“WE NEED SURF REPARATIONS.”
by Caitlin Rounds
Gage and Brick are the founders of Black Sand, a California surf crew working to bridge the gap between Black culture and the niche sport. The duo met in the DMs just over a year ago, and have bonded over their creative lives on land and a newfound passion for surfing ever since. Most days, they wake up at 5:30 AM, pack up their boards, and head out to get their day started inside of a wave. While the two are committed to their daily routine, they realize the ambitious ritual isn’t for everyone, “Some people do yoga, and some people need their coffee every day, but to me, being under my first wave in the water in the morning, means today is good,” says Brick.
Brick, a well-rounded creative who in his own words, “loves being a beginner at stuff” is no stranger to trying new things. He began surfing in the midst of the pandemic when creative work was sparse. After posting on his Instagram about surfing, he received a message from Gage, a long-time follower of his work who also recently picked up surfing. Gage, a photographer, and dancer says he spent the first half of his life working for other people, mainly jobs that required physical labor and a few gigs in the finance world. The two had never talked prior so Gage didn’t expect a response, but an hour later he got an Instagram notification. It was a DM from Brick, “pick me up tomorrow” the message read—and he did.
Similarly in search of community in the white-dominated sport, the pair began surfing together daily. As they gained more experience, they realized quickly that surf historically isn’t kind to newcomers—especially not those who look like them. “Black people historically haven’t had access to beaches and pools, because that was a space that we weren’t allowed,” says Brick, he cites segregation and lack of accessibility as the main factors that contribute to the lack of diversity in the surfing world and therefore, the exclusive nature of the sport today.
We sent these guys to a Getaway House to unwind, and ask them a few questions about how they hope to get more Black folks surfing and their methods for getting recreational outside of the water.
The Recreationalist: How did the idea for Black Sand come about?
Brick: Black Sand was just started because Gage and I are Black and we kept going to surf over and over again. It was really just us two going out to surf—that’s really all it was—and it takes new form every day. But it wasn’t intended to be an ‘our existence is resistance type of thing,’ because we didn’t think of it like ‘oh my God we’re gonna be these Black change-makers in the surf space,’ we were just like, ‘we’re Black and we’re surfing,’ there’s nobody else here, so this feels like a group to me, let’s just call it something.
Gage: Every day, in the morning, we’d be going to surf and Brick would literally be in the passenger seat like ‘this name, or this name,’ just saying names to ourselves, saying that we should call it something, it’s gotta be something, we’re both doing this, so let’s just make it a thing. That’s really how it started.
The Recreationalist: How did you guys get into surfing? Is it something that you’ve done throughout your entire childhood or did you recently pick it up?
Brick: We both started a year ago, so around the same time. I have a strong background in music and creative work, surf was just kind of this thing that I decided to try too. I’ve always been very into trying new things. I mean, why not? I love being a beginner at stuff, so last year, surf was that. I mean, mind you, we’re in a pandemic so there was only so much that I could do creatively. I realized that surf is fun, and since I was spending so much time and energy on it, I wanted to apply my creative vision to that as well. There wasn’t ever a plan to monetize it or anything like that, it was actually the opposite.
Gage: Yeah, it was just love.
Brick: Once we made the name, we were like ‘oh let’s make a logo,’ and I was like ‘we don’t even need a logo,’ we just have to experience and feel what it’s like to be out here every day and just truly indulge in it. Then we took a trip to Kauai, where we met Tre’lan, one of the other members of Black Sand, and yeah, it’s a pretty innocent journey. We’re just a couple of Black dudes going to surf. We’re dealing with the adversities as they present themselves.
WE’RE JUST A COUPLE OF BLACK DUDES GOING TO SURF. WE’RE DEALING WITH THE ADVERSITIES AS THEY PRESENT THEMSELVES.
The Recreationalist: Tell us about your childhood and where you grew up.
Gage: I grew up in Michigan and I am a creative as well, but I was always into adventure and sports. Snowboarding was my whole life when I was growing up. In my town, we had this snowboarding hill. I was always over there doing that, taking photos and dancing.
