Back in 2018, I wasn’t looking to build a movement. I was searching for community.
I first learned how to surf back in 2014, with my now fiancee (left), in Florida. From the moment I stood up on my first wave, I was hooked.
I was living in NYC at the time, so every other weekend in the summers I’d grab my friends and we’d all go to Long Island to surf. Pictured here is one of my best friends, Mark.
When I moved out to California for business school, I started surfing regularly year-round. That was when it really hit me – I didn’t see anyone that looked like me riding the waves.
With my now-fiancee’s encouragement, I decided to start the @black.surfers page in the spring of 2018. It was slow in the beginning. I would post my friends (one of my best friends, Cliff, pictured here) and any Black surfers I could find using hashtags. It was surprisingly hard to find other Black surfers! Sometimes, folks weren’t even interested in getting posted because my follower count was so low.
Over time, the community grew. I started hearing from Black surfers all over the world! There were Black surfers in France, Ghana, Australia, Texas, Canada – you name it! At one point, @worldwidenate came up from LA to Santa Cruz and I decided to set up a mini meet up.
That meetup was something special. Though it was just a small crew of us, the feeling it inspired was magical – something I had never felt before. I knew I wanted to create this feeling for more of us.
In early February 2020, I set up our first official meetup down in Huntington Beach. This is just part of the group that showed up, and everyone’s energy was infectious. I knew we needed to create meetups like these for Black surfers around the world. Around this time, I also began to learn about previous organizations that had done amazing community building like the Black Surfing Association (BSA) thanks to people like Jerry (third from right in this photo) as well as the Black Surfers Collective, SurfearNegra, Textured Waves, Color The Water and so many more organizations. We were all part of a movement to diversify the lineup!
…then 2020 happened. COVID-19 began to spread in earnest, and then the brutal murder of George Floyd in my own home state. I was heartbroken and incredibly angry. On top of that, my community was mourning and devastated. I knew @Black.Surfers had to be more than just creating community.
I began to speak on the ties between racism and the lack of Black people in the lineup. This was incredibly polarizing. I certainly endured more than my fair share of attacks, but I also discovered we had allies that believed in what we were doing and wanted to right the wrongs our community had and was still experiencing.
I also started to run events (big thanks to Gaston, Ryan and Matt from Buell, David and Lauren from Surfline, and Nique and Selema) to give our community some bright spots during a crushing and traumatic period. At the end of the day though, sometimes you just want to surf with other folks and feel that sense of peace.
I wanted the global Black surfer community to have that feeling, of surfing with other Black surfers. I continue to try to find ways to bring folks in other areas outside of California closer together, even if there are even fewer of them.
Beyond meetups, I’ve realized that the real, long-term way to change the lineup is through public policy. It was policy that created this situation, and it’s policy that needs to change to fix it. There are several powerful efforts underway to affect policy and increase diversity in the water. Efforts by @browngirlssurf and @citysurfproject around permitting, as well as @larubeyasurfing which is trying to mandate water safety education across all NY state public schools!
I am so thankful for this community and the relationships I have developed. Just this past year, I was even able to meet the founder of the Black Surfing Association, Tony Corley! (right image, person on the left). There are now even more organizations like Black Sand, So Fly Surf School and more. As Black Surfers has grown, we now have a new mission: to increase the number of Black surfers by providing community, inspiring through representation and affecting public policy. I hope you can join us on this journey for change, for justice and for joy, in and out of the water.