• • • After quitting their jobs in pursuit of a change in scenery, Chelsea Woody and her husband set out on a year and a half of travels all around the world. From Madagascar to Peru, it was in Indonesia where her love for surfing was born. We talked about her self-proclaimed addiction to the sport, the creation of ‘Textured Waves’ and how she hopes to inspire other women of color to surf.

Hi Chelsea, I read that you started surfing as a 30th birthday present to yourself, what made you chose surfing? And what path has this led your life down since then?

Yeah, I did start surfing at an age that is considered a little later in life. My husband and I decided to take a sabbatical away from work to change things up in our lives.

We were a bit sick of the daily grind of working and coming home and then escaping the city on the weekends to go to the mountains or play in the outdoors.

So, we decided to just quit our jobs and travel for what we thought would be 3-6 months but ended up being a year and a half.

On that journey, I really wanted to learn how to surf!

This is kind of embarrassing to admit but I only really thought about surfing for the first time when I was 17. My girlfriends and I went to go and see ‘Blue Crush’ in the movie theatres,

it’s so stereotypical but I thought ‘man, that looks so cool! I want to do that’ but then I just never revisited it. I had been to Hawaii a couple of times but just couldn’t get myself to get in the ocean.

I was just so intimidated… and maybe part of that was just not seeing folks that looked like me or having any examples of black or women of color that were surfers.

So, when we went on our big trip I shed all these things that I thought I had to be. We spent a month on Lombok surfing every day, which we were pretty fortunate to be able to do!

We kinda just dove in and it was just so nice to learn with my husband as it has become an addiction, so I don’t have to feel guilty about going surfing!

It was hard though. We spent a month there where we got bruises and wounds but we just kept going out trying to get better every time, and it happens after a good amount of practice – we were hooked.

We continued on our travels where we went to Madagascar and got some waves there. We then went to Peru where we stayed for a month and just surfed.

The rest of our travels after Lombok just got consumed by surfing and how we could keep this up.

Then when we returned to the United States, after seeing 17 countries, we went back home to Seattle, Washington,

which was three hours from the ocean, and we would travel that distance every weekend to surf until we decided that we just couldn’t do that anymore.

So, we decided that we would move to California to just try and make it work.

We never thought we would be California people, but we were addicted to surfing. We live by the ocean now and surf every day.

Growing up there was this fear that was kind of instilled within me to be cautious of the ocean. And although my family took trips to the beach, we would only dip our toes into the ocean.

I wanted to combat that fear and try and overcome it!

As an African American woman, I grew up learning that your hair is very important and that it should always be “presentable”.

I really wanted to shed that idea and keep my hair from holding me back from new experiences and embrace my natural self.

When I started to do that, my passions really came out!

Whether it was surfing or writing about surfing, all these new things in me started to blossom.

Photo: Raphael Kluzniok

Expressing yourself

I can imagine that it must’ve felt so freeing just to be able to let go and express yourself fully

Yeah, it was! I felt so constrained before but I didn’t even realize it because I was just doing what society was telling me to do and I was just going along blindly.

I was trying to keep up with these standards of beauty, which were just so unrealistic, but were force-fed through media and family. These are just things we get told we are supposed to do!

Photo: Jason Zullo

Historically, People of African descent have always lived by the sea and interacted with water, then somewhere down the line through different events that have occurred throughout history, we somehow have lost that connection.

So it’s important to rekindle that relationship, to show that we belong in the water and the sea. It’s kind of a revolution that is happening right now by going back to being water people.

You’ve also co-founded a Women of Color (WOC) surf community called ‘Textured Waves’. Can you tell me a little bit more about this and how it came to be?

Textured Waves’ was really imagined and bought to life by four African- American female surfers, one of them being myself, the others being Gigi (Lucas), Danielle (Black Lyons) and Martina (Duran).

We all live in different locations in the U.S. and we met online originally but bonded over our love for surfing and about our experiences as WOC in our local lineups and our frustrations with lack of representation in surf media.

Essentially Textured Waves was created to propagate the culture and sport of women’s surfing towards women of color and underrepresented demographics through representation community and sisterly camaraderie.

We decided to come together and see if we could create this community of WOC and black female surfers that was positive and a resource by sharing our own experiences to hopefully make it easier for the next generation to break into the sport or lifestyle and feel welcomed!

Unfortunately, the internet and Instagram are where a lot of people spend their time so we understand the importance of imagery and how that can be a catalyst for cultural shifts.

We saw that there was a lack of imagery of black female surfers and we wanted to change that.

We really wanted to make sure that our experience as African American female surfers were documented throughout history and our stories were told.

We are still in the beginning stages of working out what it is trying to be but we are super excited about it! We just want to be part of our own narrative.

What are you most excited about with the community in terms with the people it brings together and certain things you want to do in the future?

I guess I’m most excited about just seeing black women surfing together, as it’s not something you see that often and really rekindling that relationship with the water and ocean.

I think it can be hard to navigate these spaces which have been traditionally labelled as being part of ‘white culture’.

I’m just excited that it feels like we are creating a positive and welcoming space for other women, and to enjoy the ocean and have an example of women that look like them that surf, or participate in water activities.

I’m just excited to see more women of color in the ocean!

Absolutely, me too. The lineup can generally be a hostile environment, for women in general, let alone women of color. It can certainly be intimidating paddling out there to these large groups of men. I can only imagine that an additional layer of strain and barrier to enter the ocean and feel comfortable.

Yeah, it can. It was something that I immediately recognized while learning in Indonesia.

There weren’t many Indonesian girls out in the water, there would be maybe one. There are so many societal pressures for that too.

The issue of colorism and being ‘too dark’, keeps a lot of women out of the sun and the outdoors. I hope WOC can reclaim their space in the outdoors. Your skin tone should not be seen as a bad thing, it is beautiful!

I think that change often happens slowly. African-American women have often been leaders to encourage change for other WOC worldwide and we just hope that our message spreads by being a positive example.

Photo: Kat Carney

If you have a passion, or you’re feeling at the edge of the ocean, just dive in without fear!

I guess that goes onto my next question, which is what kind of advice might you have for WOC and young girls who are considering jumping in the ocean and paddling out or are curious?

Just follow your passion! If you feel like you want to try something, you should figure out a way to do it. I wish I had had that example when I was 17. I wish that I felt empowered enough to not care about what others thought of me. Good things will come of it when you can follow what you feel is good for you. That would be my hope, that we are paving the way for black women to have no reservations to get in the ocean.

Who do you look up to now in terms of watersports/general that inspired you and encourages you?

I have so many! It’s hard to pinpoint a few down. I tend to gravitate towards women who are doing things differently. I really look up to Jaleesa Vincent, I think she’s doing things that are super different in surfing by just doing it herself. In terms of African American, I definitely look up to Mary Mills, she’s one of the O.G. surfers in LA, as well as Andrea Kabwasa.

What has the rest of 2019, 2020 and beyond got in store for you?

I want to be more involved in art projects related to surfing. I’ve been collaborating with some friends on some ideas that will hopefully come to life soon. Hopefully, I’ll be travelling and surfing more as well. I also will be working more with the girls of Textured Waves to create more beautiful things, whatever that is, whether that be surfing together or having bigger retreats. Looking forward to seeing where that takes us and I hope that there is something great for TW in the future.

From everything Chelsea has told us, we can be sure she is going to be making waves with everything she touches. We can’t wait to see what the future has in store for her • • •

August 21, 2019 — Janaya Wilkins