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Virgin Active South Africa's new television commercial, 'The Surfer' breaks from the more traditional advertising format of story boarding and scene shots in that it was conceived more as a short film with the lead actors' spontaneity guiding the story line. The narrative – with a reverse timeline - revolves around a boy from a disadvantaged background who by taking one significant plunge, changes his life. For Thembi Ndlovu (16),the role comes naturally. In real life he is a passionate young surfer from the Muizenberg surfing hood. The older surfer who is seen in the opening scene of the commercial, is Kwezi Qika, 25, South Africa's first black surfer to win a national longboard title.

Virgin Active's marketing team briefed the creative team at M&CSaatchi Abel to explore the health club's credo of 'Active makes you Happy'. The latest commercial would follow on from the well- received cycling theme commercial which flighted earlier this year, featuring an elderly man taking up cycling again and how activeness changed his outlook and attitude towards life.

Richard Lamb-Hughes, Brand Director at Virgin Active says, 'the new commercial is emphasises the role that activeness plays in leading a happy life. We want to get South Africans moving and we know that our clubs play a role in unlocking an active lifestyle beyond the four walls. This story presents an inspiring journey that brings to life our brand message of 'live happily ever active'.

'When we decided on surfing as a concept, everything fell into place. We wanted a story not a short anecdote. Award winning director, Kim Geldenhuys, was brought in to direct the commercial and young surfers were recruited from Muizenberg beach. Geldenhuys moulded it into a brilliant story. He is a visionary,' says Lamb-Hughes. The casting process was also authentic. 'There was no traditional casting agency,' he explains. 'To ensure authenticity we went to surfing coaches and schools in Muizenberg, Kalk Bay and Hout Bay harbour to recruit young surfers. Which is how Thembi Ndlovu and Kwezi Qika found themselves starring in an 85 second 'movie'. Their passion for surfing, life and being active, along with their energy and personalities made them a perfect fit for the brand.'

The young men, with little or no acting experience, took to the roles with what is described as 'extraordinary power.' During the commercial the storyline goes from the end to beginning and, unusually, in real time sequential locations, starting with the famous Dungeons in Hout Bay for some big wave surfing through the narrative to Muizenberg – and surfers corner - and finally Kalk Bay harbour. This is where Thembi takes his first jump into the water. The first step towards his dream of becoming a surfer.

The story wasn't scripted down to every frame but unfolded over a few days to be almost a 'day in the life of…' Much of the footage is spontaneous interaction between the surfers and director Geldenhuys (an avid surfer) who went as far as getting into the water to film from his surfboard.

The music choice was also exceptionally important. The background music needed to be delicate – not a song loaded with ideas of its own. Rather than running over the film it needed to run through it. A locally composed piece by Pressure Cooker Studios was chosen to ensure authenticity. Apart from which the ambient sound of the kids, beach and waves had to be part of the overall ad experience.

The end result shows a spontaneity and free nature which is in keeping with Virgin Active's quirky, fun, slightly irreverent approach to celebrating life and keeping active.

Click through to view the commercial for yourself.

New Heights New Heights