Mini Cho - dryrobe® Ambassador
We’re stoked to announce that Mozambican surfer, Mini Cho has joined team dryrobe® as an ambassador!
Mini first started surfing aged 14 and has gone on to grow an impressive reputation as ‘The Mozambican Surfer’.
After his family was separated when moving to Mozambique from South Africa due to the rise in attacks towards Mozambicans, Mini turned to surfing as an escape from the troubling worries of supporting his family.
Quickly progressing, Mini became hooked on surfing and set his sights on becoming the first Mozambican professional surfer. Now, he is the first and only professional surfer representing Mozambique on a world stage.
By the age of 20, he became the Surfers Not Street Children Programs Director and Manager for Tofo Surf Club, representing and managing the organisation that helped progress his surfing as a teenager. Surfers Not Street Children is an incredible non-profit organisation based in Durban, South Africa and Tofo in Mozambique. It uses the transformative power of surfing to empower children to change their lives, getting them off the streets and towards self-sustainability. We’re proud to support the organisation as part of our dryrobe® Warmth Project.
During his latest trip to the UK with Surfers Not Street Children’s founder, Tom Hewitt and fellow surfing ambassador Sne Makhubu, we were excited to talk to Mini and find out more about how he found direction from surfing, the surf culture in Mozambique and his travels and aspirations.
How did you get into surfing and what inspired you to pursue it professionally?
I started surfing very late actually, I only started when I was 14.
Prior to that, I actually lived in South Africa because I'm Mozambican - my mum's Mozambican and my dad is Korean. I was born in Mozambique, but my parents moved to South Africa to search for a better life and obviously get jobs there. And then in 2012 there were a lot of xenophobic attacks towards Mozambicans. So we pretty much got chased out of the country... So I moved back to my hometown where I was born and my mom had built a house in Mozambique. Because we had been kicked out of the country, myself and my brothers and my mum moved back to Mozambique, but my dad had to go back to Korea.
At a very young age, I was like 14, I was having to work, do some jobs, to make some money, to make sure that my parents could support themselves and my little brothers.
I started surfing and I think for me it was mainly the escape, because when I was surfing I never had to worry about any issues that I had with my family, any issues that I had to do with supporting the family. But then I quickly progressed because maybe I was escaping too much and I was surfing all the time everyday, whenever I could!
And then I realised that there's never, ever been a Mozambican professional surfer. So I've always been very competitive and athletic, and I just decided, you know what, I'm going to put my head to this and try and become the first Mozambican professional surfer. And in 2019 or 2018, I managed to get that. I'm the first Mozambican professional surfer and the only Mozambican professional surfer representing Mozambique on a world stage.
Last year you travelled to the UK, visiting places including London, Devon, Cornwall and Scotland. How did you find the surf in the UK and what were your favourite surf locations?
So this was my first time and I've enjoyed it so far. I think we definitely lucked out in terms of swell. We arrived here and it was good swell and I've had some really, really good surfs and I keep telling everyone that there's not many places like Croyde, where you’ve got a really good beach break on the one side and the opposite side, you got a right-hand point break - and then you drive a little bit further, you got left-hand point breaks.
We went to Lynmouth and the waves were good, but it was just so beautiful in the area. And that time of the year, everything was very brown and gold. Then we went up to Scotland and it was great. I had so much fun. The snow was incredible. I have seen snow before, but you'd never expect to see that in Scotland, you know, it's quite beautiful up there. And then the waves were even better too. So I think so far my favorite spot there was Thurso - it was incredible. I had such a great surf.
What did you think of the Wave in Bristol and how was it different from surfing in the sea?
That was super fun, I couldn’t stop smiling that day. I think the next day, there were probably waves, but I didn't want to surf when I came back to the beach because I was on such a high from The Wave. It's so great, to begin with the water was blue and that's what I'm used to. It was pretty cold, but there's so many waves coming through and to me, it just blows my mind that it’s like a mechanical wave. I'm so used to the ocean, so I had a great time there. We got to try out some settings and the vibe in the water was nice -I was surfed out that day! I never thought I'd be surfed out from two hours surfing in a wave pool. It was sick.
Where would you love to surf next?
That’s a very tough question to answer! For me, I grew up, and I live, in a very tropical place, so I enjoy these adventures of going out of what I'm comfortable in because I grew up surfing 30 degree water, so it's hard to say where I want to go surfing next.
