A new series of discussions with women we love, Raven + Lily In Conversation features interviews with the women who inspire us on a daily basis. Taking a closer look at the lives and stories of our collaborators, friends and other artists we admire, we continue our conversation with the founder of SurfearNEGRA, GiGi Lucas.
With a background working in fashion – ‘I was that girl in New York’ – GiGi was already growing restless when she discovered a love of surfing. ‘Surfing is my joy, it’s my peace – I wanted everyone to experience that,’ says GiGi, who founded SurfearNEGRA in 2018 to bring cultural and gender diversity to the sport. A non-profit that provides funding for girls of color aged 7-17 to attend surf camp in their local communities, GiGi hopes to ‘diversify the lineup’ by providing access and mentorship from an early age.
With an ethos similar to our own, we are delighted to partner with SurfearNEGRA this fall with a capsule collection of Raven + Lily favorites that celebrate the unbridled joy of surfing. ‘There are a lot of synergies between the brands – the ones I’m really excited about surround ingenuity and entrepreneurism as well as the empowerment of women of color,’ says GiGi. ‘Where and how a product is sourced is very important, as well as what it does and doesn’t do to the earth. Even though we’re not producing products on our end we are trying to facilitate a community and developing good stewards of our earth and the ocean,’ she says.
Ahead of the launch, we spoke with GiGi about the genesis of SurfearNEGRA, the complicated relationship between Black women, their hair and the water, and the evolution of a wave.
Where does the name SurfearNEGRA come from?
‘Surfear negra’ is the feminine form of ‘Black women surfing’ in Spanish. The idea and the concept was birthed when I was living in Costa Rica. Everyone called me ‘negrita’ and in Latin culture that’s not derogatory, it’s actually a term of endearment. I just really wanted to embrace the term ‘negra’ and ‘negrita’ because they’re beautiful.
What was your introduction to surfing?
I’ve always been a water baby. I was born on the West Coast of Florida and my parents actually raced catamarans so my brother and I have always been exposed to water and beaches. When I went to college and started my professional career I was living in major cities and I stopped going to the beach but something happened in my twenties – I decided that before I turned 40 I wanted to learn how to play piano and how to surf. Fast-forward to 34: my old college roommate was getting married in Costa Rica and I decided it was the perfect opportunity to try a surf lesson. I stood up on the board and I just knew I had to do this for the rest of my life. Honestly, it just does something to you – it causes you to re-prioritize your life. A year later I left everything in New York and moved out to Costa Rica.
Did you learn how to play the piano too?
That one is still on the list!
Where did the idea for SurfearNEGRA come from?
I had my own consulting company in New York and I realized I could work from anywhere so that gave me the permission to really explore moving to Costa Rica. When I did I was able to model my life and my day around surfing and the tides and swells. I’d been there a few years when I realized I was only three hours away from Atlanta, which is a huge, predominantly Black metropolitan area. I’d see African American women visit on vacation but they’d never go near the water so I started doing a little digging on Instagram and I could only find five or six people who were surfers and women of color. The original idea was to create a social media platform where women of color could say, ‘Hey, I’m going to Sri Lanka, is anyone there or has anyone been there and can they make any suggestions?’ But other people were doing the same thing and I realized the bigger issue was access. I decided to focus on the next generation of young girls of color by giving them access to the sport but when I took the idea back to the States I realized there was a lot more to unpack. The US has such a sordid history relating to Black people and their relationship with the water, and it has everything to do with cutting off ties to African culture during the slave trade, Jim Crow laws, and even the civil rights movement. It wasn’t until 1968 that African Americans could legally go to public beaches - that’s only 52 years ago – isn’t that crazy? On top of that you have all these Black girls who do not want their hair to go back to its natural state because they’ve spent so much time and money straightening it trying to mimic what they see in the media. I’m tall and dark-skinned, my hair is in locs, I don’t wear make-up – everything about me is natural. Before I used to think it was because I was a tomboy growing up but I realize now I have to be present and visible to serve as one of many examples of what it means to be a Black woman. I want to give these young girls permission to love themselves how they come out of the womb and the water because a lot of the time they’re concerned with how other people view them versus living their own life and loving themselves.
‘SurfearNEGRA is the breath of confidence and assurance that all women and girls of color can benefit from, both in and out of the water.’
Where’s your favorite place to surf?
Costa Rica is very near and dear to my heart but there’s something special about the Jacksonville area. Most people who are surfers are like, ‘What? Jacksonville, Florida?’ On this side of the country there are very few reefer bricks – rocks under the ocean that create consistent waves – so you have to teach yourself to be very mindful of what’s going on around you. This is the thing I’ve learnt about the ocean – when you’re in it, you have to be present not only for your peace of mind but for safety reasons too. Once you focus your attention on all of the different variables around you, you start to develop an appreciation for this massive natural resource but also an appreciation for the timing of everything in life. A wave is formed when energy travels across the surface of the earth – sometimes hours, sometimes days and sometimes even weeks ago – and for you to be in that very place, to meet the energy that has travelled so far to come to you is a very special thing.
How do you start your day?
I’m an early bird so if my mind is going and it wakes up at 3am I don’t force myself to go back to sleep – I allow myself to get up and get out what I need to get out. I don’t ever send anything immediately, I let it sit for a minute and I do my daily breathing exercises. I’ll have a cup of tea, I’ll check the daily surf report and I’ll just allow myself to ease into the morning. And then when I’m ready to send out whatever it is I’ll do that. But I try to limit myself to no more than two major projects a day.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
My dad always told me and still does to this day: ‘never let anyone or anything steal your joy.’
Name three women who inspire you.
The woman who inspires me the most is definitely my mom. She’s one of the most empathetic, intuitive people I know. Her way of being and speaking is like no other person I’ve ever met. She just knows what to say, when to say it and whom to say it to – she’s incredible. I also love the actress Michaela Coel, she’s everything to me right now because she’s allowing her true talents and her gift in this world to shine through her craft and her work. It’s really difficult to be that transparent and she’s doing it in a way that’s just awesome. The third person would have to be Serena Williams. She and her sister were able to go into a traditionally white sport, to dominate through hard work with no handouts, and rise above every criticism that came from every angle with class. At the end of the day her example is an example to everyone, period. No matter what their race, what their background, she is an incredible athlete. The reason why she inspires me the most is because when all is said and done, that’s what I want for SurfearNEGRA – for the girls to be seen as surfers, period. Not Black surfers, not female or women surfers, just surfers.