Being caught by police for stealing was the turning point for him, says Alfonzo Peters, 27.
Alfonzo says after his father died, his mom relocated to Manenberg with him, his brother and sister.
For the eight-year-old boy, life in the heart of gangland was hard.
“It was tough after my father passed away. It felt like we had a broken home,” he recalls.
He admits he mixed with the wrong crowd to try and fill the void his dad left, and ran away from home to live on the streets.
But he got a wake-up call seven years later, when cops arrested him and a friend for breaking into a car in Cape Town, and he was locked up.
They were eventually acquitted due to a lack of evidence, but that experience was enough for Alfonzo to change direction.
Enter social worker Ryan Dalton, who offered him a place to stay and paid for his schooling. “Providing that I make the best of it,” he says.
He attended the School of Hope in Athlone where he was introduced to surfing.
“I wasn’t really serious about surfing, but after I caught my first wave at Surfers Corner, I fell in love with it.”
He surfed every day. "The waves were like therapy for my soul," he said.
In 2016, he topped the podium at the Tiger's Milk Winter Classic surfing competition, beating his hero and reigning champ, Matthew Moir.
Next month, Alfonzo will be jetting off to Papua New Guinea to compete in the Longboard World Championships.
“I am excited for the opportunity to represent South Africa at the world champs. My goal is to make it through to the seeding rounds,” he says.
And when he comes home after that, he’ll be catching waves of a different kind, marrying his fiance Emma Rudling, who he says has given him new roots.
The head coach at Surf Emporium in Muizenberg hopes to someday open his own surf shop to teach kids for free.
Meanwhile, he has set up a GoFundMe page to help pay for his trip.