In June, Director of Information Technology Dr. Kwamé LaBassiere was featured in a Rolling Stone article “Black Surfing Association’s Rockaway Paddle Out.” Dr. LaBassiere was one of nearly 350 surfers at Rockaway Beach in Queens who came together to honor the lives of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and to share a message of anti-oppression.
“A paddle out is an ancient Hawaiian tradition where surfers paddle out into the ocean, form a circle, and send positive energy in remembrance of someone who had a significant impact on people’s lives and who was associated with the ocean, like a surfer, diver, or oceanographer like Jacques Cousteau,” said Dr. LaBassiere. “They are generally a rare occurrence, especially on the east coast. The paddle out at Rockaway in June was so significant because this was one of many paddle outs all over the world that was done, for the first time ever in history, for individuals who had no connection to the ocean whatsoever.”
Before they headed out to the water, members of the Rockaway surfing community spoke with non-surfers on the beach about the nation’s current events to raise awareness about the purpose of their paddle out.
“The reason hundreds of surfers came out as a community that day was an unfortunate and sad one, but it was incredibly uplifting,” said Dr. LaBassiere. “We absolutely were not speaking a message of anti-police but instead voicing a need to combat police brutality and to combat oppression for all injustices that people of color, women, and others face on a daily basis.”
Once all of the surfers assembled out on the water, Dr. LaBassiere paddled into the center of the circle, and he led the group in sending out positive vibes and prayers for those they were honoring. After some moments of quiet reflection, the surfers splashed the water as a sign of joy for the lives of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.
The Black Surfing Association strives to engage underprivileged children in becoming comfortable with the ocean by offering free surf lessons. To learn more about their work, visit their Instagram page @black_surfing_rockaway.
Photo credit: Ryan Struck for Rolling Stone