A plaque greets surfers at a stretch of Santa Monica beach, a place known for its historical significance among the black community of the Southern California coast; it reads: “A Place of Celebration and Pain.”
That same place, the Bay Street Beach Historic District, also memorialized on the plaque as The Ink Well, will served as a backdrop for a “Solidarity in Surf” paddle out coordinated by the group Black Girls Surf on Friday, June 5, to honor and celebrate the life of George Floyd, but also to open dialogue about pain caused by continued racial inequalities.
A similar event, held in conjunction with the South Bay Boardriders Club, was held at the Hermosa Beach Pier on Friday.
In Torrance, a paddle out is being held at Torrance Beach on Saturday, June 6 at 10 a.m. in front of Perry's. The event is being organized by high school students.
In Orange County, paddle outs are planned for 7 a.m. Friday at Bolsa Chica and at the Newport Beach Pier 9 a.m. on Saturday.
The gatherings are meant to “create a safe space in the surf community for our brothers and sisters of color in the midst of the present racial tensions to paddle out in solidarity in honor of the life and memory of George Floyd,” said Apryl Boyle, one of the Los Angeles area reps for Black Girls Surf, who is helping to organize the events.
Boyle is a marine scientist who lives in West Los Angeles and regularly surfs El Porto in Manhattan Beach.
BGS is hosting several paddle outs, at the same time, around the world as far as Senegal and Australia.
Already other groups of surfers have hosted paddle outs from Hawaii to Santa Cruz, with a big turnout Wednesday night at Moonlight Beach in Encinitas. Thousands of people joined on the the sand and surfers spelled out “UNITY” with their boards before hitting the water to form a circle.
Paddle outs are a Hawaiian tradition where surfers sit out in the ocean to pay tribute to a fellow surfer who has died. In more recent years, they’ve been held for a variety of reasons, from promoting environmental awareness to Guinness World Record attempts, like a record held by Huntington Beach set in 2017.
Local surfer Amanda Crater said the Huntington Beach paddle out Saturday was canceled due to big surf and fear of threats in the city amid talks of more protests near the pier posted online.
Tensions have also been high in Surf City in recent weeks. Last weekend surf shops and other business owners worried a peaceful protest at the pier might turn to riots as it did in nearby Long Beach and Santa Monica.
“I think our society is falling apart at the seams right now, people would benefit from a message of peace,” Crater said. “To have that energy channeled to the water, this can have really good impact on the overall movement.
“I support Black Lives Matter and peace, and a paddle out seems the best way to demonstrate my support of both,” she said. “It’s equally important to support the movement through peaceful displays like this, as well as active civil engagement.”
She said she wonders if surfers could lead by example by starting in the water and continue the message on land.
“Access to the ocean is a huge privilege. It would be good to get some kind of group or pledge to get more minorities surfing,” she said.
That’s one of the purposes of the “Solidarity in Surf” paddle outs, specifically the one in Santa Monica, which is being held at Tower 20 near where in 2008 the plaque was placed in recognition of the beach’s historical popularity among the black community and in honor of Nicholas Gabaldon, a half-black, half-Latino surfer who learned to ride waves at that same location.
Gabaldon is considered a local hero because of his heritage and surf accomplishments.
Created with the help of BGS founder Rhonda Harper, the plaque, which serves as a “beacon of peace during a time of racial tension and pain, is still a place of celebration that our community can return to, safely, time and time again, to see solidarity for the issues that we as a community face,” reads a statement by BGS.
Bay Street Beach was an important gathering place for the black community after racial restriction attempts at public beaches were abandoned in 1927, according to the Santa Monica Conservancy.
Into the early 1960s, even after courts deemed it unlawful to segregate people at the beach based on their color, it was a popular gathering place where community members could go without fear of bigotry.
“Here they enjoyed the ocean breeze, swim and play games with less racially motivated harassment than at other Southland beaches,” the conservancy’s archives said.
In 2008, the Santa Monica officially recognized the important gathering place and in 2019 the Bay Street Beach Historic District was listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
Boyle, herself a mix of ethnic backgrounds that include Hungarian and Brazilian, said the message for the upcoming paddle out is that “peace is the way to go.”
“It’s the notion of everyone coming together to say: “I’m with you, I have your back, let’s change this together.”
That’s one of the goals of Black Girls Surf, formed in 2014, to create a group within a traditionally white-dominated, male culture to allow people of color seeking to enjoy the surf to feel welcome. Harper will be holding a paddle out in Senegal where she’s been since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
Other paddle outs planned include a “Paddle for Peace” on Saturday at Tourmaline Surf Park in San Diego and another in Santa Cruz on Sunday.
In San Clemente, pro surfer Kolohe Andino is auctioning off one of his surfboards to raise money for the Innocence Project.
“I love it because we’re pretty awesome in the surfing community, we come together on important topics all the time. This is something I know a good part of the community shies away from and doesn’t live through and understand,” Boyle said. “I want to lead by example and say, ‘Let’s do this together.’”