MAVERICK CITIZEN

Women tourists accuse a Hermanus surf school and guesthouse owner of rape and sexual harassment

By Biénne Huisman 2 September 2021

Illustrative image | Sources: Unsplash / Max Kleinen / Alex Bailey / Cedrick Frixon / Jeremy Bishop | Pxfuel | Flickr/ Dan Harrison

In the sleepy seaside town of Hermanus, a self-styled ‘surfing coach’ is being accused of sexual harassment and rape.

Biénne Huisman

The man’s surf school, which also offers accommodation in Hermanus, a favourite whale-watching destination in the Western Cape, has an excellent 9.1 rating on booking.com. However, accounts by female guests paint a different story – one of an insecure man preying on young solo travellers far from home. 

Two young women (one based in Lisbon, the other in Tampa, Florida) who travelled through South Africa alone, have submitted detailed statements alleging that the man isolated and raped them. Speaking to Maverick Citizen over Zoom in separate interviews, both women repeated their written accounts, which they submitted to Koleinu SA, a Johannesburg-based non-profit organisation dedicated to helping victims of abuse. 

At this stage, the man cannot be named as he has not appeared in court or been formally charged. 

When asked to respond to the allegations, the man sounded calm, defending himself via a WhatsApp voice note: “That’s a completely false and damaging allegation,” he said. “And also extremely painful that people would say that kind of thing. So ja, that’s my response. It’s not very lekker at all.”

However, Koleinu SA’s founders, Wendy Hendler and Rozanne Sack, say they are hoping more women will come forward once the matter is made public.

“We need a local victim to come forward and be willing to lay criminal charges against [the man’s name]. In this way a legal case can be instituted and the overseas victims will have a chance to join virtually,” says Hendler. “Also, we want to alert tourists and locals about the danger he presents to unsuspecting young women.”

Sarah* (27) is from Chicago but now lives in Tampa, Florida, where she is a model and graphic designer. She says the man raped her in his bakkie in Cape Town in August 2014 when she was 20, and travelling in South Africa on a study exchange. 

Kate* (32) from London, now based in Lisbon, works in corporate communication. She says he raped her in a bedroom at his Hermanus guest accommodation in February 2020.  

Both women have been in therapy to heal from their experiences in South Africa. They are reliving their ordeals in the hope of preventing more women from getting hurt. 

Kate tells Daily Maverick she felt uncomfortable right from the first surf lesson, as the man told her she wasn’t learning fast enough, while paying scant attention to her as he was glued to Instagram messaging girls: “He was raving about how he was getting with this 20-year-old girl and showing us photos and being, like, ‘she’s done this with me in bed’ and ‘she was a virgin’. We were, like, this guy’s an idiot… obsessed with girls in an immature way.” 

Maverick Citizen has opted to not disclose the man’s age so as to not identify him, but he was almost twice the age of this victim. 

In her statement, Kate writes how one night, when she was the only guest at the lodge, he forced her to have sex with him, even removing the condom: “That evening, he mentioned that he hated having people to stay and had taken off the advert for the hostel so no one else would book. I didn’t think anything of it at this point. I went to bed after dinner, put my pj’s on and my face eye mask… A little later, I woke up as I realised he was [approaching my room]. He told me that this was actually his bedroom, and got in bed. I said ‘no, [the man’s name], your room is outside, I’m staying here, I’m paying for this room.’ He started to touch my stomach and I kept saying, ‘no, please leave.’ He then proceeded to start having sex with me… This was not consensual.”

Speaking over Zoom, Kate’s voice rises as she recalls how the next morning at breakfast, he told her she had been “easy”.

“I said to him, ‘you know what you did was wrong’, and he said, ‘it was easy to do it to you’.”

Over Zoom, Sarah teared up while recounting the traumatic experience: “I’m very much becoming the person I was always supposed to be. Like, through my healing and everything like that. But back then, I was so unsure of myself, so adventurous at the same time, so bubbly and trusting. As soon as I got to South Africa, I was, like, I want to meet local people.” 

Her statement explains how she befriended him through surfing circles: “He showed me a handful of sexts and nude suggestive photos… which really made me uncomfortable. He had also mentioned that they [him and his girlfriend] like to go to this bar in Observatory and get girls drunk and have threesomes with them. 

“I made a comment about how amazing it was that food is so affordable in SA. And he told me that I need to watch out because I looked like I had gained weight since he first met me in J-Bay [Jeffreys Bay]. I just remember him saying ‘well, you’re not skinny’ and that just disarmed me completely because I’ve always been an athlete and very skinny and fit and it was almost like I lost my identity and got really insecure and needed him to tell me more…” 

She describes how one night at a Cape Town bar she felt drugged after he bought her a shot of alcohol: “I have no idea what I was drugged with… the only way I can explain the feeling is that I was completely conscious and aware but my body was numb, my legs were giving out, and I was just dead weight. It was all so swift.” After leaving the bar, he raped her in his car, she claims in her statement.  

