Tony Corley
Founder, Black Surfing Association

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published February 16, 2012.

Black Surfing Association

My dream to have a couple of surf buddies, black surf buddies, has now surpassed even my wildest dreams.

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.

Watch the premiere of 12 Miles North at 3 PM today exclusively on Nike Surfing’s Facebook page or RIGHT HERE on The Inertia!

  • Bert

    Hi Mr Corley

    I appreciated your text. As a white guy myself, I notice how down here in France surfing is totally a white kid sport. There is not that much black or arabic people in surfing, even in places where black people are the majority (French west indies…).

    Bu it reminds me of what I witnessed during the last thirty or forty years. I remember how tennis was a white kid sport, despite the great Arthur Ashe, but then came Yannick Noah, and today, there are more black guys in tennis…Then it was golf, before and after the other guy I forgot the name…Then it was formula one…

    Thirty years ago, the usual vision was there (and still is today): right wing people telling that black weren’t clever enough to perform in other sports than boxing, athletism or football, and the left wing vision saying it was a social issue, just a social issue. I wonder if it couldn’t be the same for surfing…
    this issue goes much farther than surfing, though. Freewill, or social determinism…

    For me, all come from the social surroundings. I can only speak or what I personnally witness in France, of course, and I didn’t have serious survey’s results to substantiate my claim, nor than I am a sociologist myself! I’d say that surfing here is for average or rich people, and therefore, only those social categories will be noticeable. In France, black people are poorer than the average french citizens.

    I know that race issues in the US  could be different than in Europe (history…) so maybe this post could look irrelevant…I also limit this comment to african black people. I unfortunately  know nothing about Tahiti, “our Hawaii”…

    • Wildrnes

      I would say that surfing is a bit of an elitist sport here in california. To live by the beach, to have access to surf means you probably have to be somewhat well off. Also, throw in the $200 < cost for equipment, etc. The sport requires money to get you started. However, there are acceptions. You see kids borrowing equipment, carpooling from inland on weekends to learn and love the sport. For the most part however, surfing is unfortunately reserved to the boys by the beach who have a little more cash flow. I can only tell you this from observations. I am not a sociologist…I just notice this.