Paddle-outs in OB, PB and La Jolla honor George Floyd and protest racism
Hundreds of surfers and other supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement gathered the weekend of June 5-7 in Ocean Beach, Pacific Beach and La Jolla to honor the life of George Floyd, whose death in police custody May 25 in Minneapolis has sparked protests throughout the country against racial injustice and police brutality.
A reported 400 people attended a rally in Ocean Beach the morning of June 7 as part of a paddle-out in solidarity with Black Lives Matter. Many proceeded to go into the water on their surfboards near the OB Pier, making a large circle.
Organizer Doah Lee said on Facebook that she grew up on Oahu and that paddle-outs are used as floating memorials “to pay respect for the lives we lost.”
“We all need healing, and right now, we can all use peace, love and unity to do so. I know being out in the ocean/beach always makes us feel good, so let’s all get together to connect with one another and show compassion and empathy!”
The May 25 death of George Floyd, a black man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee to his neck for nearly nine minutes during an arrest, has been at the forefront of renewed outcry, anger and debate over race relations in the United States, both in regard to police and society in general.
A Paddle for Peace event was held June 6 at Tourmaline Surfing Park in north Pacific Beach.
“This is very special to me,” said the demonstration’s organizer, Marisa, who declined to give her last name out of fear of possible reprisals for her activism. “I’m from Guam and also black. I advocate for the ocean and I want to advocate for my people. I want to stand up to racism and show everyone we can come together as a community. We don’t have to hate each other; we don’t have to be violent. I want to give people a safe space to mourn, to release their hate.”
The resident of City Heights and avid surfer in Pacific Beach said she “organized a protest on accident.” She asked a small group of surfer friends to join her.
“I wanted to … honor George Floyd,” she said. “When people pass away in the surf community, we do a paddle-out to honor their lives. One thing led to another and it blew up into this big protest. It’s more than I ever could have expected.”
Those with surfboards then took to the ocean, paddling out as Marisa’s friends handed out flowers and leis for them to drop in the waves at a synchronized moment.
Those who chose to stay on the beach held signs and flowers and chanted “Black lives matter” and “No justice, no peace” and answered “George Floyd” when leaders asked “What’s his name?”
“I’m here to support the Black Lives Matter movement. There’s a history of systemic racism in our country,” surfer John Sneed said.
Caroline McGraw said she joined the protest “as a sign of solidarity, to love, to listen, to learn. My grandsons are Mozambican and I was able to tell them this morning their grandparents are out on the shore of San Diego for them and for all black lives.”
For Marisa’s friend Lana Tabbs, the paddle-out was important because “it’s bringing us all together. We’ve been dealing with prejudice all our lives, so I’m glad to see everybody’s coming together for this. Finally. Things need to change.”
Fellow protester Paris Body agreed: “It makes a big difference to realize that people that do have that privilege are really out here for us and we’re not standing out here alone, fighting a battle that we cannot win alone. It makes all the difference.”
At La Jolla Shores, surfers, kayakers, paddleboarders and others gathered in peaceful protest for an evening paddle-out June 5 to support the Black Lives Matter movement.
Organizer Leanne Tibiatowski of Groundswell Community Project, a surfing therapy organization for women dealing with trauma, said the paddle-out was in response to the deaths of Floyd and Breonna Taylor, who was fatally shot by police in her home in Louisville, Ky., on March 13.
Once those in the paddle-out reached open water, everyone formed a large circle clearly visible from the shoreline.
A moment of silence was held for Floyd and Taylor, and one participant invited the group to sing “Happy Birthday” to Taylor, who would have turned 27 that day.
Participants held flowers and tossed them in the ocean in memory of Floyd, Taylor and other black lives lost, according to Tibiatowski.
After returning to shore, Ryan Luna said: “I just wanted to stand in solidarity with everyone affected, and by being here I was hoping to connect with people on a spiritual level and just promote love to everybody.
“Ideally I came out here for George Floyd and that remembrance and everyone affected from that, but also [it’s] a good reminder to understand that a lot of people are affected by oppression.”
Participant Matt Lyons said he “came out here to represent people, because being able to represent other people is a privilege. I have that privilege, so I wanted to do that. Being out there with everyone really let me know how many other people are willing to come together for disenfranchised communities. And I just hope it doesn’t stop when it’s inconvenient.”