Whoever Said Surfing Is for White People Never Met These Women
A growing number of Black and Brown enthusiasts are joining the scene
For a child of the 1980s, the way to learn about other cultures and places from around the world was via TV, books, or encyclopedias. Although I loved to read and let my imagination run wild, TV was my method of choice: in particular, old classic movies with beautiful locations and stories I dared to dream about. And it was on Turner Movie Classics (TMC) where I first saw Gidget, a romantic romp where Sandra Dee played a tomboy who fell in love with surfing. I was enthralled with surfing as it was a new phenomenon I had never heard of. The thought of riding waves in California or other far-flung places and to be a beach bum was my new life goal.
But just because I thought this was something I could do doesn’t mean others agreed with me. When I told my best friend at the time and her cousin, they both looked at each other and said, “This is not for us,” as she gestured to all three of us. Confused, I stated that just because they didn’t want to do it, I still would be a surfer. Laughing a little, my friend’s cousin stated, “Don’t you get it; this is not something Black people do. Unless you want people to think you’re an Oreo, you better keep this surfing nonsense to yourself.”
This wasn’t the first time my Blackness was called into question; I was that weird, nerdy Black girl who dreamed about doing things that weren’t perceived as stuff Black people did in the ’80s. This event stuck with me for a long time. Although I never vocalized my ambition to surf to many people, I still kept the dream alive that one day it would happen.
Why is surfing perceived as just a White sport? Well, in the 1960s, as surfing became popular, TV shows and films such as Endless Summer and Gidget created the myth that surfing is an all-White sport by whitewashing Polynesian culture. Also, Jim-Crow-era laws were another factor of why so few Blacks surfed; the beaches of California were segregated. But these laws didn’t stop surfing pioneer Nick Gabaldón, who was of African American and Mexican American descent and was known as the first Black surfer in the 1940s. Others would follow his legacy, but it was not widely known within the Black community.