BROTHERS UNITE TO DEFY DISABILITY IN SURFSKI FIRST
Joshua Preyser is a familiar figure at Cape Town’s iconic Sea Dog surfski race.
Most Fridays, while his younger brothers Zach and Daniel sprint around the six-kilometre course, Joshua stands on the beach in support, cheering and chatting and embodying the town’s proud surfski culture.
Blind since birth, he had never even considered trying to join in.
That was until Zach planted the idea in his mind – and after just a moment of slight hesitation – he jumped at the opportunity.
And it proved to be one of the most rewarding decisions that he’s ever made.
Three brothers in the same boat, after a lifetime of love and support, finally united in joy on the ocean.
“Wow… it just felt so great!” Josh chuckles.
The paddling paths that Zach and Daniel Preyser travelled to reach this point are starkly different.
In the case of Zach, his love is obvious.
Along with Jeremy Valerga, the ‘Zach and Jerry’ surfski videos have gained a following online for the pure enjoyment they exude.
Yet for Daniel, paddling proved a slow burn.
“I have to say, I pretty much hated it,” he admits. “Early mornings on the water weren’t great.”
“But over the years, it really did grow on me, especially paddling on the ocean.
“I can’t say that I love it as much as Zach – I’m pretty sure no one loves it as much as Zach – but being out on the water, there’s nothing better.”
Daniel may well be right.
You can hear the excitement in Zach’s voice when he begins to talk about his favourite pastime.
“Every time I get on the ocean, I get such a good, positive feeling inside of me,” he says.
“It’s so good… so upbeat and energetic, I just can’t get enough of it.”
So, naturally, one day Zach realised that it was about time he shared that feeling with Joshua too.
“I literally got up one morning and said, ‘Right. I’m going to get the Carbonology S3 and we’re all going to do the Sea Dog together,’” he recalls.
“There was a split second [of hesitation] then Josh just said, ‘Let’s do this, let’s go. I’m super keen.’
“He’s always come down to enjoy the atmosphere and the vibe while we’re out there paddling, but as much as he enjoys it, I’ve always felt he needed to get involved.
“It’s about time someone like Josh had the opportunity to do this.”
Joshua had never paddled before but, thanks to years of ballroom dancing, he has the perfect sense of timing and coordination to thrive in the boat.
“It’s beautiful to watch him when he goes out and dances,” Zach says. “He’s an absolute pro.”
“He’s going to have to teach me one of these days… I need to sort out these two left feet.”
Still, paddling was always going to be a daunting task.
For their first session, the three brothers took the triple surfski out on a reasonably calm day.
“Zach set the paddles to 0… I don’t exactly know what that means in paddling terminology,” Joshua laughs.
“Just pulling it through the water made it really easy for me to keep up with everybody.”
“It took my arms a whole week to recover!”
It’s a modest reflection.
“Josh blew me away with how competent he was and how safe he felt with Daniel and I taking him out.” Zach reflects.
“He loved it. He loved the feeling of the water, and every time he’s just gotten better and better and better.”
It was a steep learning curve for Joshua.
His very next paddle was a 10 kilometre trip from Fish Hoek to Muizenberg and back – and his first time taking on real waves.
“He loved the feel,” Zach says. “Just that rush of the boat moving through the water.”
“He said, ‘Is this what wave riding is like? I want to keep doing this, this is fun!’
“When you lose your sight, your other senses are enhanced… and Josh has unbelievable listening, he has very acute abilities.
“Seeing his face light up when we caught a swell was brilliant.
“It was such a joy.”
A joy shared by Joshua too.
“It was a great day out, that Saturday,” he says.
“Catching waves was just so great… just wow… it was amazing.”
After just two sessions, Joshua was already thriving in the ski.
But to replicate that form at the Sea Dog – surrounded by more than one hundred paddlers all jostling for positions – was, admittedly, a nerve-wracking thought.
“I have to admit, I was never expecting to do a race,” Joshua says.
“But on that first paddle I thought, ‘Why not try and do the Sea Dog?’
“Whenever I go out to ballroom dancing competitions and demos, with me being blind, the advantage is that I don’t get nervous… I just go out and do what I do.
“It was pretty much the same with paddling.
“I had trust in my brothers and their abilities… and that’s basically it.”
That trust is all he needed to thrive.
The conditions were relatively calm – with a few bumps thrown in to make it enjoyable.
And, as you can see in the video at the top of the page… everything just fell into place.
“It felt so great,” he says. “Zach being the driver and Daniel in the back being so patient.”
“I basically just had a desire to be there with everyone… socialising and being there with the crew.”
“I just wanted to get out there and have fun.”
“It actually went really well,” Daniel reflects.
“All of the paddlers saw Josh and told us that they felt really, really inspired and it encouraged people to have a nice vibe out on the water.”
“A lot of people took a lot of joy out of it, and so did Josh… let’s just say it made the car ride home with him very, very enjoyable.”
“I don’t think there was a point during the race where Joshua wasn’t smiling,” Zach adds.
“He absolutely loved being out there and the other paddlers seemed super excited too.
“They gravitated towards Josh to cheer him on, which was super awesome.
“I think most of the nerves came from our parents… for all of us, we were far too excited to be nervous at all.
“Maybe he had a bit of sadness that there were no waves there that day,” he laughs.
Zach admits the speed to which Joshua has taken to paddling has “really surprised” the family.
“We were blown away by his ability to stay upright in the boat and stay in time,” he says.
“Jeez, we didn’t even have to say anything – he just listens to the sound of the paddle strokes in the water… it’s just astonishing.”
“I think Josh has got the itch now… the bug has bitten him.”
For the Preyser family, words fail to aptly describe just how special that day was.
But Zach knows its significance even transcends that, speaking volumes about the potential of paddling as a sport – and as a means to connect.
“People with disabilities can do this too… it’s not impossible,” he says. “We need to make it available to them.”
“I love my brother… there’s no doubt about it, I love him.
“Josh has taught me so much over the years about patience and understanding.
“People with disabilities just want to be treated like everyone else – and that’s how we treat Josh, he’s my brother.”
“I play pranks on him, we joke, we laugh, we get angry, we argue… we love and support one another, and that’s the best thing about it.
“Being my older brother, he is my role model – I strive to be like him.
“Joshua is destined for great things and he has shown us that every day of his life.
“[Paddling] is bringing the family together… we’re all doing it as one.
This sense of a newfound bond isn’t lost on Daniel either.
“When we were in that boat, I’ve never felt more connected to these two guys,” he says.
“It was a really big sense of love and unity between us.
“It has always been Zach and I paddling together, but to get our third brother, who we haven’t been able to do a lot with in the past, was amazing.”
The brothers are already planning their next challenge.
Cape Town’s iconic Freedom Paddle or even a pumping Millers Run are just two of the options that are being thrown around.
While they haven’t yet decided on that, one thing is for certain.
Whatever Joshua does next, there will be a smile on his face the entire time.
“I’m just going to take the approach I did to the Sea Dog… just get out there and have fun,” he says.
“I’m sure there are many more paddles to come.”