Local surfers honor the life of George Floyd at historic Santa Monica beach

George Floyd Paddle Out Ceremony

Masked surfer allies pay their respects to George Floyd on the shore lined with blue ribbons and tree stems for last Friday’s paddle out ceremony

Photos and Story by Ashley Nash

The author is a journalist, writer and photographer from Los Angeles. She is an alumna of New Roads High School in Santa Monica and the USC Annenberg School of Journalism’s graduate program. Her writing and photography typically explore the relationships between art, culture and social justice.

In face masks and flower-adorned wetsuits, surfers and supporters gathered at The Inkwell — a historically Black beach in Santa Monica — on Friday, May 29, to commemorate the death of George Floyd. On Memorial Day, Floyd was arrested after being suspected of using a counterfeit $20 bill for a purchase in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The father and beloved friend died while police officer Derek Chauvin pinned him to the ground and knelt on his neck for over eight minutes — the incident captured on video. Floyd’s last words were “I can’t breathe,” the same words that Eric Garner said before he was killed by a police officer in 2014.

The surf photographer known as @CaliforniaMermaidPhotography on Instagram organized the evening paddle-out ceremony in Floyd’s honor. The event organizers made a few announcements before surfers made their way through a path of ribbon-dressed stems toward the waves. Men, women and children of all ages and backgrounds filled the ocean as onlookers stood on the beach
in solidarity.

The location of their meetup was just as significant as the ceremony itself. During the Jim Crow era, The Inkwell (a derogatory term for the beach reclaimed by African Americans as a “badge of pride”) was one of very few outdoor sites in Southern California where Black people could swim, sunbathe and socialize “without facing the racially motivated harassment endemic to other Southland beaches,” wrote historian Alison Rose Jefferson for The Argonaut in 2015. Now, over 100 years later, a Black man was memorialized on the same sand where his ancestors congregated for safety and solace. I personally felt drawn to the ceremony because of the healing power of water.

Over the last week, protesters with the Black Lives Matter movement and allies have continued to lift their voices and fill public spaces across the country with hopes of inciting change. Within days of the civil unrest in Minneapolis, Chauvin was arrested and charged with murder.

Capturing these images reminded me that communities are more than capable of organizing. Being there also reminded me that, if unified behind missions of justice and equality, we can make it so that we never have to commemorate another life lost to police brutality ever again.

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