Images of black and brown women are not the first thing that come to mind when one thinks of surf culture. The Oakland, Calif.-based organization called Brown Girl Surf challenges that by simply inviting women of color to dive into the water.
“The goal of Brown Girl Surf is to change surf culture,” says Marlim Reynosa, the organization’s lead surf instructor and organizer. “We want to create a more inclusive and diverse space for women of color to feel seen and valued and to feel like they can surf—that this is a space where they belong.” Brown Girl Surf also wants to create a more environmentally reverent surf culture and host beach cleanups and civic engagement events.
The facts speak for themselves. Roughly 64 percent of black children don’t know how to swim, compared with 40 percent of white children, according to the U.S. Swimming Foundation. These numbers have resulted in higher drowning deaths among the former group.
Lower rates of swimming among black people are frequently attributed to the historical consequences of segregation.
Beyond diversifying surf culture, Brown Girl Surf seeks to build community by empowering women of all ages to express themselves and feel brave and comfortable in their own skin. A manifestation of that is Surf Sister Saturdays, where the organization pairs mentors with participants, many of whom are beginners or first-time learners. The Root caught up with some of these participants in the video above.
And what about the hair?
“I kind of style my hair around being somebody that wants to be in the water all the time,” says Samiya Bashir, who traveled from Portland, Ore., to surf with Brown Girl Surf. “So I refuse to kind of let that stop me.”