We last spoke to Natasha Brown back in 2018, when the world was a slightly different place. We were super keen to catch up with her for part two to our initial conversation because so many more ears are now attuned to what she might have to say - in surfing and on a global level.
So we first want to start off with a quote from our last conversation.
We asked for her opinion on why the surfing world is so insular.
She so rightly answered:
“Access is limited to those who can afford it, which is predominantly white people in our country. There are so many layers you financially have to break through – learning to swim, transportation to the beach, boards, etc. And in countries where these barriers don’t exist, the lineup looks different. We increase diversity in surfing by increasing access. Because of this, surfing is seen as a white sport in our country. So there is hesitation for many people of color to occupy a space where they may be seen as an outsider, with no allies or mentors. It’s frightening for sure.”
We get chills when we read that because, at the time, it felt scary to ask a question like that and publish it into the surf ether. It was the kind of conversation we wanted to have, but wasn’t sure who was ready to hear it. And we honestly weren’t sure what kind of backlash we should expect as a new brand, provoking questions like that.
Now, more than halfway into 2020, Covid-19 has conveniently set the stage for captive allies and advocates to show up for Black Lives Matter. These types of questions and conversations are happening with more frequency, at least in pockets of the US and beyond. So we’re excited to dive into more of this dialogue!
(Photo: Dylan Johnston)
La Bamba: Thank you again for allowing us to pull back the lens a bit and ask about your experience as a Black female surfer at the intersection of being a woman of color in America.
Our first question for you is, given everything that’s happening politically and culturally in America, are you hopeful?
Natasha: I am a mixture of emotions, but I am hopeful. Seeing so many allies at the beginning of the Black Lives Movement was really special. It felt like we had joined forces for a war that previously only Black people had been fighting. I do feel the stamina and the movement has slowed, which makes me feel like being pro-BLM was a “fad.” Nonetheless, I am confident that the tides have turned against what is deemed acceptable in terms of injustices towards Black people.
La Bamba: What are some of the things you do to curb any anxieties or just to keep your spirits high?
Natasha: I surf. During some quarantine days, I surfed for alllll day. Being able to completely check out and focus in the water is the best cure for anxiety. I also keep myself informed, but I never delve into the media. It is important to know how to keep yourself safe, but it is also important to protect your own mental well-being.
La Bamba: We want to ask you about surfing in light of everything that’s happening in 2020. Do you think access to surfing for BIPOC will change in our lifetimes?
Natasha: I think we are slowly seeing more BIPOC of color entering the water. It is exciting to see the community growing. However, the real tide change will be when the lineup is diverse. By that I mean as many white people as people of color. This will not happen until accessibility to the ocean is increased to predominantly BIPOC communities. My hope is that this will happen in our lifetime but just last year, I was prevented from surfing in Malibu because I wasn’t a “resident.” So being realistic, it may be awhile until this happens.
La Bamba: Has Black Lives Matter impacted the way you think about representation in surfing vs. representation in general? Has it changed at all?
Natasha: Black Lives Matter has impacted the way that I view representation in surfing for sure. I feel that more than ever the movement shows just how badly we need more Black people in all aspects of our society including the surf community. As long as we have to still navigate spaces that are predominantly white, code switching, and censoring ourselves, we will be a target for racism, brutality, and just plain ignorance. The movement calls for recognizing that Black lives matter and we should be treated as such.
(Photo: Dylan Johnston)
La Bamba: Are there any times, in surfing or in daily life, you’ve been afraid to speak up about what you’re personally experiencing or what you’re witnessing?
Natasha: I am lucky that my current surf community is very diverse. Because of that, I am able to share my experiences truthfully with people. However, the experience is different when I am in surf communities in the states that are still predominantly white. I keep quiet about the microaggressions I experience in the parking lot, on the beach, etc., because believe it or not, there are a lot of people that still believe there is no racism present in the surf community.
La Bamba: What are the feelings you’re feeling, as you watch friends and coworkers learning and seeing the fabric of inequality in the US, some for the very first time?
Natasha: It’s definitely hard seeing my community back in the states suffering through this time of change. Sometimes I can’t watch or listen to it, to be honest. But I work through this and internalize it all, because ignorance will not get us out of this mess. I feel like the pain of watching inequality allows us to focus our energy on creating a more equitable space for Black people and people of color. I can currently use my voice and remote actions, and I hope to do more physically when I can.
La Bamba: What’s the one thing you want to say to someone who’s late to the party, but here now?
Natasha: Racism exists, even when you can’t see it. It is everyone’s duty to speak out against it. Staying quiet when in the presence of racism and inequity makes you an accomplice.
La Bamba: We have our own opinions here at LB, but we’re curious what your thoughts are on ‘performative’ activism, especially in the surf space. Is it all bad?
Natasha: It isn't bad. But it does absolutely nothing. This is going to be a bit of a controversial response for sure, but when the BLM protests took off, there were so many paddle outs of unity. And while it was nice to see how many people were there in solidarity, there were no resources shared or follow-ups to make sure that people could actively participate in the movement after leaving the water. The events just happened, people took a few pictures, then peaced out. What if each person in attendance was given information on how to consistently stay active? On who to contact within their local government? Or where they can spend their dollars and still support the cause?
(Photo: Dylan Johnston)
La Bamba: So what could brands do better to be a part of the BLM conversation?
Natasha: Brands can start by stating their stance that Black Lives Matter. It should be normalized to be pro-Black lives. I feel brands should also publicly show their own form of activism whether it is amplifying Black voices, or how to support Black businesses. There are a variety of ways!
La Bamba: What about surf culture? What could we all be doing better as part of the BLM conversation?
Natasha: Stop being complacent. Just because racism isn't in your face every day in the water does not mean it doesn't exist. There has been this common thought in the surf community that there is no racism in the water. I’d like to know how putting on a wetsuit and grabbing a board changes one’s mentality? Racism exists in the water because it is carried into the water.
La Bamba: Are there any places you feel like you don’t have a voice? What would you want to say?
Natasha: I feel like I do not have a voice in the states in the water for sure. There are several surf organizations I can think of that support Black and brown children, but still have not taken a stance in support of BLM, or expressed how they are actively fighting the injustices that their own kids are experiencing. It blows my mind that social media has become just photo opps, without any real activism happening.
La Bamba: Who are your mentors and the people you look up to? What lessons have you learned that have stuck with you?
Natasha: Living in Costa Rica in a predominantly Black community, I have started to learn from the elders in how to handle racism with grace and humility.
La Bamba: And lastly, what are you doing, eating, reading, or listening to that’s keeping you sane these days?
Natasha: I am surfing more than ever. Working on board art. Teaching myself how to bake my own bread. Attempting to create my favorite dishes, mostly sushi. I’m listening to a lot of Tems and Shoffy, Alabama Shakes, and Bishop Briggs. Work has kinda taken over my reading time but I’ll have recommendations soon!
La Bamba: Any last parting words for us?
Natasha: Thank you for giving me the space to talk about my experiences! I feel grateful to be able to share my voice with the surf community.
(Photo: Dylan Johnston)
Follow along on Natasha’s journey @nattyb223.