Dozens of surfers gathered promptly at 9 a.m. on Saturday morning in Rockaway Beach to paddle out as a collective, showing support for the Black Lives Matter movement and protesting the ongoing violence against Black people at the hands of police officers.
The event was organized by the Black Surfing Association, which offers free surfing, skating and cooking lessons in Rockaway Beach, and marks the fifth paddle out protest this summer. The first came in June following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota while in police custody.
“Once people stop talking about police brutality, police injustice, it gets swept under the rug and also Black lives keep getting killed,” Lou Harris, the East Coast founder of the Black Surfing Association told Gothamist/WNYC. “I just wanted to shed light on it, and also I have my whole surf crew, the whole surf community, so we wanted to do it together.”
The surfers started at Beach 116th Street assembled on the sand and then took to the water. They went out far enough to be beyond the break, and then paddled parallel to the shore Beach 109th Street, where they dropped their boards on the sand and ran down to Beach 100th and back. While the surfers were in the water, a plane flew overhead with a banner that read, “Rockaway Supports Black Lives.”
The peninsula has seen its share of conflict this summer. While there have been other marches supporting the Black Lives Matter movement, there was also a large march in July supporting the New York City Police Department. That march was confronted by counterprotesters, although there wasn’t violence like what occurred in other parts of the city. Other planes have also flown over the beach pulling banners that say, “Rockaway Supports the NYPD.”
Several supporters at the event Saturday held signs to honor Jacob Blake, an unarmed Black man who was shot seven times by police in Wisconsin. Many also talked about Daniel Prude, who died after a police encounter in Rochester, NY back in March. That encounter was captured on body camera footage that was recently released and has sparked violent protests there and here in the city.
The event drew supporters from the local community and around the region. Naomi White drove her two daughters, an 11- and 5-and-a-half-year-old, from the Bronx this morning to be there in time for the paddle out. After describing herself as a lifelong swimmer and swim coach, she said she and her daughters picked up surfing this summer so they had an activity they could practice safely and socially distanced from others.
“It's one thing to head out to the beach to sun tan and enjoy the water. It's another thing to come out with purpose and drive,” said White, through a mask. “Black lives, we matter. Our lives matter, our joy matters, our children matter.”
Eleven-year-old Kashif Abdul-Mutakabbir came to the event from Brooklyn with his father. Wearing his wetsuit, Abdul-Mutakabbir held a sign that he made for the event. It said, “when do I go from being cute to scary?”
On surfing, and protesting, he said, “It’s not just what it looks like, it takes commitment. And it hurts a lot of the time to have to go out every day knowing another Black life was killed because of police brutality.”
The event in Rockaway was permitted by the New York City Parks Department.