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Increase in Black surfers add diversity to the ocean in Los Angeles

Rise in African American surfers in Los Angeles
Rise in African American surfers in Los Angeles 03:27

Southern California is a breeding ground for competitive surfers, and you may be surprised to learn that the largest growing population are African Americans.

Surfer Nathan Fluellen said he started surfing 7 years ago after learning about surfing's global impact during a work project. 

Fluellen explained how surfing was never on his radar.

"I saw Michael Jordan. So, I asked my mom to put me into basketball camp. I never asked her to put me in surfing camp, because I didn't think that was something that black people do," said Nathan Fluellen, surfer.

Statistics collected by the Surf Industry Members Association or SIMA show 61% of the surf population is made up of Caucasians and only 11% are Black.  


In the late 90s, the first African American surf contest in the United States was created by surfer William Lamar called "The Soul Surf Classic."

But, with no large-scale sponsors, the event, which he self-funded, only lasted 5 years.  

When William Lamar picked up a board 40 years ago, he says "black" and "surfer" were two words that just didn't go together.

"When I was growing up, surfing was very localized. If you didn't live at a particular wave break along the coast and you came there from another part of town, trying to surf, you had problems," said William Lamar.

Fluellen says it wasn't until a few years ago that he felt the tides shifting.

"It stemmed from the solidarity that the surf community showed when Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd were killed," said Fluellen.

A ton of fellow Black surfers would gather during memorial paddle outs, but Fluellen said he wanted to meet under different circumstances. That's why he launched "A Great Day in the Stoke," an organization created for Black surfers to connect and compete. 

In 2022, a Great Day in the Stoke had the largest gathering of Black surfers ever held in history in Huntington Beach. Several thousand people from around the world joined and watched the contest.

"That kind of blew my mind to see that many people of color in the water at one time," said Lamar.

Over the past 5 years, SIMA statistics showed black surfers had the largest growth, marking a 120% increase in its population.

Lamar and Fluellen credit the legends who paved the way for their success.

"Tony Corely, Rick Blocker, Sharon Shaffer, so I'm excited that they get their roses," said Fluellen.

Every year, A Great Day in the Stoke lands more sponsors and advertisers and both men say they hope this cultivates a new generation of black surfers.

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