When Rockaway remembers someone, they take to the water. As the fog cleared on the morning of Saturday, June 6, hundreds upon hundreds of surfers flocked to Beach 109th Street for a traditional memorial paddle out for George Floyd, in a display of unity upon the ocean.
Lou Harris of Black Surfing Rockaway, a local organization that provides free surfing lessons to children of all races, organized the wildly successful event where surfers from near and far gathered for the cause. Before the surfers took to the water, he spoke about his decision to hold the paddle out and what he has experienced as a black man in America, including instances where white people have walked to the other side of the street as he approached. “What happened to George Floyd, you don’t even want to go out anywhere. It’s a shame what happened to him. All lives matter but right now it’s happening to black people,” Harris said. “It’s just insane. When Colin Kaepernick took that knee and I’m not a fan of his football, but him kneeling, now I see why he was kneeling. He was kneeling against injustice and brutality.”
Kwame LaBassiere, a black yogi and surf instructor in Rockaway, also spoke of his experiences and expressed his gratitude to those who showed up to show support. “It really touches me to see everyone out here, white, black, Asian, it doesn’t matter. We’re all out here as surfers because once we’re out in the water, it doesn’t matter who you are, where you are, water clears everything for us, and it really touches me that everyone came out,” LaBassiere said.
Jide Alao of TheCradleNYC provided free smoothies at the event and spoke about why he wanted to help out. “The movement that’s happening now really hit home for me and for every black person here and the fact that every black person is standing up for justice and equality and everything we need, to live in this country or not to be afraid of walking down the block or walking in the street or wherever it is," he said.
“Let’s go out in the water,” Harris said before the hundreds of surfers picked up their boards, some bearing the “Black Lives Matter” message, while others carried flowers, and took to the waves. Out in the water, the surfers formed a large circle and chanted things such as George Floyd, Black Lives Matter, “hands up, don’t shoot” and more, while hundreds of others did the same on land.
Two NYPD boats could be seen beyond the circle. Following the event, Harris explained the NYPD’s support for the event. “To my surprise, when six police officers walked up to me at 8:45 a.m., 15 minutes before our George Floyd paddle out, I thought they were shutting us down. Instead, the police captain said, ‘We’re here to help you, Lou. What do you need from us?’ He said, ‘I’ll have a few cops posted next to you and I’ll put some boats out in the water in case someone is in distress.’ I was blown away. Just remember folks, not all police officers are bad!”
A second paddle out will be held on Saturday, June 20 at 9 a.m. on Beach 109th Street. “Let’s make this a big one,” Harris said.
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