When promising young Port Alfred surfer
Anton Wiersma was diagnosed with cancer in his ankle he thought his
life was over.
Only 23 years old with the world at his feet, it all came crashing down when specialists said they would have to amputate his right leg below the knee.
"It felt like the end of the world. Surfing was my life and when I lost my leg, it felt like the ting my life revolved round was taken from me," Anton explained.
Hooked on surfing since he first hit the water as a nine year old grom, by the time he was 13, he was competing and doing well in provincial surfing competitions.
"I represented my province every year from 1991 until 1999 when I was diagnosed with an Osteosarcoma in my right ankle in 2000.
"My (late) parents did everything in their power to save my life and I ended up having my leg amputated below the knee.
"At that stage I was trying to fight for my life so I didn’t really digest what was going on."
Although the doctors treating him tried to save his leg, Anton spent an agonizing nine months on crutches before the decision was taken to amputate.
Recovering from the surgery and subsequent chemo treatments as well as the psychological impact of losing his leg, Anton realized the best treatment was to get back in the water.
"I slowly started to recover and decided the only way I would be able to deal with everything going on was to start doing what I loved the most and that was surfing."
Daunted by the thought of surfing without a leg, Anton decided to start kneeboarding instead.
"Being in the water has always been my escape, the place where I am free and happy."
Sometimes life can be cruel and Anton realized just how desperate his situation was when life threw him another scary curveball less than a year after he lost his leg.
"In 2001 I had another set back and was diagnosed with lung cancer and shockingly again in 2002."
"Each time I thought I was making progress, I got knocked back."
Never one to back down from a challenge, Anton believes his love for surfing helped him overcome the challenges he faced.
A surfer to the core, Anton first started shaping boards for himself and friends in 1998 and when and decided to make it his full time job soon after he lost his leg.
He now runs his own company called Eastside Surfboards and hand shapes boards the old way.
"Surfing is my life, it saved my life."
Spending as much time as he could in the water, another reason to keep fighting came six years later when he met a beautiful girl called Angela.
"I found someone who loved me for who I was, I was a young guy, a cancer survivor, with one leg and scars on my chest from the surgeries ) but that didn't bother Angela.
"The chemotherapy took a huge toll on my body and much to my surprise she became pregnant with my son in 2009.
"We unfortunately were shocked when halfway through her pregnancy I was diagnosed with small intestinal cancer."
Anton soon realized the best medicine involved vitamin sea therapy and he was back in the water six weeks after it was removed.
Shortly afterwards, a beautiful baby boy called Carl was born.
"Angela and Carl, my love of my family and my passion for surfing gave me even more reason to live.
"Still, during all the years of treatments and diagnoses, I would struggle emotionally between acceptance, frustration and anger towards my disability.
"Feelings of why me."
In the meantime, Anton married Angela and in 2016 they were blessed with a daughter, Catherine. "
"Trying to be a good example for my family kept me going as well as my new found love for knee board surfing.
"These things saved my life."
Always competitive, Anton started taking part in friendly, able bodied kneeboarding events and even decided to give the premier SA championships a go in 2018 after many years absence.
"I won the masters division and came 3rd in the open division.
"These results inspired me to, finally, psychologically embrace the hand that life had dealt.
With renewed fire in his soul, he began researching and reading up on the world adaptive surfing games, for people with physical challenges.
"Finally, after 20 years, I accepted my disability.
"I entered the South African games and won my division and earned selection for the world championship.
"I became determined to embrace my disability and compete with other disabled surfers in order to further my surfing career."
Not just an inspiration to his friends and family, Anton became an inspiration to everyone he met thanks to his friendly, caring nature and his mad skills on a kneeboard, surfing as good as the best able bodied surfers.
"I would be so proud to represent my country in the upcoming adaptive games that will be held in LA Jolla California in March 2020.
"I want to inspire as many people as I can, especially other disabled surfers just as they inspired me when I first read up about them."
* about the author: two time South African longboard surfing champion and Shaka Surf School owner David Macgregor has known Anton for 25 years.
Here are his thoughts.
"Anton's life journey has become an inspiration to many. Cancer is a frightening concept to get your head round especially when it is you that is diagnosed.
"What amazes me is Anton's never say die attitude. No matter how bad things seemed, and there were many times when many people thought he was going to die, he hanged tough, with a smile on his face and a positive attitude.
"His fight for life, love for his family and passion for surfing is an ongoing inspiration.
"As much as he would love to maybe become world kneeboard champion, life is expensive, especially with a wife and two kids to support, and this is his main priority.
"It would be awesome if humanity could help Anton with his lifelong journey of healing and the next phase of inspiring people who are going through the same challenges he faced to never give up."
* the world adaptive championships take place in La-jolla, California from in 11 - 15 th March 2020.