Editor’s Note: This article was originally published February 16, 2012.
As timing would have it, I sat down to write this the day of our nation’s commemoration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., on January 16, 2012. Some years earlier, I began surfing. I had bodysurfed and mat-surfed for years but never had the opportunity to surf on a board. It was the summer of 1962 that I rented a surfboard with a white friend at Cayucos Beach boardwalk pier. This was the beginning of the lifestyle – The Dream, as we like to say now.
I bought my first board, a Dewey Weber, in Lompoc, Ca. in 1963. In 1964, I met and befriended a young Black man who was stationed at a nearby military base. His name was Capt. Jim Norman, and we’re still buddies to this day. We surfed together for three years and talked of travel and the world. He was from New York state and a Syracuse graduate and football star. In San Luis Obispo County, we were the only Black surfers, and it wasn’t until 1965, in Ebony Magazine, that we saw another Black surfer whose name was Frank Edwards. He was from Santa Monica. We never met him, and funnily enough, we’re still looking for him. When Jim deployed to Vietnam in 1967, I lost the only Black surfing friend I had ever known.
I should clarify that I have plenty of white surfing friends who I deeply cherish. Despite this, I searched for other black surfers out of a yearning for a deeper sense of belonging within a culture that wasn’t always accepting of people with my skin color. It was my dream to somehow find and meet surfers whose ethnicity was the same as mine. Black, African-American, African descent, male, female, young or old, if any existed; I would find them. My Dream to travel, go on surfari, visit and surf beach breaks, points, reefs, river mouths, sandbars, island passes, tidal exchanges – any place where I could ride a wave while sharing friendship, camaraderie, surf story, “boogie nights” after dark, and of course, a floor to spend the night on. This Dream would mean being with Black surfers, who’s use of the “N-word” (even by “accident”) wouldn’t insult or enrage me or have to qualify a “guardedness” for the relationship.
Years later, career relocation landed me in Port Hueneme/Oxnard, Ca. I didn’t expect it, but the move set my dream of finding other Black surfers into motion. After surfing alone for a while, I made a few white surfer friends and acquaintances whom I asked if they knew of any Black surfers in their area, even LA, Orange Co., or San Diego Area. Even though I had no idea how to meet or contact them. Nothing resulted.
Time passed and, like a dream, a revelation occurred to me; try reaching out through the Post Section of Surfer Magazine. I composed a letter that was printed in the Jan. 1974 issue and, unbeknownst to me at the time, planted the seed of the Black Surfing Association. Now, 38 years later some two hundred plus, loosely knit surfers around the world count themselves are part the organization. Every year we grow, develop, and provide friendship, camaraderie, companionship, and wave-riding unity.
My Dream to have a couple of surf buddies, Black surf buddies, has now surpassed even my wildest dreams. But this dream of mine isn’t finished, it’s still growing and developing, and it will continue to grow once I complete my book documenting and celebrating this transformation in Black surf culture. And this dream of mine will be picked up by a new generation of surfers.
“Umoja” is the Swahili word for “unity” and it’s one that I use often. Together, as one, on a beautiful wave, the Dream of the Black Surfing Association shall continue to generate momentum (INERTIA) throughout the surfing world.
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