Seafaring locals organize paddle out to honor George Floyd
“In California, we wear wetsuits. I can guarantee there’s been a moment while you’re waiting for waves that you thought, ‘I hope a shark doesn’t mistake me for a seal.’ There are Americans, in the safety of their home, that fear that the police don’t mistake them for criminals. This risk [they] choose to accept doesn’t peel off after [they’re] done in the parking lot. Not for black people, not for me.”
These were the words spoken by Chris Ragland to hundreds of surfers, swimmers and regular beachgoers at Leadbetter Beach on Saturday.
Mr. Ragland organized “Paddle Out SB” to honor the memory of George Floyd. As per the Hawaiian tradition to pay tribute to people who have died, the attendees took to the waves on their surfboards, SUPs and kayaks, chanting and throwing flowers in the water.
Boards were provided upon request to anyone who needed one, and participants laid them down to spell “Unity” in the sand, showing their community’s support and solidarity.
“This is a memorial, not a protest,” Mr. Ragland told the crowd. “We gather here in peace; opposition won’t show its face today.”
He said that he felt a responsibility to step up with a voice and a leadership role in the surfing community as a black surfer in Santa Barbara. He centered the memorial around the idea of not just being non-racist, but anti-racist.
Mr. Ragland shared a quote from his grandfather, born in Birmingham, Alabama, who lost his son, Mr. Ragland’s father, to gun violence.
“When you see a black person on the sidewalk, in a parking lot, don’t look down. Don’t look away. Don’t pull out your phone and pretend they’re not there,” Mr. Ragland said, quoting his grandfather. “All you have to do is say, ‘Hey, how ‘ya doin’?’ If we could do that for each and every one of each other here right now, tell me that wouldn’t make the world a better place.”
Having lived in Santa Barbara for 10 years, he said that he wanted to be a voice people can trust about what goes on outside of the city, and that his goal for the paddle out was to help people feel “activated, not just guilty and deflated.”
Along with the memorial, Mr. Ragland and his team set up a GoFundMe, auctioning off surfboards with art and prints. All the proceeds went to local black organizations.
“The ocean is super important to me. It’s my sanctuary,” said Austin Jones, a paddle boarder who helped Mr. Ragland put on the event. “It’s a place where we can all be equals. [We don’t] bring our cellphones and it’s a great way to disconnect and all be one.”
Bren Lanphear, a surfer at the paddle out, said it’s not so much about any one individual showing up, but the practice of activism as a community.
“Each event like this, which has a beginning and an end, little by little attunes to a more communal sense of being, and I think that’s one of the most important things we can do right now,” she said.
Allison Cole, born and raised in Santa Barbara, also shared those sentiments.
“It’s a peaceful demonstration of something that we all like to do anyways,” she said. “It’s a great way to turn our pastime into something meaningful. It’s a really cool community engagement opportunity that makes me feel proud to be from here.”