Sport changed my life. Sometimes I wonder what I would do without the sporting lifestyle that I have. I would have to thank my dad because my brother and I were introduced to sport at an early age, growing up around the sport scene whilst my dad was racing. Either cycling, road running, duathlon or his favourite, x-country.

My first ever achievement in any kind of sport was in the year 1998 at a fun race where my dad took part in a track cycling event. I was 7 years old with a mountain bike 5 times too big for me. The organisers set out an obstacle course for us. I remember there was a puddle of water we had to go through, it was quite long, and I just could not get through this. I kept falling and falling. Why didn’t I walk through it? That you would have to ask me at the time! Eventually I finished and won my age category and received a nice trophy for my efforts.

That same year I started surf lifesaving as an U10 nipper with Pirates, now called Suncoast Pirates. I really struggled for the next two years. I was up against people 3 years older than me and also trying to get through the waves with such a small body can be very difficult and scary sometimes. There was a time when we went to the National Champs in Fish Hoek and I was pulled out by the lifeguards because I wasn’t getting through the waves on the Malibu board (kneeboard) event. When it came to my last year as U10 in 2001 I had gained a lot of experience with the surf and with the events, this was the time when I started dominating the surf lifesaving scene.

It was the same year in 2000 where my swimming and running was taking off too. At my Primary school, Atholton I won my first swimming as well x-country championship in my grade. I continued this winning steak in both events for the next 4 years until my final year in primary school. I was awarded schools’ swimming and x-country captain along with vice captain in my house. Along that journey I was KZN representative for 3 years in x-country and swimming.

On the sideline when I had the chance I also occasionally competed in local triathlons and then the KZN and SA Champs where I had a winning streak from 2001 – 2003 in my age group and a 2nd place in 2004 SA Champs.

Growing up as a nipper I had the nickname “King Henri”. This was at the one KZN Championships in 2002, first year U12, I happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time during a Malibu board relay. 3 nippers and I was the anchor for the team. Coming back to shore we were placed 2nd and out of nowhere a freak wave came from behind, about a 7 ft, maybe bigger. There was no turning back, I started to feel my heart beating against my chest and thoughts of dying in my head. As the swell picked me up I felt its power and tried to hold back so I would miss it but it was so steep it took me along for the ride anyway. I slid as far back on my board as I could go to pick up the nose of it (to avoid nosediving) and managed to hang on! The 1st placer couldn’t survive the wave which put my team into first. I remember giving the air a small punch with a big smile while riding the rest of the wave to victory. Everyone saw this and my coach decided to call me “King Henri”.

Some of my highlighted events as a nipper were body board, Malibu board, ironman, long run, surf swim, run swim run and then all the relay events: bodyboard, Malibu board and Taplin (consists of long run, swim, bodyboard and Malibu board). These were the races I/we would always win. I would also always be victor ladorium at Championships with the most gold medals.

The biggest disappointment I’ve had was in 2006 at the National Champs in P.E. I lost the title on my last bodyboard event as a nipper. It was my final year as U14. I had a massive lead and out of nowhere a freak wave came from behind and 4 others behind me were all brought together on the wave and podium spots came down to a sprint to the line. I came in second. I remember having a tear in my eye after that race. I had never felt so bad in my life before. I had never lost any bodyboard title for the last 5 years and it was my favourite race too. Some people said I was the best bodyboader ever in nipper surf lifesaving.

2006 marked the breakthrough in my swimming progress with my first bronze medal at the National Age Group Champs in the 1500 freestyle and a bronze medal at the Midmar Mile u14 category.

Henri Schoeman Background with sports