Danielle Black is on a mission to see more diversity and inclusivity in the lineup and within surf media. She is an inspirational surfer who is motivated to make change happen. Below we dive into her first wave, Textured Waves, and what it’s like to be a African American, female, long boarder.
BTR: You fell in love with surfing on a trip to Hawaii’s Big island, when you borrowed a friends board and paddled out for the first time. How was going back to your home and surfing in Oregon’s chilly waters after your first experience in Hawaii?
DB: Colder, more isolating and the waves were heavier and less predictable. Being a new surfer at the time I was so frothy and stoked on the sport I didn’t mind the brain freezes, I actually welcomed them. When you are starting out, you have to have self determination and perseverance in order to progress. I’m self taught, so I’d make friends with other surfers in the lineup and ask surfers who were better than me how they did certain maneuvers and then try to mimic it. I’d follow old guys down the line (with permission) and watch their footwork. I watched a lot of surf films and studied the sport whenever possible. I also got really into study abroad opportunities while at college so I had my share of wave riding in warmer waters. I went to Costa Rica, Ghana and when I graduated took my first solo surf trip to Australia. After graduation, my would be husband and I backpacked around Europe and surfed some more.
BTR: You eventually moved to San Diego and became so involved in the local surf scene that you became the president of the San Diego Surf Ladies. Tell us about SDSL and the impact it has on women’s surfing?
DB: When my family moved to San Diego the first thing I did was search for local surf clubs. I found two women’s groups and joined them both. I met some of my best friends through the San Diego Surf Ladies. When we moved here from Portland by way of London, UK, I had lost myself a bit after sacrificing my advertising job to stay home and raise our son. I was going through the motions of being a good wife and a mom but there was no time left in the day for myself. I knew the ocean was the missing link, and joining this group of female surfers saved me in so many ways. Surfing brought me back to life, back to the best version of myself. I think this club has served so many women in a similar way. It offers connection, sisterly comaraderie and a network that spans San Diego county and beyond. It really served me in so many stages of life, motherhood, my career. Once you’re in the club, it’s easy to bump into seasters in the local lineups, sometimes even abroad. It was a no brainer to volunteer my time, first as their pr/social media coordinator and then as president in 2019. Giving back to a club that gave me so much rarely felt like work.
BTR: You’ve recently stepped down from your position at SDSL and Co-founded Textured Waves, which supports women of color in the surfing community. Give us the 411 on Textured Waves and how the project has been received.
DB: While I was in the midst of my presidency at SDSL, I was working on the launch of Textured Waves with three other African American surf friends. We shared a common goal; to see a more diverse and inclusive lineup and imagery within surf media. Our mission is to propagate the sport of surfing toward women of color and underrepresented demographics. We offer a community page with surf resources by State, an Instagram page with inspirational images of women of color shredding and community events and meetups in our local regions. We recently premiered our film, “Sea us Now” in collaboration with the Seea which is a reimagining of our history as African Americans with the coastline and the sea. A history our ancestors were left out of due to segregation laws that kept black people out of public pools and oceans.
BTR: It’s common for surfers to be territorial and quick to judge others based on what they ride or how they surf. I’ve heard women talk about getting vibed just because they are female. Have you felt racism in the water as well?
Sure, I have had micro and macro levels of racist/sexist behavior in the lineup from time to time. I think I am sometimes seen as an easy target, black, female, longboarder. Some folks make assumptions based on my appearance. I try not to give those people my energy. I do my own thing and surf for myself- no one else.
BTR: Surfers have been coming together on all coast organizing paddle outs and protesting against incidents of police brutality and all racially motivated violence against African-American people. Do you feel the BLM movement has opened the eyes to the surf community to just how bad racism still is?
DB: I think surfers as a majority have responded positively to the movement.
The paddle outs I attended and the one I co-organized in Encinitas were incredibly healing for me as a black woman. I have never felt supported like that by any community, and to feel it by the surf community was something I will remember forever.
I don’t doubt it’s been an awakening for many people- they are seeing the world with new eyes, things that I have been groomed to see since I was a young girl because living in this skin you learn at an early age people are going to treat you differently based on it. I had to have a lot of heavy talks with my nine year old son these past few months, about him being a black child and what that means as he grows up. Sharing those conversations with my white friends blew their minds. They never had to think about it, let alone have these types of discussions with their children about racial injustices and police brutality against black people. Now, they are willingly having these conversations and are asking questions. It’s a good time to be curious and find out how you can be a better ally. Racism is still ingrained in every facet of our culture and it will take generations to dismantle. We have to keep our foot on the gas and keep talking about this, even if it makes others uncomfortable.
BTR: If you could give any advice to the surf community, what would it be?
DB: Diversification starts at home. Look at the people you surround yourself with and see if it looks monochromatic or colorful. What changes can you make to be more inclusive and welcoming of new faces? What skills and gifts do you possess that you can offer to underrepresented demographics to better serve your community? Small changes to our daily behaviors can make big changes over time.