Xtreme Factor: If You Build It, They’ll Come

By Rhonda R. Harper
Updated: April 6, 2008

The plaque dedicated to Inkwell Beach and Nicolas Gabaldon in Santa Monica, CA

The plaque dedicated to Inkwell Beach and Nicolas Gabaldon in Santa Monica, CA

CALIFORNIA — Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan watch out, a new breed of athlete may be taking over your town. They are black surfers. There have been blacks surfing since the beginning of surfing, Nicolas R. Gabaldon lead the pack.

Then you have Stanley Washington, Solo Scott, David Lansdowne and Bill Pierce just to name a few. That is just some of the many blacks that have been lifelong surfers here in the United States.

There is Billy “Mystic” Wilmot in Jamaica, Che Lovelace, Alan Davis in Trinidad & Tobago, Mark Holder in Barbados. Here in Hawaii there is a mysterious black surfer name unknown to most that pre dates Nick, back to the time of James Cooke.

That could prove to be true as some of the first Royal Hawaiian Band members were African American.

More curiosity has set in amongst surf companies about the possibilities of black surfers. The stereotypes of blacks’ lack of swimming ability have been argued, but that too has been shattered.

All you have to do is ask Allison Terry, who has been spearheading a campaign to get more youths in the pools. Hollywood knows as well, “Pride” starring Terrance Howard, based on a true story about a coach who against the odds began a black swim team in the urban community.

I was recently speaking with a marketing firm in Boston about this subject. The conversation proved to be both interesting and frightening. The man asked for demographic of black surfers, a friend had recommended him to me so I felt obliged to offer my findings.

When asked for specifics on “black surfer” he seemed confused and embarrassed by his ignorance to my question. I broke it down to a more general basic question. “Would you like African-American, Afro-Caribbean, Afro-Latino, Afro-European or other such as African, Australian Aborigines?”

He said, “Excuse my ignorance but I hadn’t considered that there would be more than just Afro-American.”

I said proudly,”I know and that is what makes my job so hard, no one considers us.” I for the first time in my surfing career felt of use to the surfing industry, even if it turns out to make some corporation a dollar.

I had to ask why the need for such information had arisen to horror and relief, I found out. Some client was doing marketing research to find out if it was worth the risk marketing to African Americans, ok let me say this again. Some corporation would like to know if there are enough African American surfers to market their product.

A group of people called” black surfers” definitely feel like they are worth a marketing campaign. We have purchased surfboards, wetsuits, sunscreen, surfboard bags, swimwear, and apparel from companies who never even thought we could swim, let alone surf.

I sport “Roxy” and I own a surf apparel label. Are there enough of us? Well, exactly how much is enough? I mean we can recruit some black surfers if you need us to help in your quest for the “mighty dollar”. I mean if it takes a number to market to us, than I will tell you what.

I will go door to black door requesting that each black person in America buy your product so that the athletes that have been sitting waiting for sponsorships from your company will be able to compete.

That is a promise I will make. If every $100,000.00 you make a portion will go to start an inner city surf school, I will gladly show my support. If I can guarantee that the next generation of black surfers will get the same media as the athletes participating receive, I will hold an entire caucus.

In the meantime, understand, we have surfboard manufacturers, apparel companies, movie productions, big celebrity surf heroes, inner city surf schools and all the rest. The surf industry ignored us. We made our own way.

“If they don’t have a job you want Rhonda, make It.” as my father would say. If it is my last breath I will make sure that we keep the culture pure and alive.

Let us keep our hopes alive like Jesse said to do way back in the Rainbow Coalition days. Maybe this is “our” Field of Dreams” starring Chris Dennis? I will pump my fists like Tommy Smith, wear my hat cock to the side like Pharrel and do a jig like P Diddy or Puff Daddy or Diddy or Sean Combs.

I am waiting and it had better be good. If you come at us with some watered down taste of what you think our culture is about, than be ready for the war of the words. I guarantee I will be back at my laptop, bad attitude in hand to let my people know just what I think.

You can believe that. We have suffered in this fight to even surf without being harassed. We are not about to let you take the black surf culture and do what you did to Bobby Martinez and the Mixed Tape madness.

We built it now here they come.