Meet the Queer Surfers Keeping the Bay Area Inclusive

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A person surfing.

Kyla Langen co-founded Queer Surf, a space for surfers of every stripe. (Chris Grant, Jetty Girl)

It’s been a rough winter for surfing in the NorCal region. Thanks to a deluge of atmospheric rivers and subsequent flooding, it’s been cold and sloppy offshore. But things are looking up as spring bounds into summer. And Queer Surf, a nonprofit founded in 2016 by former pro surfer Kyla Langen and boogie boarding-enthusiast Nic Brisebois, is here to get anyone and everyone into the waves. “[We’re] building access for folks who never imagined surfing could be for them,”  the two wrote in an email to BrokeAssStuart. “Expanding who has access to the beach.”

The two founders, whose pronouns are both they and she, started the group to see a more diverse lineup in the ocean, one that is more reflective of Bay Area demographics. They’re both aware of the emotional and physical safety concerns queer surfers still face, especially in the onslaught of anti-transgender and anti-queer legislation sweeping the country. It doesn’t help that the beach as we know it in modern California culture is a cis heteronormative space, the two write. “Urban values, aesthetics, and politics inform our experience,” the two say. “Often folks at our beginner lessons tell us they would not have even tried surfing if we didn’t exist.”

Take wetsuits. It’s hard to find shops that sell swimsuits and wetsuits designed for people living outside of their gender assigned at birth, or outside of female and male genders. There’s a lot of extra work that goes into feeling comfortable and seen in the break for queer surfers, the two say, and plenty of adults only start surfing later in life after doing all that navigating. That’s why Queer Surf hosts beginner lessons, parties, and even camping trips to get acquainted with surfing amongst other nontraditional surfers. From May 19 to May 21 the organization took attendees to Catalina for snorkeling, kayaking, eating, hiking, and dancing. On June 17 they’ll host SWITCH in Pacifica, a Queer Surf Exhibition in collaboration with Benny’s Club sponsored by VANS and Blundstone, a display of “non binary/trans/queer wave riding talent.” And on May 28 there’s a queer surfing meetup, the bread and butter of the whole outfit.

There are ways cisgendered, straight surfers can support the work. The two recommend fellow surf advocacy groups Affinity groups like Brown Girl Surf, City Surf Project, Golden Hour Drag, and MeWaterFoundation as other organizations to peep for inspiration. Donating old gear and money to these various groups is a hard and fast way to pitch in, too. Resisting comments, questions, or assumptions on gender, experience, look, or body is another important tactic. “Contribute to a culture of belonging in the waves,” the founders write. That’s because, even in the Bay Area, surfing has always been a rigid, fixed culture, even when Langen and Brisebois started out in 2016. “Back then, we wanted more than bars, pride and softball teams,” the two wrote. “The energy, solidarity, and collectivity of SF Bay queer culture is the only thing that could even nudge or touch it.”

People at the beach.

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Paolo Bicchieri

Paolo Bicchieri

Paolo Bicchieri (he/they) is a writer living on the coast. He's a reporter for Eater SF and the author of three books of fiction and one book of poetry.