SurfearNEGRA celebrates Juneteenth with history, surf lessons
For a group of a dozen black girls, Saturday morning started early.
At 8:30 am, they were visiting the new St. Augustine Historical Society’s Surf Museum, learning about the history of surfing in the community.
An hour and a half later, the girls learned to surf the water off Frank Butler Beach.
To commemorate Juneteenth, a public holiday to mark the end of African American slavery, the girls, most of whom are members of THE PLAYERS Championship Boys & Girls Club in St. Augustine, visited the museum and took classes. surfing in a program run by the Jacksonville-based SurfearNEGRA organization.
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SurfearNEGRA, which according to the organization’s founder and executive director Gwenna “GiGi” Lucas, translates roughly from Spanish to Black girls surfing, and is dedicated to encouraging women of color to practice surfing.
“SurfearNEGRA is a non-profit organization that aims to bring more cultural and gender diversity to the sport of surfing,” said Lucas.
Founded in 2008, the goal of the nonprofit was to get 100 girls of color into the water and surf every year – a goal they easily beat every year now.
A former executive in the New York fashion industry, Lucas discovered surfing at the age of 35 and took a class in Costa Rica for a friend’s wedding.
“Within a year of that first surf lesson, I ended up quitting my corporate job in New York and moving to Costa Rica just to surf,” Lucas said. “And while I was surfing two things happened, one I started looking around and didn’t see a lot of women who look like me in the water, and as I started come to think of it I started to think about the peace and joy that being on the water brings, because if I had had this when I was younger I probably would have made healthier decisions . “
And SurfearNEGRA was born to bring her love of sport and the ocean to girls like her. Lucas moved to Jacksonville and started the organization which was featured in Oprah Winfrey’s O Magazine, Vogue, and the Drew Barrymore Show.
“I believe surfing is important because every time I’m in the ocean it reminds me of how small my problems are and how big this world is and whatever it is we can witness that time works in perfect harmony, ”said Lucas.
The choice of Butler Beach, south of St. Augustine, as the location for the surf lessons, was no accident.
The beach, named after a civil rights leader and black St. Augustine businessman Frank B. Butler, was the only beach in the county that blacks were allowed to use when the beaches were separated.
“Coming to Butler Beach we really wanted to celebrate what our ancestors fought for, which is the freedom to be able to enjoy recreational activities around the water,” said Lucas.
After safety lessons and under the watchful eyes of parents, county lifeguards and surf instructors, the girls took to the water late Saturday afternoon.
After several wipeouts, most of the girls were able to stand on the surfboards.
“Surfing is fun and I love to play in the water,” said Kassi Davis, a student at Sebastian Middle School, “But I don’t like it when water gets in my eyes.”
SurfearNEGRA is open to girls aged 7 to 17. Learn more about surfearnegra.com.
The St. Augustine Historical Society’s Surf Museum is part of the society’s oldest house museum. It features over 70 oral histories of local people about surfing in the area and an extensive collection of surfboards and artifacts. Admission is free for residents of St. Johns County.