By Gabriella Angotti-Jones
Ms. Angotti-Jones is a documentary photographer based in Southern California.
I was 9 when I got my first surfboard. I took my new hot pink shortboard down to the pier, and an old head in a beat-up tank top walked up to me and asked, “You gonna ride that thing?” I nodded.
I remember sitting on the beach, staring at the waves. I was the only girl, let alone Black person, with a board.
I grew up in a biracial family in Capistrano Beach, Calif. We were among the handful of Black or mixed-race families in the neighborhood. I didn’t have much in the way of a community on land, or out in the water then.
I was too young to understand why at times I felt unwelcome in the lineup. I began to doubt myself, and on particularly bad days, where all I could do was wipe out, I felt as if the ocean didn’t want me, either.
I now have a core group of friends who look like me and also share my reverence for the ocean. I can always spot them bobbing in the water — their heads topped with a poof.
But despite how uncomfortable it may make some, we will continue to suit up and paddle out. Indeed, many organizations devoted to teaching young people of color how to surf are led by Black women. I’m heartened to see a little more variety in gender, ethnicity and race in the lineup when I’m out in the water these days.
My friends and I charge for waves. We scream when one of us scores, and dance to Megan Thee Stallion while peeling off our wetsuits. I finally found the community I longed for all those years ago, when I first looked out at the ocean with my brand new surfboard.