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The roots of surfing began with Indigenous people. A fact most people know but the ancient tradition has since been flipped, whitewashed, diluted to being a superficial sport for the western world’s beloved beach bums.
Indigenous peoples of South Americans have been fashioning canoes and paddles for riding waves for centuries.
But there’s a collective in town who are actively working toward changing the narrative and diversifying the waves once again.
The Laru Beya Collective.
The collective is “a 501(c)3 non-profit organization dedicated to empowering the underrepresented youth of the Rockaways through surfing. “
According to their website, Laru Beya literally means “on the beach” in the language of the Garifuna — the Afro-Indigenous people still residing throughout Central America and the Caribbean.
Adanya Gabourel, a Far Rockaway, Queens resident, spoke to Teen Vogue about how she started to surf.
“I woke up one day and told my Dad that I wanted to surf,” she says. “It started out with the surfboard from Costco and we would take those out and surf all day.”
However, for a long time, experiences like 14-year-old Adanya’s were few and far bewteen.
“There was a lack of diversity in the water, for sure,” says Aydon, who didn’t learn to swim until he was middle-aged due to lack of access to water safety education.
The CDC reports that the drowning rates for Black people are 1.5 times higher than the rates for white people.
“There is a generational fear of the water,” explained Aydon. “You either know somebody or heard of somebody who has drowned in Jamaica Bay or the Ocean.”
The diversity issue in water sports is a global one.
Danielle Obe, a founding member of the Black Swimming Association, a charity aiming to tackle the lack of diversity in swimming across the pond in the UK, suggests that there are several cultural barriers to swimming. From Afro hair to dry skin, to worrying about the myth that black people have heavier bones, she told The Guardian.
This collective wants you to ride the wave with them.
As part of their program, Laru Beya is currently offering free Intro to Surfing lessons this summer starting. The program will include water safety instructions, provide mentorship as well as helping with beach clean-ups.
Collective member, Farmata, says the organization has changed her life: “Laru beya has been one of the most influential groups of people in my life. They’ve helped me see all the hidden potential I have as a young woman of color. The mentors are amazing and continue to inspire the girls and I both on the waves and in our everyday lives,” she said to BlueBoundCommunity weeks back.