Black Female Surfers Hair Care: How These Women Are Reclaiming the Ocean

Black Female Surfers Hair Care: How These Women Are Reclaiming the Ocean
Black Female Surfers Hair Care: How These Women Are Reclaiming the Ocean

Mariette Blaides started surfing in Hawaii at a time when, as she describes it, “tiny girls in tiny bikinis represented the surf world.” As a curvy Black woman herself, she initially felt intimidated but slowly learned by watching YouTube videos and visiting local surf shops to ask questions. She found her new hobby fun and exhilarating, but it quickly turned into work when it came to maintaining her thick and coily hair.

“I would come up from a duck dive, and the heaviness of my wet hair would stick to my face and block my breathing,” says Blaides. She tried to mimic other surfers who would simply flip their hair out of their faces, but hers just didn’t move the same. What’s more, Blaides’s hair became brittle and dry after being stripped of moisture from hours in the ocean at a time. “My curls would not curl and brush-outs were nearly impossible,” she says.

I grew up in Hawaii the time I was six years old until my preteen years. I fell in love with the ocean and did every type of water sport—from body surfing and snorkeling to diving—until my family relocated to the Virginia Beach area, where I gave in to the pressures of wanting to fit in and got a relaxer. This ended my relationship with the ocean. I couldn’t submerge myself in water, for fear of messing up my straightened hair. 

We are not alone in our experiences. In fact, many Black athletes have felt limited and held back by their hair, due to the lack of resources, education, and acceptance within the sports and fitness world. According to a study by Perception Institute, one in three Black women cites their hair as the reason they have avoided exercise in the past, compared with 1 in 10 white women.

For some Black female surfers, feelings around the sport are even more complex. L. Renee Blount, a creative strategist and athlete, felt the same struggles. “Once you sweat, you lose the straightness in your chemically processed hair and can gain many judgments,” she says. Blount found herself at odds with her love for surfing and the toll on her hair-care routine. She eventually decided to go natural. “I wanted to surf, swim more, cycle, and run without thinking about my hair first,” she says. “I put my wellness first.” 

Brennan Maine, a surfer in Hawaii, used to wear box braids but quit the style because it “felt heavy and the synthetic hair was very restricting.” Since going natural, she’s come to appreciate the way her hair looks and feels. “I love the color the sun turns my hair and the feeling of not hiding,” she says. “I’m not sure I would feel that way if I had the pressure to maintain chemically relaxed hair or straightened hairstyles.”

It’s no surprise that hair care for Black surfers goes largely untalked about, since the sport has very few Black pros to look up to. According to Surfer Today, approximately 23 million people surf worldwide. There are no numbers available on what percentage are Black; however, during the 2020 Women’s Qualifying Series in the World Surf League, of the 261 female athletes competing, only a handful were nonwhite. In the 2022 World Surf League rankings of top 20 surfers, there is not a single Black woman on the list. 

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