Creating a welcoming space for LGBTQ+ ocean advocates

Queer Surf Club

At the intersection of equity and environmentalism, the organization Queer Surf Club is ensuring that people of all identities are being invited into the ocean, knowing it will take full inclusion to save our seas.

Image © Megan Hemsworth

Queer Surf Club

Image © Megan Hemsworth

The natural world is replete with solutions to complex issues. One such lesson: that diversity is an essential component to the wellness and functionality of any ecosystem, allowing for resilience and stability and symbiosis amongst its inhabitants.

Yet, we as humans often overlook our role in maintaining this balance, as seen in our agriculture systems, our extractive economies, and even cultural norms around outdoor recreation. Surfing is a great example. Though originating in Polynesia, the sport has largely become a homogeneous and appropriated enterprise that favors white, heteronormative, able-bodied, and patriarchal participation.

Queer Surf Club is hoping to shift surf culture to be less homogenous, specifically by elevating LGBTQ+ participation · Clare James

Frazer Riley, the founder of Queer Surf Club, recognized this issue immediately on his first surf trip, saying, “When I properly wanted to learn to surf, I knew I needed a dedicated trip to make it happen. So I booked a holiday with my boyfriend at a surf camp in a foreign country, only to find out a day before we left that it was illegal to be gay in that country—that we could be imprisoned for three years—and I just had this complete wave of anxiety.

“Previously, I had been to countries where there were some questionable LGBTQ+ laws, but I had never been anywhere where I was considered illegal.

“The whole time I was on that trip, my boyfriend and I had to pretend we were just friends, and I was truly nervous—I remember thinking, while I was in the ocean, that I wasn’t being myself. So I had this incredibly painful experience learning to surf—all while pretending to be someone else. It was really sad. And I remember thinking at that point, I never wanted any other queer person to feel like this again.”

Frazer Riley, aka Fraz or Frazzle, experienced an unwelcoming first surf outing and founded Queer Surf Club to ensure people of all identities had safe access to the ocean · Clare James

That’s why a year ago, amidst the isolation of the pandemic, Frazer launched Queer Surf Club, a global community of LGBTQ+ surfers and allies and a resource for supportive surf businesses, brands, schools, and accommodations. Their goal is to create inclusive surfing that allows people of all different identities to have access to and enjoyment of the sport—all in the name of ocean preservation.

“I never got into surfing because I cared about surf culture,” Frazer says. “For me, I got into surfing because I have a deep love for the ocean and wanted to enjoy it in different ways. My initial surfing experience opened my eyes to what actually exists within the sport’s narrative, and it drove me to create change.

“At the end of the day, it’s very simple: we need to open up outdoor spaces for people of all identities to experience these places. Because it will take all of us in this world—on this planet—to understand and care about these natural spaces if we are expected to also help save them.

“Our mission at Queer Surf Club is to then get more people into the sea, knowing we can help be part of the bigger picture of increasing intersectionality within environmentalism.”

For meetup events, Queer Surf Club partners with local organizations like Wave Wahines, which focuses on affordable and accessible surf training for women, to further increase ocean inclusivity · Clare James
Queer Surf Club believes the more people, of all identities, that we can get in the water, the more will protect the ocean · Clare James
The queer community, through marginalization, is particularly susceptible to mental health issues; the ocean brings many therapeutic benefits · Megan Hemsworth
Queer Surf Club started during the Covid lockdown as a passion project and has turned into the community that many participants have wanted and needed in their lives · Megan Hemsworth

One way the organization does this is by partnering with other local organizations to host surf meetups. A recent example took place on Croyde Beach in the United Kingdom, in partnership with Wave Wahines, an organization dedicated to getting girls and women into surfing. The two-hour event included both lessons and open surf, allowing new and familiar surf participants to engage at their preferred level and revel in the comradery.

“I was nervous,” one participant said, “having come on my own, but I made friends for life.”

Another remarked, “My weekend with Queer Surf Club has been amazing, incredible, and beyond expectations because of the family spirit. This organization brings a sense of community to my life that I’ve lacked. It’s been nice to get that back.”

Being a LGBTQ+ surfer can feel isolating, but organizations like Queer Surf Club are building the welcoming community that many of these surfers are seeking · Clare James

As for solutions to the complex issues we continue to face in the 21st century, Frazer brings his own wisdom to the conversation, something not far from what nature has eternally demonstrated about diversity. “Regarding everyday change, I always try to speak from the viewpoint of someone who has current access to the ocean. That is, if you are that person—if you live near the coast, if you have equipment—you can build awareness around not only your own identity, but other identities that you are witnessing in outdoor spaces. Who do you see in the lineup next to you? What do they look like? What do they sound like? With these questions you can begin to understand who is experiencing the ocean. You can then begin to educate yourself on other people’s identities that you don’t know about, like the people you aren’t seeing in the ocean, the people that are missing from that space, and the voices you aren’t hearing.

“If you don’t know any queer surfers, begin to educate yourself on how you can be an ally to LGBTQ+ folks, because this work begins with self-understanding.

“Once you have that awareness about yourself and the privileges you carry, then you can reach out to others—with your equipment, resources, and access to knowledge of local areas—and begin to authentically invite people to join you in the water.”

Ocean love is ocean love · Clare James

Queer Surf Club's mission stands as the important reminder that conservation and social justice are synergetic—that full inclusion is necessary to save our seas and that, ultimately, no matter how one identifies, ocean love is ocean love.

Contributors

Queer Surf Club

Queer Surf Club is a community of LGBTQ+ surfers (and allies) from across the globe connected by their identities and a love of the oceans.

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