Cassiem “Cass” Collier – Cape Town Surfing Legend
For those unfamiliar with the dreadlocked surfer who runs the surf academy on Muizenburg beach, it’s the legendary Cassiem “Cass” Collier, an institution in his own right.
Three-time Western Province Champion, World Big Wave Surfing Champion and one of the best surf coaches in the world. He made history as the first non-white “colored” surfer to win an international surfing title in 1999.
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“Cass” as he affectionately calls him is Cape Town surfing legend and for good reason.
You’d have to be a legend with balls of steel to ride South Africa’s biggest waves at Dungeons – the most monstrous waves reaching up to 18 meters and crashing into cold, unpredictable shark-infested waters . This creates an ocean battleground where only the fittest big wave surfers survive.
Cass was one of the first surfers to draw a line along a breaking wave at Dungeons.
As a child, Cass spent most of her days in the waters of 9 Miles Beach in Strandfontein, one of the few non-white beaches. He swam competitively for the South African Sports Council and learned to surf at the age of 9, inspired by his late father, Ahmed Collier, who ignored apartheid restrictions and took Cass on the best “only white” beaches. stopped to be there. Collier was an early pioneer of non-racial surfing in South Africa.
Collier had to fight for his place in the surfing community and was determined to change the law on racially segregated beaches. Ahmed Collier died in November 2017, leaving behind him a heritage. Cass explains how his father’s political stance on apartheid-era property drove him to excel and transcend the sport he loved – “My father was very political in terms of property; ownership of yourself and your own space.
Despite facing adversity, Cass persevered until he made it to the international stage, where he and longtime friend and teammate Ian Armstrong competed and won the title at the World Championships. World Reef ISA Big Wave in Todos Santos, Mexico. 1999. Leaving the entire international surfing scene in shock, they couldn’t understand how two bearded Rastafarians from Africa could dominate such a prestigious event.
“When we won the Big Wave title, it sent major shockwaves through the industry, we were unknown at the time.”
“At the championships everything was against us, we didn’t look like surfers who would even make it to the finals and didn’t even have a chance of winning the competition. Armstrong and I did our best and as they say the rest is history. The surfing world has been shaken to the core after two guys with dreadlocks showed that dreads don’t define whether you can become a champion or not.
After winning the championship, the media focused more on Cass’ background as a non-white in apartheid than on his accomplishments as a world surfing champion.
“When Ian and I decided to compete internationally we had to shell out our own money as we had no sponsors to pay for flights, accommodation etc. Our next international competition was in 2000 in Haiti and the day before the competition I saw how a friend and competitor lost his life. I realized that you shouldn’t underestimate the 20 foot waves when you compete because one wrong move can cost you life.
“I thought the competition would be suspended due to the death, but as they say ‘the show must continue’. I decided that my life was worth more and that I could instead use my knowledge to help my community by teaching young and old how to surf. I gradually retired from competition and enjoy my time with the surfers of my academy.
Cass retired from competitive surfing in 2000 and established the Cass Collier Surf Academy at Surfer’s Corner, Muizenburg, where he has been teaching surfing to young and old for 22 years.
“The ocean is freedom” – Cass has a genuine love, understanding and respect for the ocean and a passion for teaching the sport is so dear.
“The smile on a surfer’s face when they can stand on the surfboard on a wave is worth all the effort I have put into helping them enjoy this sport that I love so much. We usually meet at Surfers Corner and then hit the waves.
In 2005, Nicolaas Hofmeyr made the documentary Taking Back the Waves with the aim of highlighting Cass Collier and Ian Armstrong’s journey to winning the Big Wave World Champions as outcasts, and Cass’ struggles as colored surfer in South Africa at the height of the apartheid regime.
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Image: Cassiem Collier / Facebook