What comes to mind when you hear the word “surfing”? Perhaps sunshine, sand, palm trees blowing in the wind, and turquoise waves crashing on the shore? And who do you imagine as the surfer? Hollywood seems to provide one answer: Blockbusters like Chasing Mavericks (2012), Point Break (1991), or even Blue Crush (2002) paint a very specific picture of who a surfer is—usually a white man (or woman) who almost always happens to be very blonde and very tan. Surf collective Textured Waves is working to change that.
Textured Waves was cofounded in 2019 by friends and surf enthusiasts Chelsea Woody, Danielle Black Lyons, and Martina Duran, who are all Black women. The organization operates with a three-pronged mission: to introduce the joy of surfing to more Black women and women of color, to foster an inclusive sisterhood of surfers across the world, and to create a culture where seeing a Black woman surfing isn’t a surprise.
In the three years since it has been in operation, Textured Waves has partnered with brands like Vans, Roxy, and Marriott Bonvoy Boundless credit card to create video content and surf films featuring the three founders and Black and Brown women from their global community. They also plan events to unite local surf communities: In 2020, they helped arrange Paddle Out for Unity in Solidarity With Black Lives Matter with other organizations like Changing Tides Foundation and Kindhumans Movement, in response to George Floyd’s murder—thousands of people attended. Additionally, Textured Waves hosts an annual retreat, or “co-wash,” in Waikiki where dozens of women of color from around the world join the founders for a day of immersive surf lessons and culture. And in order to make getting into surfing seem less intimidating, they’ve also compiled other resources including a state-by-state guide to vetted surfing organizations for newcomers everywhere.
The trio found each other online in 2017: Woody is based in Northern California, Duran hails from Honolulu, while Black Lyons likes to soak up the sun on the coast near San Diego. After feeling underrepresented in their local surf communities, Woody, Black Lyons, and Duran took to the web to connect with other Black women surfers and reached out to each other on Instagram.
“We all felt pretty isolated and othered in our respective lineups,” Black Lyons says. “We just didn’t see many women and even fewer women of color in the water. So, creating this space became very important to all of us. We wanted other people to feel like they could find community no matter where they were in the world.”
After many conversations about the experiences they were having in the water, they founded Textured Waves in 2019. The group began their own website and Instagram page, where they share surfing tips as well as other info like pointers on how to protect Black hair in aquatic environments, and promote representation of surfers of color. (The account now has more than 27,000 followers.)
Sadly, feeling othered as a Black surfer is not an uncommon occurrence—surfing has a history of being exclusionary. The sport traces its roots back to native Hawaiian culture (and some coastal African communities), where a ride on the waves was considered a spiritual activity. However, surfing was co-opted and appropriated by white businessmen looking to capitalize on its exotic origins at the turn of the last century and largely marketed to wealthy, upper-class customers.
Black Americans in particular faced an uphill battle when it came to even just accessing the ocean. Many yacht and outrigging clubs had strict whites-only policies and, up until the 1930s, Black Americans were legally prohibited from using the same public beaches as white people. In places like Los Angeles, stringent redlining laws kept Black Americans from buying coastal land and even took away beachfront properties from Black property owners. That racial stereotype that says that Black people don’t swim? Turns out, as is often the case with racist caricatures, the truth is much more complicated—Black Americans shoulder a history of being physically and legally kept from enjoying the water.
As for the women of Textured Waves, none of them took surfing seriously until later in life. Duran, for example, regularly played in the sea during her childhood in Florida and took swimming and ocean safety classes. But it wasn’t until she went on a trip to Costa Rica seven years ago that she decided to pick up a board and hit the waves. “We all had a shared experience of feeling not represented in surfing,” Duran says. “That erasure of our voices and our presence in the industry affected all of us into getting into surfing later in life. That’s one of the biggest catalysts as to why we created Textured Waves.”
However, the ladies are quick to acknowledge that they’re hardly the first Black or Black women surfers to enter the sport. Nicolás Rolando Gabaldón, who taught himself to surf on a segregated beach in Santa Monica, is largely recognized as the first documented Black surfer. Sharon Schaffer, who hails from Marina Del Rey, was the first Black female professional surfer in the United States. But the legacy of surfing’s uneasy history is still apparent today—take a look at the top competitors in the Women’s Surf League. It’s a feat just to find someone who’s not blonde in the rankings. But it’s a narrative that Textured Waves is hoping to transform with the content they create with companies like Roxy.
“We mark our place in history by working with these brands to create media that will go all over the globe,” Woody says. “We work really hard to showcase Black and brown women traveling and surfing because seeing is believing. When you see that imagery, the possibilities of what you can accomplish in your life, whether it’s surfing or otherwise, expands.”
Despite not feeling represented, or sometimes even welcomed in lineups, there’s a magical quality to surfing that keeps the three founders coming back to the waves again and again. They want to share that intangible beauty of surfing with other people. “It’s such a soulful sport and it’s my free therapy,” Black Lyons says. “It just allows me to reset and be who I’m supposed to be—like a little bit reborn, I guess. I’m going to surf until the day I die.”
Eventually, through their work, Textured Waves hopes to become completely unnecessary in the capacity they’re currently functioning in. “We hope we’re not needed in this capacity in the future, and that people can just freely surf without judgment,” Black Lyons says. “That you can be out there and be who you are and not have to show up as a Black woman first. That you can show up as you are and just surf.”
>>Next: Selema Masekela on the True African Origins of Surfing