Surfing is a dynamic, exciting, action-packed sport that brings enjoyment to millions of people around the world. Yet the rich history of the water sport is not without controversy.
Without people of color, surfing would not exist as it does today. Yet in the mainstream, surfing has been whitewashed and the impact of other groups has largely been wiped out and forgotten. Today, several surfing leaders are “decolonizing” the industry and working to make real change for the better. From overcoming racism and remembering the original purpose of surf culture, here are the ways surfing has evolved.
Shaping the Surf
There’s no doubt that the accurate history of surfing began with African wave riders hundreds of years ago. In an effort to achieve an incredible relationship with water and waves, feeling weightless while riding down on their boards, and invoking a strong sense of healing and kinship, surfing originated as a shared piece of culture. This experience was not only fun but bonded communities.
If this sounds similar to what surfing is like today, that’s because it is. Yet racism and prejudice from years of slavery, violence, and horrific mistreatment of people of color in the form of segregation systematically excluded these people from all parts of society and American culture. Surfing was no exception to this. With surfing no longer being accessible or available for these people, it faded away from their lives.
Over time, the BIPOC community has somewhat reclaimed their history and relationship with the sport of surfing. The Black Surfing Association (B.S.A.) founded in 1974 spurred the start of a global movement finally breaking through the thick exclusion.
Today, BIPOC inclusion and welcoming in the sport is higher than ever before. Organizations help these people feel like they belong in the water and train them for competition. A handful of these young surfers compete professionally on a consistent basis and have received sponsorships from the biggest brands around. While the 1,000-year-old traditions of surfing in Africa look far different today, several prominent pros are undoubtedly disrupting surfing’s modern homogeneity.
Surfing is meant to be fun. That’s as clear as day when you see Nieblas hit the waves. Why? The young man who’s part Acjachemen, a Native American tribe, is a fan of logging. This style is just how it sounds; he replaces a surfboard with an actual 9-foot log and rides the waves the best that he can.
His style filled with spontaneity and exuding a genuine love for the sport is a refresher from the hyper-technical gear and serious attitude that can be overwhelming. As far as style goes, there’s no match for defying all laws of sense while he takes to the water with grace.
Born and raised in Hawaii, Lopez is no stranger to the magic of the planet’s oceans. At the young age of 14, he already claimed the Hawaii State Champ title. It was clear he was someone special, but what no one could have anticipated is that he would go on to become the best tube rider (surfing inside the curve of a breaking wave) in the world.
His success in surfing continued onto the screen and into the shop. He starred in several films and surfing documentaries, and also popularized Lightning Bolt Surfboards.
Hailing from Chile, Navarro was destined to be one with the ocean. He’s fearless, passionate, and making meaningful change through preservation and activism. Not to mention, he’s an incredible surfer who knows how to get out there with style and class.
From surfing in freezing temperatures to protecting the oceans that he so loves, Navarro is an inspiration to all in the surfing community.
Overcoming adversity is not at all easy, but it is possible when you can be persistent, strong, and true to yourself.
Authenticity is more important now than ever before, both authentic to who you are and to you and your people’s history.
In a sport like surfing and throughout all aspects of your life where the norm points in one direction, taking the untrodden path is how you can make the biggest impact.