HEADSPACE: Sal Masekela
“I long for a time when I don’t have to be asked the question, ‘What’s it like to be a black surfer?’ Because I’ve never thought of myself as a black surfer.”
The first time I met Sal Masekela was at Surfer Poll in 2007.
We’ve kept in touch sporadically since, and last year we made plans to film this interview. Sal had just released a CD called Alekesam and was gearing up to unveil a documentary about his relationship with surfing, music, and his father, world-famous political musician Hugh Masekela. Hugh essentially crafted the anthem for the release of the late Nelson Mandela through his song Bring Him Back Home and had a massive impact on global jazz and the political composition of South Africa – and, of course, on Sal.
In this interview, Sal discussed his relationship with his father, music, negotiating apartheid and emceeing, but the way he discussed race and surfing was exceptional. He said things that he has clearly thought about at length. Probably daily. They needed to be said. And, more importantly, they need to be heard.
This isn’t the first time he, or any surfer, has spoken about race and surfing. Or about being an African American surfer. Several stunning projects already exist that have examined the topic gorgeously: 12 Miles North and Whitewash, to name a few.
But, Sal, is an announcer. By trade, he must articulate his thoughts in a concise and compelling way. The way he discusses his experiences and hopes as a black surfer is second to none.
Sal was not an heir apparent become the voice and face of surfing or action sports. Far from it. He discovered surfing after moving from Staten Island, New York to Carlsbad, California as a teenager. One day, after hopping on a surfboard at Tamarack State Beach, he fell in love. And from that day, he tossed aside preconceived notions about who belongs where, what boundaries and stereotypes might exist in action sports, and he pursued his new passion with reckless abandon. No matter that kids at his school told him black people couldn’t swim.
They can. And actually, they can become the face and voice of surfing to the world if they work hard enough. Sal did. - Zach Weisberg