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9 Famous Black Surfers You Should Know


According to, black surfers account for 11.5% of the surfing population in the United States. This is an increase in the number of black people participating in the sport. That said, black surfers have been in the sport, but their contributions have largely been unnoticed. This article lists famous black surfers you should know.

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Andrea Kabwasa

Andrea is a lifelong surfer. She’s been at it for more than 20 years and has transitioned into tutoring others. For her, surfing is more than riding the waves. It’s a mindful practice, she says, helped her mentally heal from abuse. 

Her interest in surfing began as a young child in Ethiopia, and later learned how to body surf currents in the river. Kabwasa has certificates in teaching the sport, and now, she spends time teaching kids and others to ride the waves.

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Imani Wilmot

Imani Wilmot is one of Jamaica’s best female surfers. She followed in her father’s footsteps and became a surfer. Her dad is known as the Godfather of Jamaican surfing and founded the Jamaican Surfing Association (JSA). 

Consequently, Imani began surfing at a young age and was the only girl in school doing it. She set up a surf school at 17 to teach others how to surf. Now, she runs Surf Girls Jamaica.

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Montgomery ‘Buttons’ Kaluhiokalani

Montgomery is considered one of the best Hawaiian surfers to play the sport. He started surfing at the age of seven and came up with some moves used in modern surfing. He is credited for the switch foot surfing and doing the first backside 360. 

Nicknamed Buttons, he competed in the United States Surfing Championship, Pipeline Masters, and the Sunset World Cup. The only competition he won was the Malibu Pro. These achievements earned him descriptions like surf legend and the most influential surfers of all time from Surfer Today and Surfer Magazine.  

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Mary Mills

Known as Mary Mills, she’s another famous black surfer who takes pride in her craft. Mills started surfing in 2002 and began documenting her experiences three years later. She bought her first mat in 2008 and says she enjoys her mat more than she does her surfboard. 

Mary likes it because it’s different and bends the stereotype of the everyday surfer. That said, she has to stick to her board due to the high presence of inexperienced surfers on California beaches.  

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Michael February

The South African is one of the most famous black surfers on the continent. His father introduced him to the sport at six, but he wasn’t interested. February later went to Muizenberg Beach in Western Cape, South Africa, with a friend, caught his first wave, and fell in love with the sport. 

Now, he has represented his country on the World Tour and hopes that his achievements inspire young black surfing hopefuls around the world. 

Nick Gabaldon

Nick Gabaldon is one of the most famous black surfers to practice the sport. He was also the first documented African-American to surf. He was born on 23 February 1927 in Los Angeles. At the time, segregation was rife such that white and black people used separate beaches. 

Gabaldon taught himself how to surf along a small area of the larger Santa Monica beach. He was an inspiration to any racial minority interested in surfing. In June 1951, Gabaldon drowned and died surfing. 

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Nick Donawa

Nick joins the list of famous black surfers. Born in Barbados in the 1970s, the sport didn’t exist. After his return from Canada in 1990, the country formed the Barbados Surfing Association

He worked for the governing body in various positions and later trained to become a coach. He later noticed that many people couldn’t afford surfboards, so he helped out as much as he could. Donawa has coached the Barbados team and, in 2018, was appointed the coach of the Russian team.

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Sharon Schaffer

Sharon Schaffer was the first black female surfer to compete professionally in the United States. She rode her first wave at 11 on a swimming trip and has pursued it since. Away from surfing, Schaffer is a professional teacher, writer, producer, singer, and actor. 

She’s used different platforms to highlight the cultural influence of skateboarding and surfing. In 2012, Schaffer was honoured with the President’s Award at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

Zia Hendricks

Hendricks is a budding South African surfer. She comes from Jeffrey’s Bay, one of the best places to surf in the country. By the time she was eight, she was in the Mandela Bay team for the South Africa Grommet Games. From then, Zia competed in multiple competitions and won titles. Consequently, she was ranked top in her division on the South African Surf tour.

It’s amazing what these famous black surfers have accomplished. From fighting against racial prejudice to competing in the biggest surfing competitions, they’ve created a path for upcoming black surfers who can now dream of riding the waves. 

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