Brick: I’m from LA originally, I was raised up in Carson and I also lived in North Carolina for a good amount of time. It’s where my adventure side comes from. My mom married a guy in the military, and we lived in the middle of bum f*** nowhere—if you will—and I would just ride BMX. I grew up riding BMX bikes and we would build dirt jumps and all types of stuff at construction sites on Sundays when nobody was there. We’d take wood and build jumps, and go fishing, and walk down to the lake with a canoe over our shoulder like some true country bumpkins. It was the coolest country kid childhood. I feel like that was definitely where all of the adventurousness and creativity came from. I was going from living in LA to living in the middle of nowhere and having to get creative with whatever I had out there—which wasn’t much—because the town had literally 4,500 people in it. There was nobody there, it was literally the size of a high school.
The Recreationalist: How would you identify the issue of inclusivity, what do you think prevents Black people or people of color from trying surfing?
Brick: There’s a lot of things—that’s a compound question. What prevents Black people from surfing is our innate fear of water. Which stems from the fact that Black people historically haven’t had access to beaches and pools, because that was a space that we weren’t allowed, really up until about 50 years ago—it’s a luxury. Luxury has always been a tool of white supremacy used to keep them above us. There’s an attitude that says, ‘don’t come here, we don’t want that Black skin touching the water that our white skin is touching,’ so we internalize that fear. It’s instilled in our grandparents, and our great grandparents, and our parentswe don’t go to the pool. Black people don’t know how to swim, because we weren’t allowed to go there, so that stereotype runs true within us and we continue to reinforce it within ourselves. We think that Black people don’t swim, Black people don’t surf, Black people don’t go to the beach—it 100% stems from white supremacy, but we have become comfortable with reinforcing this stereotype. That’s why we’re destigmatizing the sport. We can inspire someone to do something just because they see someone that looks like them doing it. There aren’t too many images of that, so being able to see ourselves in that space is huge. Ultimately what we aim to do is provide resources for Black people, to help them get in the water. But seeing as we both have a creative background, representation is one of our strong suits and a way that we can contribute to solving the issue of Black people being afraid of the water. We can show you. The goal is to be an intersection of Black people and surf, not just letting it be surf culture—which is very exclusive of Black people.
Gage: It’s so much deeper than that too. We think of water, we think of fear. Think about our ancestors, they were brought over on ships—they have a fear of the water. There are people still—POC tribes—with refugees trying to escape places, but don’t know how to swim, dying just because they’re on a raft over water. All of these things immediately make any person of color think that water is dangerous. The number one thing we hear is ‘well I just want to be careful and make sure I don’t die’ and we have to reassure them that they’re not going to die.
The Recreationalist: As a group, how do you hope to impact the surfing world?
Brick: Where surf is right now is where basketball was in the ’20s and ‘30s. It’s a primarily white sport. But I see what’s happening right now and we have officially disintegrated the negro leagues, and now this is an integral space where we can all come and thrive and be great. 100 years from now, surf will be how we view the NBA. It’ll be a space where Black people are celebrated and excellent, and there’s no level of fear associated with it at all—it’ll just be something that we do and do with excellence and it’s not us versus them—it’s never that. But we do have to fight for equity in the space, we don’t want to be like you—we want to be here together.
Gage: We’re not trying to change surf for surf, we just happen to be because of how we are, and that’s its own power within itself. We found out surfing was racist through surfing and being called racial slurs.
IN SURF CULTURE, BEING A BEGINNER ISN’T CELEBRATED. YOU CAN FIND SOMEONE TO GIVE YOU LESSONS, BUT AS FAR AS SOMEONE BEING NICE TO YOU—THE FIRST THING THAT YOU’LL BE TOLD IS ‘DAMN YOU WON’T BE GOOD FOR A LONG TIME AND LOOK OUT FOR ME,’. SO NOT ONLY ARE WE BLACK AND NOT ONLY ARE WE BEGINNERS BUT WE’RE CREATING A BEGINNING ALLEY FOR THIS WORLD.
The Recreationalist: There was an oil spill recently near Huntington Beach. How has this impacted your surfing schedule and your home?
Brick: It’s terrible that things like that happen because we went to Huntington Beach for the first time last week. We’d never surfed there because it’s such a long drive but last week, the waves were so good, perfect barrels, five, six-foot—conditions were perfect. So I went two days in a row, and then here we are. Less than a week later, an oil spill, right after I discovered this amazing beach. I’ve always known about it but never went, and I was excited for that to be the new spot.
Gage: Also sandbars change.
