Finding Freedom and Representation As A Black Surfer Reflections on Juneteenth 2021 – Sanuk®

Today we celebrate Juneteenth – the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States.

However, we recognize that the fight for equality and justice for Black Americans is not over. We connected with two of our friends, GiGi Lucas and Ryan Harris, to chat about their experience as Black surfers in an industry that historically hasn’t been representative of non-white folks. Tap the link in bio to read about their perspective on the importance of Black people finding representation and freedom in those spaces.

Sanuk: Hi! Tell us about yourself!

GiGi: I am the Founder & Executive Director for SurfearNEGRA. SurfearNEGRA is a 501c3 organization focused on bringing cultural and gender diversity to the sport of surfing. Our mission is to make surfing accessible to any kid, anywhere!

Ryan: I’m the Owner, Founder, and Artist at Earth Technologies Surfboards.

Sanuk: What does freedom look like to you?

GiGi: Freedom for me is a state of mind that is limitless. 

Ryan: Basically what I’m doing right now. Being able to surf every day and get paid to do what I love for a living. That’s freedom to me. 

Sanuk: How are you working towards freedom in your community and/or through your work?

GiGi: Over generations, there have been many obstacles & barriers created to exclude people of color from participating in activities that are basic human rights. The work that I do is to use surfing as a platform to  help deconstruct those physical and mental barriers and create an avenue for people of color (specifically girls) to go and do anything they want.

Ryan: I’ve teamed up with Danielle Black Lyons, Hunter Jones, and Selema Masekela to create the 1 Planet One People activation. It’s a platform supporting climate action, racial and social equity.

Sanuk: As a Black surfer, what would you like others to know about your experience in the lineup?

GiGi: Even though there may be an increasing number of people who’ve grown to accept (or never had an issue with) our presence in spaces that we legally could not go to in the past, there are still many who see our presence in the lineup as a threat to a power dynamic built on class and race. And, black surfers have to navigate that every time we paddle out. 

So, what I would love non-black surfers to know is that the work of cultural acceptance begins with you. Have those conversations internally and with your circle on how you may be intentionally or unintentionally contributing to the perpetuation of a non inclusive lineup. This also includes not speaking up when you experience anything in your circle that undermines diversity.

Ryan: It’s taking me 20 years to break out as a Black shaper. It took a pandemic and civil rights movement for people to learn who I was. We learn by sharing stories. By sharing stories, people hear different perspectives and we’re able to become more representative of everyone in the space.

Sanuk: We know the surf and outdoor industry historically haven’t been representative of non-white folks. Can you share your perspective on the importance of Black people seeing themselves represented in these spaces?

GiGi: I mean, no one wants to feel excluded or unseen. And, although I truly believe that People of Color know they can do anything and go anywhere, who wants to be somewhere where they don’t feel welcomed. 

Representation is a non-verbal means to SHOW that you are welcomed and accepted in a space. So, for the surf industry to make an effort to SHOW that diversity is welcomed, accepted and celebrated is important for continued engagement from underrepresented people.

Ryan: As a Black man, it’s important for me to share my stories as a surfer and shaper so younger people like me can see it’s accepted and that will gradually break down that barrier to access. My dad put me on waterskis when I was 3 year old so being in the water has always come naturally for me, but it’s not as easy for others.

Sanuk: What feeling do you get while being in your happy place?

GiGi: Peace. At the end of the day, it is up to us to determine our own happiness. And, it is up to us to create a life where we can experience it as much as possible despite opposing outside forces.

Ryan: My happy place is in salt water or shaping bay. I’m my happiest while creating – on the waves or in the bay.

Sanuk: How will you be celebrating the holiday?

GiGi: I will be celebrating the holiday on the water of course! SurfearNEGRA is hosting two surfing events for a new group of kids to engage in surfing. They will take place at two of Florida’s historical black beaches (Butler Beach – St. Augustine & American Beach – Amelia Island)

Ryan: I’m planning on making it out to the Black Surfer Collective beach event at The Inkwell and surf with as many people from the BIPOC community as possible.