are around fifteen years of age. Right now we have U12 divisions, and surfers younger than that entering these contests, and some of them are stressed, nervous and not in a place of happiness. Some kids even cry at the beach if they don’t win, and don’t please their parents. 

James Ribbink from Durban has the ability to win contests. A quick look will show these stats:

U8 Sa Grom Games 2012 champion.
U10 Sa Grom Games 2013 champion, and Surfer Of The Event award the same year.

First place U10 RVCA Junior Series event in JBay 2013.
First place U10 RVCA Junior Series event in JBay 2014
First place U12 RVCA Junior Series event in JBay 2014, and Surfer Of The Event award the same year.
First place U12 Billabong Series 2015.
First place U12 St Mikes Juniors 2016. 

Surfer Of The Event Billabong Jnr at Seal Point 2016
U13 SA Junior Champion 2016
First place U14 St Mikes Juniors 2018

Second Place U14 Billabong Junior Event Seal Point 2018.

Being the son of Jason Ribbink – one of the most successful surfers in South Africa – accomplished in shortboarding, longboarding, big wave surfing and anything else that he can ride, must have placed certain pressures on young Jimmy, but he found a solution to this. Instead of heading down to a contest season of back-to-back junior contests, or a run of events down in Cape Town, James would rather head out to Indonesia and do a couple of weeks on a boat trip and work on his barrel riding, or figure out some new equipment from sponsors Channel Islands and FCS and test them on a bunch of different waves.

When there is a swell lighting up the eastern Cape then James would prefer to head for JBay and stay with Cheron, surfing days of perfect Supers, as opposed to hacking around in onshore contest slop somewhere, and the approach seems to be working. 

His surfing has matured, and is getting acclaimed everywhere, and although he is a fairly rare appearance at surf events, when he arrives he is immediately a dangerman in whatever divison he is entered into.   

“He needs to figure things out for himself’ says dad Jason. James was recently invited to go and join Dooma (Damien Fahrenfort) and Jordy Smith on a trip to Namibia, and it was with some trepidation, and rightfully so, that he was off on a mission with two of his surf heroes. He fitted in however, and he charged down The Donkey, getting a few sick backhand barrels in the process. Durban surfers, and in particular town surfers, have very few lefts to surf on, and the good days in the left bowls are rare. Durban surfers need to hit a few lefts whenever they can.

‘On that recent trip to Donkey Bay with Jordy and Dooma, he charged when the sets came, and he kept the crew laughing with his wit and humour.’

James does have a few great sponsors who have seen the value in what he stands for and by the way that he rips and carries himself in the water. Channel Islands, RVCA, Nixon, FCS, CellC and Oakley all keep him covered, and he does them proud.

On that recent trip to Donkey Bay with Jordy and Dooma, he charged when the sets came, and he kept the crew laughing with his wit and humour. 

“We had a classic trip with James,” reckoned Dooma.  “He’s a must have on any trip, comedy the entire time and doesn’t turn a challenge down. I was super impressed with James backside tube riding and he’s a bit tougher than I thought. Surfed about 10 hours a day in the same wetsuit he uses in Durban in summer. James has great technique and he’s an insane tube rider and learns quick. I hope to do more trips with Jimmy.”

Back at home in Durban, two-times Big Wave World Champion Grant ‘Twiggy’ Baker has also noticed Jimmy’s performances, particularly when the waves are big enough to have consequences. He was also in the water recently when James arrived to meet a solid swell at Supers. Twiggy was impressed with what he saw.

“James is a great surfer who has a solid foundation in the rail game at a young age which is rare to see these days,” reckond Twig. “The future is obviously in the air, but unless you can combine it with some serious power surfing you won’t get very far competitively.

I had the pleasure of surfing with James recently on a large swell in JBay and his reading of the lineup and ocean knowledge was strong and he was surfing with strength and maturity.”

James trains at the High Performance Surfing Academy with Chad Du Toit, and has been hard-at-work upping his game and getting whatever information he can gather to help his surfing. at the recent events in the Eastern Cape he went and found Grahame Hynes for valuable input on his surfing technique, and when it came to understanding the local waves better with regards to tide, wind and swell direction, he spoke to the locals and got their input, and there is no better input than from a local. The fact that when he is at a contest he is totally focussed, yet he is not beholden to competitive structures, is what sets him apart from his peers. 

The most important thing about being a good surfer is spending time in the water riding waves. Then, the one thing that separates a good surfer from a great surfer however, especially in the formative years, is that a great surfer quite simply loves surfing, and loves to go surfing. This has nothing whatsoever to do with competitions. There is a fine balance…

All photos expand when clicked.