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'Black Sand Peace Paddle' in Manhattan Beach Draws Hundreds

Feb 22, 2021 06:57PM ● By Jeanne Fratello

Photo via Chaz Flemmings

A massive paddle-out and surf session in support of racial equity and tolerance drew hundreds of surfers to the Manhattan Beach Pier on Sunday morning.

The "Black Sand Peace Paddle" was held in response to an incident on February 15 in which two Black surfers experienced racial harassment while surfing near the pier.

Sunday's gathering brought together surfers of all races, including leaders from the local and even international surf community.

"Everybody came together to share the waves, with a message of peace," Justin "Brick" Howze, one of the young men involved in the incident, told DigMB.

Brick, as he goes by, is a well-known producer and DJ, and is a cofounder of the surf and arts collective Black Sand. "It was a major success. I felt like it was historical, and really, a flag in the 'black' sand," he added.

"Honestly, I got really emotional when we paddled out. I’ve never seen anything like it at our local beaches," co-organizer Ryan H. Harris told DigMB. Harris is a local eco-surfboard maker who founded EarthTechSurf and is cofounder of the climate and social justice collective known as 1 Planet One People. He is also a dedicated surfer who is known as a "regular" at the Manhattan Beach Pier and in El Porto.

"It was a beautiful rainbow hue of people in the water," Harris added.

Black Surfers Harassed

The "Peace Paddle" was sparked by an event one week earlier, on the Monday of the three-day holiday weekend, when Brick and his friend Gage Crismond encountered racial harassment while surfing north of the Manhattan Beach Pier. 

Brick and Gage got tangled with some local teen surfers, whom they knew from previous surf sessions. That situation, although tense, escalated when an older white man, looking to be in his 40s or 50s, started shouting at Brick and Gage, splashing them, telling them they didn't belong there, and repeatedly calling them the n-word and other epithets. (Some reports note that the man's shouting was so loud it could be clearly heard up on the pier.)

In describing the incident, Brick noted that he didn't have an issue with the teen surfers, and in fact, one of the teens that he knew later came up to him and apologized for being "spicy."

However, the man letting loose with the epithets was clearly an angry person who was going to have to go home and "live with himself," Brick told DigMB. Additionally, he pointed out, a potentially bigger issue was the fact that so many bystanders were silent throughout the ordeal.

"The guy saying all those words, he is so ignorant. But if you’re standing on the sidelines and not saying anything - that means you are knowing something is wrong and choosing not to do anything about it," said Brick. "It could be saying something as simple as 'Cut it out!' - It could be that simple."

"The [local teens] weren’t the problem," agreed Harris. "It was the grown white male who is racist, and the fact that nobody had [Brick and Gage's] backs when this went down. On one of the most crowded surf days of the year, nobody said anything. Nobody."

Harris, who was not there that day but is considered a leader in the Black surf community, said his phone was "blowing up" with texts after the incident. He surfed with Brick and Gage in Manhattan Beach on Wednesday, and they decided to pull together Sunday's "peace paddle" as a show of unity and support for surfers of all colors.

(Harris noted that he knows people who have possibly identified the man, and the man is believed not to be a local.)

Event Draws A Crowd

Sunday's event drew a crowd of all colors, including top leaders from the surf world.

Speakers included Brick and Gage; Harris; David Malana of Color the Water, an organization that gives free surf lessons to people of color; and television host and sports commentator Selema "Sal" Masekela.

Also in attendance were surf community leaders Chad Nelsen, CEO of the Surfrider Foundation, Erik Logan, CEO of the World Surf League, Jessi Miley-Dyer, head of competition for the World Surf League, and Reece Pacheco, executive director of WSL PURE, the World Surf League’s nonprofit organization.

"What happened here at the pier on the north side was just beyond unacceptable and everybody has to feel a sense of responsibility about what occurred," Brick told the crowd. "Being not racist is not enough, honestly. Being anti-racist is what we need. Because if in that moment if anybody out there had been anti-racist, then I would have had some ally-ship and honestly probably he would have backed down and we would have really made a statement even in that. But at the moment, it was me and Gage alone with a bunch of other people around who were maybe not racist, but they weren’t anti-racist and they didn’t stand for us in that moment. We all have a responsibility here."

Brick added that he wanted to "reset the tone" of passive attitudes toward racism. “If you’re not changing, you’re choosing," he said. "If we don’t change the way it is, we’re choosing the way it was."

'Dancing on the Water'

Masekela told the crowd that surfers of color are still an anomaly on many beaches, and he was aware of the subtle and not-so-subtle discrimination they may encounter.

He said that he started surfing more than 30 years ago, when he moved to California from the East Coast as a teenager. "I thought, "That looks fun; those people are dancing on the water. I wanna dance too,'" he said. "I got called the n-word a thousand times and people told me, 'You people don’t even swim; how do you think you can be out here?' etc., etc. Many places that I’ve visited, you show up and people’s eyes pop out of their heads like we came out of spaceships."

Nevertheless, he continued, "Everybody belongs in this ocean. If you see somebody who is different than you; say hello, welcome them. But don’t sit there and stare or be confused by the experience. Because guess what? It’s only going to get more and more colored. All of the hues are going to be dancing in the water. This is just the beginning of a moment where that ocean is going to look more and more reflective of the totality of who we are and who we need to be as a society."

Following the event, Brick told DigMB, "It was a beautiful melting pot. That was exactly what it was supposed to be. There were more BIPOCS [Black, Indigenous, and People of Color] than I’ve ever seen in the water at one time in my life."

He continued, "It feels like the first installment to me. Why stop there? With the energy we achieved, with the whole movement.. it just feels right, it’s such a pure cause."

Brick and others say they are planning more events for the future aimed at bringing surfers of all colors together.

To keep up to date with the latest plans, follow Black Sand and Surf.

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