Liesel James

Berg Site Manager

It only takes one caring adult to assist a child in making positive choices.

ABOUT Liesel

Since 2009, Pretoria born Liesel James has been involved in youth development through various after school programs. Today, in her role as Manager and Mentor to coaches and participants at Waves for Change (W4C), a Cape Town based NGO that provides Surf Therapy to youth from under-resourced communities, she has married her two passions mentoring youth and surfing.

Mother of three, Liesel lives a green environment-conscious lifestyle embracing healthy living, nutrition and caring for our planet into her daily life.

Liesel was nominated as a 2012 Woman of the Year finalist in the Youth Mover Category.


  • Community Development

  • Health

  • Youth Development

W4C provides a child-friendly mental health service to at-risk youth living in unstable communities. Through access to safe spaces, caring mentors, and a provision of weekly Surf Therapy sessions, W4C gives children skills to cope with stress, regulate behaviour, build healing relationships, and make positive life choices.

Waves For Change (W4C) was founded by Ashoka Fellow Tim Conibear. An avid surfer, Tim spent every free moment he had surfing. In 2009 he started a small surfing club in Masiphumelele Township. The club centred around voluntary weekend surfing sessions, which soon grew when local community members – Apish Tshetsha and Bongani Ndlovu – volunteered to lead and expand the club.

It was soon recognised that surfing was a great way to engage young people, who soon started sharing their stories and challenges. In an effort to provide more social support, the trio reached out to local social services only to realise that local services were heavily under-resourced. A gap was identified.

Daily exposure to violence and stress means many South Africans suffer from acute emotional and psychological stress. In the absence of emotional support, the stress often manifests in anti-social and high-risk behaviour. Early surfing sessions showed that participants noted improved feelings of belonging, strength, trust and confidence – key pillars of wellbeing. This was reflected in their behaviour as noted by teachers and parents.

The trio crew, teamed up with mental health professionals and development experts to develop, what today is, an award winning Surf Therapy programme. W4C operates in some of the most at-risk communities in South Africa and Africa.