Surfers ‘Paddle Out’ in Ritual of Mourning, Support

In Southern California and around the globe, there’s been a growing movement by surfers to honor George Floyd and others killed by racism and fear.

Activists have been holding “Paddle Outs,” a traditional Hawaiian memorial ceremony, to show unity with the Black Lives Matter movement as well as to promote more diversity and inclusion within the surfing community.

These poignant ceremonies involve surfers, often wearing leis, creating a circle, splashing water and saying the names of those being honored.

The first Paddle Out protest took place in Santa Monica in late May and was followed by others in June (the next one is planned on July 11). Surfers from Rockaway Beach in New York, Virginia Beach, Southern California including various Orange County beaches, Santa Cruz, California, Hawaii and around the globe including Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia and Guam, have shown their solidarity with the ceremony.

Black Girls Surf founder Rhonda Harper has worked for almost 20 years to change the culture of the sport. She told Sports Illustrated, “Can we change the world? We did. Did we honor George in the right way? Of course, we did. That’s the best way you possibly could honor anybody is to change some behavior.”

Danielle Black Lyons who founded a group called Textured Waves, a “group that aims to lift stories, images, and voices of surfing women of color,” tells Surfer Magazine a Paddle Out is a “way of showing respect to those who have passed.”

The BBC’s Sarah Cudden says the first big Paddle Out was for a Hawaiian big wave surfer and lifeguard, Eddie Aikau who died in 1978 (an annual memorial now takes place each year). She’s recently released a show about the practice, including interviews from surfers from Hawaii, Capetown and Cornwall.

Though there is some dispute as to whether the ceremony has deep roots in the indigenous culture of Hawaii, it is clear that it is part of the “rich tapestry” of surf culture and a powerful ceremony.

As Textured Wave’s cofounder Black Lyons explained,
“The ocean is where surfers find our peace, there’s no better place for us to go to hold this space to the lives that have been lost.”

Photo by Kensuke Saito

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