On June 3, hundreds of surfers gathered at Moonlight Beach in Encinitas, California, where they formed the word UNITY with their surfboards in the sand. They were there for the Paddle Out for Unity in Solidarity With Black Lives Matter. “We’re going to take the full 8 minutes and 46 seconds that George Floyd experienced in that brutal lynching that we watched on television,” speaker Selema Masekela said, asking the crowd to fall silent in Floyd’s honor. Those nearly nine minutes passed, then everyone picked up their boards and paddled into the waves together, chanting, “Black lives matter.”
The event was organized in part by Textured Waves, a women’s surf collective that has made it their mission to bring greater inclusion and camaraderie to the water. Chelsea Woody, Danielle Black Lyons, Gigi Lucas, and Martina Duran came together to found the group in 2019, after each battling underrepresentation on their respective coasts: Woody is based in Santa Cruz in California, Black Lyons in San Diego, Lucas in Florida, and Duran in Honolulu. They discovered each other on Instagram and quickly found that their values and priorities aligned. “What we hope to bring to [surf culture] is what jazz brought to the music industry,” says Duran. “No rules, no preconceived notions.” She, Black Lyons, Lucas, and Woody are all surfing devotees with an unyielding dedication to health, strength, community, and kindness. They all have serious lives—Woody is a nurse; Lucas is a flight attendant and runs a nonprofit; Black Lyons is a broadcast captioner and mother; and Duran does cancer registry work. The sea provides a countering force of freedom and catharsis, balance and beauty.
“The ocean is so spiritual for all of us,” says Black Lyons. “For me, it is a moving meditation. I know I’m going to come out of it better than I was.” This acknowledgement of the ocean as a site of healing is shared by all of the women, who make it a point to honor and remember the role the sea has played in their personal histories. Duran speaks of the ocean as emotionally complex: “The ocean is a source of trauma for some—a lot of my ancestors lost their lives coming here—but it is also a source of healing in [African American] culture. Southern Baptists use the ocean when we perform baptisms. It’s this dual thing. What we are trying to do is reclaim the healing powers of the ocean in our culture. Before the slave trade, our communities lived along the coast and enjoyed the sea.” The heart of Textured Waves’ message is ultimately one of joy and sisterhood.