For example, the adventure to Scotland that we did was an interesting surf trip. I had so much more fun than going to a tropical place, which is just so easy. Scotland was like, getting changed in the snow and driving through the snow and surfing - I think it was like eight degree water. It was pretty cold! So I don't know, I can't pinpoint it, but somewhere where there's that kind of adventure. If surfing is not easy and you're still doing it, it goes to show how much you love doing it because you do anything to do it. You know? So that was the real test of our love of surfing. It was great!
In 2020, you became the Surfers Not Street Children Programs Director and Manager for Tofo Surf Club. What did this mean to you?
So we started the program in 2018, and I became the director in 2020. If you told me when I was 16, that when I'm 20 years old, I'll be the director of the program, I would've laughed and said you're lying. I had no idea what I was going to be in my life and that's why surfing has given me so much, it's given me direction.
So for me it's been huge and also being the first Mozambican surfer - surfing culture isn’t big in Mozambique, but my biggest supporters and fans are the kids from the program. Being the director is great, but being kind of the pioneer and the person paving the way for the kids in Mozambique is really big. I didn't think that I would be the top Mozambican surfer, but I have a lot of kids that look up to me and they seek inspiration, you know?
So not just myself, the whole team, we have a great team in Mozambique. There's a great team behind me as well.
What are your inspirations for competing next year and what are your goals for the 2024 Olympics?
For 2022 I’m hoping to achieve more because we were supposed to do a lot of competing and traveling, but with COVID, everything kind of shut down, so hoping to get that all back up and running.
I don't really put too much on myself in terms of competitive surfing. I want to become the most decorated Mozambican surfer. That is the top of the list, but it doesn't necessarily mean just in competitive results. It could be anything from traveling to certain places, meeting people or doing things. Obviously I would like to do good next year in competing, but I don't really put too much on it. The goal for me is to inspire the kids.
In terms of the Olympics, there is no Surfing Federation in Mozambique. We're trying to set up a Surfing Federation for the kids and then hopefully get an Olympic surf team. I'd say that 80% of the kids in Mozambique that surf good come from the program because the kids in Mozambique, in Tofo especially, they're on another level. Because there’s so many waves, with the program they have all the tools and have access to go surf. So yeah, it would be good to get an Olympic surf team for the kids, but it's not all about creating a bunch of pro surfers. It's about seeing them progress in their lives.
The Olympics would be great, but for me, the kids are getting to that age where I'm seeing them all grow up and get jobs. That could be better than the Olympics for me.
How would you encourage others in Mozambique to surf?
Just by telling them why I started. I know a lot of kids grew up more difficult than I did. Surfing is great in the sense that it gives you direction and it promotes a very healthy living if you want to become a good surfer or you want to just live a very disciplined life.
Surfing gave me a lot of direction in life and you know, I think it's not to encourage every kid to become a pro surfer, but for them to have some part in the ocean. In Mozambique where I live, in Tofo, it's a very Marine tourism based town, so if you have your foot in the door in terms of having a skill in the ocean, it opens up doors for a lot of opportunities.
When you're surfing, you feel like you're kind of a master of the ocean because you're riding the waves, so then kids get into fishing, lifesaving, surf instructing, diving -there's a lot that opens doors for them. So surfing is a good introduction to that. And obviously there's a lot of life lessons that come out of surfing and we teach that a lot to the kids.
As a surfer, you sit and you wait for your wave. You take off on a wave and sometimes you fall and then an automatic response from a surfer is not to be like, ‘yeah, I'm going out.’ They get back on the wave and they try again. So in life it is the same thing. If you fall, you gotta stand back up and keep trying. And when that wave comes, you gotta take that opportunity and go, most of the kids understand these lessons and then it helps them to translate that into their lives growing up.
What is next for you and what are you looking forward to in the next year?
What's next for me… I'm obviously going to keep surfing but, for me, it's just about growing myself as a person, as ‘The Mozambican Surfer’ - that's what everyone calls me.
And also there's the club and the organisation in Mozambique where we're obviously a bit constricted in terms of what we can do now with COVID. So hopefully if things open up next year, we can do a lot more for the kids and provide a lot more support for them and their families, which we currently do. But it's very little right now because of COVID.
For myself, travel and go around the world and tell people my story and let them know about Mozambique, because I think people don't really know much about Mozambique and it's a beautiful country, and there’s beautiful people. It has its own problems, but you know, surfing helped me. And I think it's helping the kids in Mozambique.
Photos by N and M Dro-tography