When Anact founder and Jax native Brianna Kilcullen visited photographer Malcolm Jackson’s The Black Beach exhibit back in February, she found herself struck by one particular image. The photograph depicted a Black woman named GiGi Lucas standing on historic American Beach, holding a surfboard. Kilcullen connected with Lucas through Jackson, who she’d worked with previously, and the two began exploring ways they could work together.
Lucas is the founder of SurfearNEGRA, a local nonprofit organization that looks to encourage cultural and gender diversity in surfing. The venture was inspired by Lucas’s own experiences after beginning to surf years ago.
“[Surfing] was on a bucket list, so to speak, of things I wanted to do before turning 40,” she explains.
Despite growing up in a family that partook in sailing, the idea of surfing had at first seemed foreign to Lucas because she had never seen any surfers who looked like her. She quickly fell in love with the sport, and after moving to Costa Rica for five years to embrace her new passion, she realized that the lack of diversity in surfing was a uniquely American problem.
Places like American Beach, which Lucas describes as “a place of trauma and triumph,” were for many years the sole respites for Black residents looking for water access. Black residents were banned from most city beaches throughout the country up until the civil rights movement of the 1960s. And in the decades since, the country’s levels of aquatic inequality have improved only slightly.
“Even now, there’s this sense of not belonging,” Lucas explains.
“It’s dangerous,” adds Kilcullen, “because of how healing and therapeutic [access to water] can be.”
Now, with the Black Lives Matter movement reignited following the murder of George Floyd, and surfing set to make its debut on a world stage through the 2020 Olympics next year, Kilcullen and Lucas have united their two companies to produce a limited-edition tote bag that features Jackson’s photo of Lucas – as well as a poem composed by Lucas – with the aim of generating funds for SurfearNEGRA’s 100 Girl Campaign.
The 100 Girl Campaign seeks to close the gender and racial gaps in surfing by sending girls of color to surf camps. Now in its second year, the campaign has sent sixty girls to camp already, with the eventual goal of being able to fund camp scholarships for 100 girls each year.
Kilcullen and Lucas expect to fund scholarships for at least ten girls with proceeds from sales of the special tote bag, which is made with hemp like Anact’s other products. They also hope the image of Lucas, a Black woman, holding a surfboard will spark conversations – and awareness of just how rare that image is in America.
“I think what [the Olympics] are going to expose is that we haven’t really invested in the plethora of real talent that we have here in the States because it’s very homogenous in terms of who’s been able to access it traditionally,” Lucas says. “We’re going to realize that surfing is democratized for the most part, and it’s a sport that didn’t start and end in a white subculture.”