ENCINITAS — Several thousand peaceful demonstrators and surfers from across Southern California gathered on June 3 at Moonlight Beach in Encinitas to honor black lives lost to police brutality.
Organized by local nonprofits Textured Waves, Changing Tides Foundation and Kind Humans, the “Paddle Out for Unity in Solidarity with Black Lives Matter” attracted people from as far away as Los Angeles to gather, listen and paddle out together.
The event’s message of peace and solidarity with people of color garnered national attention from the World Surf League, whose journalists brought their surfboards to paddle out with the group.
Encinitas Marine Safety Chief Larry Giles estimated several thousand people attended, many of whom populated the beach, surrounding cliffs, parking lot and nearby streets. The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department was also present at the event.
Individuals, couples and families with small children arrived in wetsuits carrying flowers and holding signs and painted surfboards with phrases such as “Black Lives Matter,” “UNITY!” and “Peace.”
Event co-organizer Danielle Black Lyons, a co-founder of Textured Waves, told the Coast News she believed the event brought such large numbers because after seeing such “gruesome police tactics” and experiencing the hardships of COVID-19, people were excited into action.
“It’s amazing how quickly it spread,” Lyons said. “People just wanted to support in any way… the paddle out is one of the greatest ways you can show respect to a lost surfer.”
The event was hosted by sports commentator and Encinitas native Salema “Sal” Masekela, who related to the Coast News how proud he was to be involved with the event and how the surf community itself has a “huge void when it comes to inclusion.”
“I grew up here,” Masekela said. “This place raised me as a surfer. I went through a lot of challenges being one of maybe three black surfers for three towns over for a very long time. There were some challenges in the community, but also a deep brotherhood and connection with the people who helped and took care of me.”
Surfers placed their boards on the sand, spelling out the word “Unity” as several speakers addressed the large crowd, including Becky Mendoza, event organizer and co-founder of Changing Tides Foundation, and Kind Humans co-founder Justin Wilkenfeld.
“What the hell are we doing America? Is this who we want to be,” Wilkenfeld asked. “The problem is we’re here [supporting] today but how many of you are going to be here tomorrow? In a year?”
The crowd steadily grew as speakers stood on the balcony of the Marine Safety Building, which was surrounded by lifeguards for the duration of the event.
“We have the ability to teach our youth what it means to be an American now,” Lyons said to the crowd. “We all have the capacity to change and it starts here. Please, please, please vote.”
Masekela was last to address the crowd, which had grown to thousands.
“I speak for all the surfers that happen to be black,” Masekela said. “We’ve known and experienced challenges in this community that would probably shock you. It’s been very hard for people to perceive perhaps that people who don’t look like them could love the ocean as much as they do.”
“I look out on this crowd and I’m reminded of the North County that showed me shelter and love, and helped me navigate any of the challenges I may have experienced by ignorant people that just didn’t get it because that’s not what surfing is about.”
Masekela then led the crowd in eight minutes and 46 seconds of silence in honor of the amount of time police held Floyd to the ground by his neck. Masekela also spoke Floyd’s last words, “Mama” and “I can’t breathe,” as the crowd on the beach, as well as those watching on nearby cliffs, knelt on the sand and remained silent.
After the moment passed, surfers paddled out into the waves to honor all black lives lost to police brutality.
Shelby Tucker and Olga Diaz, two African American surfers actively involved in Textured Waves, spoke to The Coast News as they zipped up their wetsuits and prepared to enter the water.
“You go out there and you don’t see people like yourself,” Diaz said. “[We] sometimes feel unwelcomed and you deal with localism and so to have found [Textured Waves]… they embrace and show other black women that are out there, you’re not alone in this.
“They are all rippers, they kick ass, and their instruction, their love, and their support … they’re amazing women,” Tucker said about the organization.
Capt. Giles said despite a lack of social distancing measures being practiced by the crowd, the event was a success.
“This was a really respectful crowd who were very considerate of the situation,” Giles said. “A lot of people had an opportunity to come down and voice their opinions.”