“I just want to be painfully clear here,” she writes. “I had zero romantic interest in this man. He was not my type whatsoever, he seemed to be almost double my age. 

“My sole goal with this statement is to make sure [the man’s name] does not have the ability to keep assaulting women and causing lasting damage as what seems to be an effortless lifestyle, (offering accommodation and running a surf school), catering similarly to solo women travellers who want to learn to surf, like myself.” 

Over the years, the man has marketed his surf lodge on several digital platforms. It is believed that he created new profiles when existing profiles got bad reviews. 

Kate tells Maverick Citizen that the man posted a photograph of her on Instagram after she expressly asked him not to, and that he later reposted the photograph of her captioned with a different woman’s name. 

A local Hermanus woman, who owns a backpackers near the accommodation, describes him as annoying, brash and a predator. 

“His surf school and B&B became quite successful, which was great, we were all thriving so there were no sour grapes,” she tells Maverick. Citizen. “But then we started getting evening phone calls from young girls asking us if we had accommodation for them at the last minute, saying they were staying close by but were feeling very uncomfortable where they were. 

“On one specific occasion, three British girls had befriended another single girl on the bus to Hermanus. The British girls were staying with us and the single girl with [the man’s name]. Later in the evening the group of girls got a desperate message from their new friend staying around the corner, that they come rescue her. Eventually she packed her bags and moved in with us. 

“She was traumatised and couldn’t even speak of what happened, so I can’t tell you. This was not an uncommon event… we had many guests call us with the same request. Not always single young girls, but mostly.” 

The woman says the man inappropriately touched her own 23-year-old daughter: “My own daughter, by coincidence, had an experience with him in Cape Town. He just happened to be socialising with a group of people she knew. Throughout the evening it became apparent that [the man’s name] realised who she was and kept telling her what a dick her dad was. She had to tell him about 14 times to stop touching her, her upper and inner thighs.” 

Meanwhile, Sarah took to contacting other travellers who stayed at the surf lodge via Instagram, asking whether they had had similar experiences. Within 74 screen grabs of the subsequent communication, Daily Maverick counted at least 20 women alleging questionable behaviour at the hostel. Their identities will not be revealed to protect them. 

  • A young Mexican woman recalls: “He kept trying to be near me and touch me and I get pretty crazy as I hate that. I hate being touched by random men. Young girls especially those who are not strong for sure will fall for this. He is very manipulative.”
  • A young woman from Sweden writes: “I wasn’t really planning on sleeping with him but ended up doing so after a night out. Actually I remember I did feel like I had been drugged… He was also hitting on my other friend. One thing that made us question him was he had to make a new profile on couchsurfing.com without any pictures of him. Basically this means he got bad reviews and had to create a new fake one.” 
  • A Russian woman from London writes: “He is a real idiot. I was just lucky because my boyfriend came the next day after. He kept trying to take us out and got aggressive when we said no.”
  • Another Russian woman writes: “When it comes to [the man’s name] I know he is weird and mentally unstable. He even told me this a few times. During my stay at his surf school he didn’t hurt me but I was afraid of him anyway. He was mean to me, ignored me most of the time as there were other girls he was more interested in. He kept on telling them that I was there to have sex with him. Which is untrue. There was an 18-year-old girl, she told me he was trying to sleep with her and that things got weird between them. She begged me not to leave her alone with him.”
  • A male Dutch surfer, who left after working at the surf school for five days, writes: “He was talking about girls all the time, younger girls. Got crazy from his talking. He told me his account got blocked… after [bad ratings from] a French girl whom he touched in her sleep. He told weird things, I was like dude I don’t want to hear this shit. He told me he was really insecure with girls back in the day, but not any more.” 

Koleinu SA’s Wendy Hendler says an anonymous tip-off started the process. “We got an anonymous call to our helpline reporting [the man’s name] as a sexual predator. The caller said she had knowledge of a few victims. We advised her to put them in touch with us and it evolved from there.” 

Hendler adds that insults and humiliation form part of a sexual predator’s grooming: “It is a masterful, manipulative technique that they employ to wear down the victim, to strip them of their defence mechanisms, to make them doubt themselves and their perceptions, and this eventually leads to them letting him in, whereas under normal circumstances, they would never do so. 

“By criticising them, belittling them, humiliating them, all in a humorous manner, it disarms them and distorts the reality of what is actually happening and who is at fault. This then prevents them from reporting, as they are filled with self-blame, shame and humiliation.” DM/MC

*Names have been changed to protect identities.

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