Through shared experiences and common interest, an unlikely friendship was formed between big wave surfer and marine activist, Frank Solomon from Cape Town, and two street surfers, Thabo Mouti and Mokete Mokete, who live on the streets of Johannesburg

For anyone who has cruised the streets of Johannesburg, the sight of the city’s ‘street surfers’ is as much a part of the landscape as is that of the high-rise metropolitan skyline.

Framed in tattered clothing and makeshift outfits, street surfers negotiate the city on flatbed trolleys as they haul large silo bags stuffed full of recyclable materials to make an honest living.

Pictured above: Frank, Thabo and Mokete


Choosing to collect and sell waste over a life of begging, crime and unemployment, Thabo and Mokete can be seen surfing their way down the city roads, between cars, pedestrians and pavements, as they take their goods to various dumps around the city in exchange for cash.

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For Thabo and Mokete, like many others, becoming a street surfer was a decision born of necessity. With cold nights spent sleeping on the streets and exhausting long-distance walks across the city each day, it’s easy to understand why this work would be a last resort.

Humbly saving our planet

Rather than being seen as a nuisance, street surfers should be celebrated for their tenacity and opportunism in the face of a harsh reality and admired for their contribution to society both environmentally and economically. While we face a global climate crisis, only 10% of South Africa’s waste ends up being recycled.

“These guys do an incredible job for the environment, yet they live without access to running water and electricity, things we take for granted every day. They’re up from three in the morning and graft all the way through to the late afternoon, it’s unreal. To earn just R300, they need to collect 100kg of plastic. If you do the math on how many bins they’d have to sift through to reach that target, it’ll blow your mind. You know, at the very least the government and people, in general, should just respect these guys, it’ll go a long way,” says Frank.

Pictured above: Frank and Mokete

Safeguarding the oceans

Unbeknownst to the street surfers, they also safeguard the ocean, preventing tonnes of plastic from entering the marine environment, something that cannot be overlooked in our quest to end plastic pollution.

“When you see street surfers digging through the trash, separating recyclable materials, let it serve as a reminder of how far we have to go, it’s a brutal job, but these guys are willing to do it. The unbelievable reality is, even in the face of such overwhelming adversity and abject poverty, you’ll never see these men not donning a genuine smile,” says Frank

Crowdfunding on BackaBuddy

To give back to Thabo and Mokete for their humble service to our planet and to positively impact their lives, Frank has created a campaign on donations based crowdfunding platform, BackaBuddy, to appeal to South Africans to support these men as we lead up to the festive season.

“I hope with our BackaBuddy campaign, we can raise enough funds to transform Thabo and Mokete’s lives so they can be seen as role models in their community. When I met them, I asked how I could assist them, their response was heartbreakingly simple, they need help with ‘life’, they said. With support, I hope to provide them with food, clothes and other living expenses for as long as possible” – says Frank

Pictured above: Frank, Thabo and Mokete in Newtown, Johannesburg


Donations to the ‘Street Surfers’ campaign on BackaBuddy will be used to provide Thabo and Mokete with a “surfer’s pack” that will include:

  • Two pairs of comfortable, hardcore boots.
  • Clothing for the elements (a few pairs of overalls, wet weather gear and jackets)
  • Two pairs of gloves
  • Monthly food vouchers

Funds raised will be transferred to and managed by non-profit organisation, The Sentinel Ocean Alliance, to purchase the “surfer’s pack”, as the two men don’t have bank accounts.

Street Surfers documentary:


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