Upon arrival at Thonga I ask “Who is the cool surfer dude around here?” Every respectable beach lodge should have one, and Clint Morkel at Thonga Beach Lodge fulfills all the surfer dude-inous criteria – hair bleached blond from the sun, tanned, fit and with a love of all things marine. I ask about his idyllic day, and with a laid back “Hey, yeah, you know…” he describes a day in paradise – clear, calm waters, launching out on the Ocean Experience boat trip, looking out for the Island Rock dolphins and swimming with them, spotting some whales, coming back to do a dive. Maybe go for a surf or do some kite surfing.
I inquire about his previous experience and as I listen to his ten year resume I find myself thinking that this is not just a laid back strandloper (beach walker). Clint has run the Barra Dive Centre at Inhlambane and he previously ran the Dolphin Swim Centre in Mozambique. I look around at the Thonga Marine Centre, and see further evidence of his professionalism – rows of dive equipment are lined up in categories and in order of size, labelled and spotlessly clean. A large, flat-screen television plays an instructional dive DVD. Well referenced books on marine creatures and diving maps line the shelf.
I look at him with new eyes and ask “What brought you to work here then?” But the ocean-lover is back as he smiles, explaining “The water is incredibly clean here and the beach is pristine and it’s one of the only lodges right on the beach. I love all the varied ocean activities. There is a lot of wildlife here too, associated with Lake Sibaya. The people working here are good and they stay for a long time. And the lodge is not too big so you can get a feel for the guests – it’s more interactive. It’s a cool job,” he ends.
“Yup” I think, “and so are you.” Thonga is lucky to have someone so organized and dedicated to his craft, with the ocean in his heart and eyes.