The Whitewash of Black Surfing

A version of this post was originally published on March 23, 2012

In the last few years, there have been a few documentaries which have illuminated a growing community of black surfers and highlights their experiences.  In the documentary White Wash, which streams on Netflix, filmmaker Ted Woods refutes the assumption that surfing has always been a “white” sport. As one black surfer says,

People want to ride these things, they want to have fun. And no matter where they are, they want to catch a wave too. You know what I mean? And they’ll do whatever’s necessary within their means at that time to be able to ride a wave.

In addition, the in-progress documentary Black Surfer: A Soul Surfer’s Quest examines the cultural availability of surfing for the black community. One surfer says,

Under segregation, we could not be in the same environment or use the same beaches as white folks. Periodically, they would have a little “black beaches” like “Bruce’s beach” but then as the demand for real estate… would increase, they would use eminent domain [laws] or carry on terrorist acts to run us off of those beaches so they could grab their real estate.

The Black Surfing Association was founded in 1975.  Their mission is:

To expose and encourage people of African ancestry to witness, experience, participate and enjoy the ancient oceanic activity of surfing throughout the oceans and seas of the world. And, with this exposure and participation, the BSA will demonstrate, educate, and help to implement aquatic skills, ecological awareness and activism, and overall athleticism.

The legacy of segregated beaches and schools, as well as the displacement of black communities, have limited African-American participation in surfing, but black surfers exist and their numbers may be growing.

by Carmen Medina

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