Surfing Confronts Its Racist Past

by on June 22, 2020 · 1 comment

in California, Civil Rights, Ocean Beach

Rally before paddle-out in Ocean Beach. Photo by Charles Landon of StudioCapeMay.

“Behind the aloha vibe was the other vibe — a locals-only, whites-only vibe,” said Sharon Schaffer, the first African American female pro in the U.S.

By Dennis Romero /  NBCNews / June 21, 2020

One day 40 years ago, actor and stuntwoman Sharon Schaffer returned to her SUV after riding the waves at Silver Strand Beach in Oxnard, California, to find a racial epithet written in dirt on its windows.

In surfing, “there was always the good, aloha vibe,” she said recently, “but behind the aloha vibe was the other vibe – a locals-only, whites-only vibe.” “I shrugged it off,” said Schaffer, of Los Angeles and celebrated as U.S. surfing’s first African American female professional. “But I don’t think I would shrug that off so easily today.”

U.S. surfing, still viewed as largely white and advantaged, may be undergoing a new awakening following the death of George Floyd. The sport that helped popularize the graphic T-shirt, birthed skateboarding and gave the world a name for loafing online is, like other American subcultures, confronting a scourge of racism that has thrived within its own ranks.

On June 5, Schaffer was received with loud applause as demonstrators seeking justice for Floyd, who died May 25 as a Minneapolis police officer held a knee to his neck, gathered on the beach in Santa Monica for a “paddle out” in his honor.

The paddle out is a Hawaiian ritual to honor the dead. It includes venturing beyond the surf line, forming a circle of people on their boards, splashing water and tossing flowers into the sea.

“We have a right to exist on this Earth,” Schaffer told the crowd of people kneeling around her, some with surfboards in hand, according to multiple videos of the event. “We have a right to be in the water.”

Paddle outs for Floyd have also taken place at [Ocean Beach in San Diego], New York City’s Rockaway Beach and in Australia; Dakar, Senegal; and Galveston, Texas. A demonstration was held on the sand in Biarritz, France.

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sealintheSelkirks June 28, 2020 at 10:10 pm

Isn’t it strange that a lifestyle taught around the world of love for the ocean and all its wonders by paddling around on a board and riding waves WAS INVENTED BY THE BROWN DESCENDANTS OF EARLY ASIAN EXPLORERS?

It’s like playing Blues music which is mostly based on West African rhythms (disclosure: I’ve got almost 60 years in as an ace lead harmonica blues musician among other instruments). I’ve met dumbass peckerwoods playing Blues riffs that shouldn’t have been…I refused to play with them and walked out of the bar jam.

And we are, looking at our earliest beginnings as a species, every single one of us descended from Africa. Go figure.



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