Surf-loving Santa a gift that keeps on giving – for others
Cunningham gives of his time to cheer up Down Syndrome community
What’s going on inside your head Santa? Santa the myth – a big, rotund father-figure with a face full of curly white beard and red hat and pom-pom jauntily perched on his head.
Santa the man – a large guy in Africa getting into an ever-diminishing red suit, the buttons receding farther every year, strapping on a scratchy, itchy nylon beard that gets up his nose and his face to sweat like an out-of-control garden hose. There has also been a very weird alteration where an old Santa hat was used as buffering in the pants by a creative tailor.
But every year for the past 16, hardcore, original East London surfer and top electrical technician Haldane Cunningham, 67, has climbed into his Santa uniform, eased himself behind the wheel of his rusty, trusty Isuzu doublecab and trundled off to Hams Club.
There he transforms into the man from the North (or South, for us) Pole who arrives on a mission for children.
Santa Haldane has come to love watching them climb on his knee and to hear their utter joy as they deliver their orders for the gift of their dreams.
On Christmas eve, Santa will be back on his sleigh with his reindeer (kudu for us). Laden with gifts and goodwill he will squeeze down the braai chimney and pop them under the brightly decorated pine tree, or driftwood sculpture, or alien blackwood branch.
This Santa has been listening to very special children, those who have Down Syndrome.
“Some kids are too scared, but others come and talk and talk and talk! They say: I want big wheels, I say Santa will get you a cart with wheels and an engine. “The parents eyes get big and they say ‘Hold on’!” he says with a chesty chuckle.
He does it because: “It gives me a lump in the throat. You get to know the kids. I have watched them grow up from little kids. It is really nice that they get presents even though the Down Syndrome [Amathola] association struggles to raise funds.” Demonstrating that he is in myth and life a generous soul, Cunningham agrees to grab his trusty sled, a precious vintage 1970s Safari surfboard, and head to his favourite place in the world, Nahoon Corner, for a photo-shoot with Dispatch photographic editor Alan Eason.
A crew of four runners burst into a carol, and a Great Dane and French poodle frolicked around this slip-slop shod Santa, who kicked them off and entered the same water where he had the best years of his life as a grommet surfer, and waded about.
A woman in running kit stops and says how wonderful Christmas is, with people so happy. She introduces herself as Rolene Wagner. And who does not know she is the award-winning CEO of Frere Hospital?
But time is passing and Santa needs to get to work at the visionary Yekani electronics manufacturing plant in the East London IDZ where he holds a frontline job in project management.
On the way back home, he says of the now-tarred road to Nahoon Reef, his homebreak: “We used to ride this road on dirt with our boards on trailers attached to our bicycles…”
You get the feeling that if Santa got back on his board, he would get some real Ho! Ho! stoke! in his own life...