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Andrew Sherlock Mills was subjected to vandalism that he claims was racially motivated while surfing in Jupiter, Florida. As the Instagram account Black.surfers recounts, Mills, an African American surfer, had his board stolen by a group of white surfers, who then nailed it to a tree.
“This is how real the racism and hate is in Jupiter, Florida,” Mills told Black.surfers. “They can’t stand to see a Black man in their waters. I was told I’m not welcome. Stole my board when I turned my back and they did this. Said it was a message. They nailed it to the tree like a lynching.”
“I took the board down, stayed and surfed the whole day with a small board to show face. A few locals that were there were apologizing and agreed it was wrong. They did said [sic], after what happened, I’m welcome to surf their waters freely and no one will bother me. I’m just going to leave it in God’s hands”
Black.surfers called for anyone who knew the surfers responsible for the vandalism to step forward, “so we may demand an apology and acknowledgement of the pain they have caused.”
Unfortunately, this would be far from the first incident of racism in the world of surfing. Look no further than Miki Dora, a widely revered figure in the sport, proudly spray painting a swastika on his surfboards and declaring himself a white supremacist. For that matter, look at the entire surf Nazi movement. For many, racially motivated incidents in the world of surfing are part of a long history of prejudice associated with the sport.
Several local Jupiter surfers reached out to The Inertia, stating that they do not believe nailing the board to the tree was racially motivated. According to them, the act was a response to arguments between Andrew Sherlock Mills and local surfers, after what they claim were repeated breaches of surf etiquette, followed by a collision with another surfer.
One account of the events that led to the board nailing came from a comment by Instagram user @max_mertz. He wrote, “A quick summation from someone who was out in the water that day, guy was burning everyone and when someone would say something to him he would immediately call them racist. He ended up colliding with a local on a wave that was clearly his fault. They told him to go in or down the beach where he couldn’t hurt anyone. He proceeded to try and fight them. He went in and put his board in his car then went back to the board walk to talk to the kid he collided with, there were about 15 other people around. They ended up talking it out, the guy apologized and they fist bumped each other (there’s a video of this). He went back to his car and his board was gone. The kid he collided with and a few locals helped him look for the board. Not condoning anyone in this situation’s behavior, just wanted to give an accurate account of what went down.”
When reached for comment, Andrew Sherlock Mills told me a different version of the collision. He wrote, “I was coming from far north and he was coming from far south. We were going so fast that it was hard to avoid. I did straighten up, he didn’t and it put me in danger. He whipped his tail around and slapped it dead on my board. Actually damaging the board. After the small argument, I told him I wasn’t upset with him hitting my board because accidents happen, it was how ridiculously crazy he went off on me. Full of anger and hate.”
“Next thing, his boy came over to me and started shoving me out of the water and another guy screaming get off our beach and trying to gang up on me in the what [sic] to fight and screaming your [sic] not welcome here, out of the water when I said we can fight it out and just be friends or just be respectful. At this point, their whole crew surrounded me on the beach. When they did that, someone grabbed my board. The next day it was up on the tree.” Mills wrote that a local then approached him and said “he heard it was a message.”
One anonymous local stated that, as he understood it, the surfers who interacted with Mills were not the ones who hung the board, although we have no information of their identities. The local also stated that he had seen boards hung from trees by their leash in the past, but never nailed. The last time he had seen a board hung from a tree was around eight years ago, and could not recall a recent instance of the practice.
In both anonymous tips and social media comments, many locals have stated that, even if they believe the events surrounding the surfboard being nailed to a tree were not racially motivated, that the act was a step too far.
One such comment came from Instagram user @bewf.juice, who wrote in reply to the original post by @black.surfers, “This is fucked up. I’ve surfed next to this dude a couple of times and he was pissing people off and not respecting the peak. Nearly hit me on a wave that I was on the inside and cut me off. That being said, HE DOES NOT DESERVE THIS TREATMENT.”
@black.surfers replied, “I appreciate this balanced POV. Surfing etiquette is important and we don’t condone violence at all. But there is no act that justifies vandalizing someone’s board and nailing it to a tree. That was a very clear message and has racial undertones. If someones being violent, you call the police. You don’t do what these folks did.”