When it comes to surfing, there are a hell of a lot of different ways to approach a wave. Some take a laid-back, graceful approach. Others aggressively attack the wave, racing down the line to find a section to assault. Some–mainly beginners–elect for the stink-bug stance and simply go straight. In surfing, like in art, distinctive styles are encouraged.  

Yet the face of surfing is not as diverse. From surf magazine profiles to films to the vinyl decals adorning surf shop windows, surf culture is predominantly represented by males–overwhelmingly white males at that. 

Had I known that surfing was an option for me when I was younger, I probably would have made different decisions with my life.

This is a status quo that surfer Gigi Lucas is looking to change. Lucas is one of the founders of SurfearNEGRA, a non-profit organization that is trying to bring gender- and cultural-diversity to the lineup. 

I caught up with Lucas to learn more about the work she’s doing to make the ocean an even more inclusive space. 

Could you explain a little bit about Surfear NEGRA? 

One of our primary programs that we’re really focusing on is the 100 Girls Program. Our mission is to get 100 girls of color into the water and onto a board. We collect funds to offset the cost for these girls to go to camp in their own communities. The beautiful thing is that girls who may be geographically challenged, they’ll be able to meet people in their own community and then also be able to support small businesses like the surf camps.

“I was getting in the water and I didn’t see many people, if any, who looked like me.”

Are there specific surf camps that you work with? 

Surf Asylum is an amazing partner. Jax Surf and Paddle has really been stepping up lately. And Sunrise Surf Shop has been super cool. The Moniz family surf camp out in Waikiki, we’ve worked with as well. But we know there’s a huge need here in Jax so we want to make sure we’re concentrating our efforts here. 

Why do you think that it’s so important to utilize the ocean specifically as a backdrop for empowering women? 

I didn’t start surfing until I was 35. I was getting in the water and I didn’t see many people, if any, who looked like me. So two things ended up happening. I realized, had I known that surfing was an option for me when I was younger, I probably would have made different decisions with my life. So that kind of inspired me to focus on girls. And then what I realized is that it’s mostly about access [to surfing]. 

When you initially started surfing in Costa Rica, what was your personal path? 

For some reason I always knew that I wanted to learn to surf before I turned 40. What ended up getting me down to Costa Rica, my old college roommate got married there; so when I went down for the wedding, I took one surf lesson and that was it. I knew. 

I saw that you were also doing some work with Surf the Turf. Can you explain a little bit more about that? 

Surf the Turf is a partnership with a Canadian organization called Rocks & Rings. What’s really cool is that Curling Canada is one of their sponsors and that association is recognized by the International Olympic Committee. What we did was we partnered with them, developed a curriculum and we were in the process of having the equipment prototyped in China, right when COVID happened. So we have a curriculum ready to go, we can take over physical education classes here in the states and expose surfing techniques and fundamentals to kids pretty much anywhere. 

“If you’re a surfer and you see us out there, just smile and say, “Hey!””

What advice would you have for a woman, especially a woman of color, to get the motivation and kind of break down that barrier of saying, “You know what? I’m just going to get out in the water.”

That’s a tricky one. The women of color who I know who are surfers, they didn’t start when they were kids. They started when they were adults and they were already self-assured enough to have the courage to go into an environment where they will be the only one. My comment to the younger generation would be that there’s strength in numbers. Just grab your best friend and go try it. 

What are some of the best ways for someone to get involved with your organization? 

We rely heavily on organizations that are already in existence because we respect that there are so many people who have spent years and decades perfecting their craft in the sport of surfing. So whether you have a surf camp, or even if you just have a great network, reach out to us. The other biggest thing is just awareness. If you see our organization and like what we’re doing, share it. And of course if you’re a surfer and you see us out there, just smile and say, “Hey!”

Influencers is a recurring series of interviews with change-makers in Northeast Florida. If you know someone making a big difference in our region, drop us a line at ed@voidlive.com.

This interview originally appeared as the Influencers feature in Void Magazine’s July 2020 issue.