Brick: Right, and the spot was just getting to be amazing for the season. This oil spill is just tragic. It especially sucks because we feel like we have no control, we feel really powerless in these situations. I didn’t break an oil pipeline, and I didn’t create the oil pipeline, maybe I’m benefiting from the oil pipeline in ways that I’m not aware of—or don’t choose—but it is our responsibility when those types of things happen.
YOU CAN’T GO IN THE WATER WHEN THERE’S OIL IN IT, THE SAME WAY THAT THOSE FISH CAN’T SURVIVE—BUT THEY DON’T HAVE AN OPTION. WE ARE BLESSED ENOUGH TO BE HUMANS AND WE CAN LEAVE THE WATER, BUT EVERYTHING THAT’S IN THE OCEAN IS SUFFERING.
The Recreationalist: On that note, what are your thoughts on sustainability? And as athletes, how do you hope to see recreational apparel brands change?
Gage: There are certain things at this point that are so obvious that they should be mandatory. It’s definitely something that we consider too when we’re partnering with people. I really hope that there will be certain laws soon about manufacturing—whatever you can reduce, you should have to reduce. In packaging, how you create the clothing, how much water you’re using, etc. If we don’t make things mandatory at this point and draw a line, then I don’t think that there’s going to be anything that can be fixed. It’s up to the young generation for sure, older people don’t care because it’s not going to affect them in their lifetime.
Brick: Yeah, it should just be easier to access sustainable ways to create a product, it should be the norm.
The Recreationalist: Back to surfing — what would you say is the hardest thing to pick up?
Brick: Persistence. Being down to go back out there after not succeeding, or achieving what you want to achieve. The most difficult thing is to keep showing up. Anyone who’s down to keep showing up is going to get what they want out of it. Persistence is the biggest gap between people wanting to surf and actually enjoying surfing.
Gage: There are no shortcuts to surf. I’m the Shortcut King, but that is something that you just have to keep doing. It’s going to take time. There’s a lot of prep that you have to do. You have to take care of your wetsuit, figure out where you’re going to go, drive there, get ready, maybe you wait for a friend, then you have to paddle out, then you surf for two hours, then you do the same thing in reverse to get out of the water, then you go home, then you need to shower, and walk your dog, and do these other things, and by the time you’ve done all of that, you’re four to five hours into your day.
The Recreationalist: On the flip side, what’s your favorite thing about surfing?
Gage: Balance for me. I struggle with anxiety and depression, like most of us do. That’s the reason why it turns into therapy because there’s an equal amount of enjoyment and difficulty to it.
Brick: My favorite thing about surfing is presence. It’s just the greatest stance of presence that there is. When you’re on a wave, you’re not thinking about what bill you’ve got to pay tomorrow or what you’re going to eat when you get out of the water, what you accidentally left at home, or who texted you. You’re on a wave, you can’t be thinking about your phone, this girl you thought was fine, whatever.
On Life & Other Things
The Recreationalist: Who are you outside of Black Sand, what do you guys do on land?
Gage: Everything creative at this point. He does the music and producing thing, I do dance and photography, we both know some video stuff. I feel like I really touch on the visual side—photography, dancing, movement. I actually spent a lot of my time working for other people in the first half of my life—so I have a lot of labor experience, I’ve lived a couple of different lives.
Brick: Yeah, let’s see. I’m a producer, I’ve produced for Kehlani, Travis Scott, Baby Keem, SuperDuper, etc., I DJ a lot, I make songs—there’s a lot going on. I put events together, I promote parties, I do interior design—I’m a curator of things and people—I’ve done a lot of things, I never know how to reduce it into just a few sentences.
The Recreationalist: Dream collaborations — tell us about them.
Brick: Having Spike Lee direct the Black Sand Limited Series. I want to showcase the history of “why” I’ve done a lot of research and I know why, but I want other people to know.
Gage: Yeah, that’s the biggest pushback we’ve gotten about Black Sand, people say surf’s not racist.
Brick: Right, I feel like his lens, and his eye on our story, and him understanding what we’re trying to do would be huge. To me, is the pinnacle of collaboration, and I feel like it’s actually going to happen.
Edited by Rey Joaquin
You can keep up with Black Sand @blacksand.surf, @____brick, @gagecrismond, and @trelan.michael.
Photographed by @zach.so.
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