Black Pro Surfer Hunter Jones’ Fight For Diversity in the Water
It’s safe to say that since surfing was coopted from the indigenous Hawaiians by wealthy white men who were visiting Waikiki in the late 1800s, the sport has been overwhelmingly dominated by those of European descent. In fact, the first official, modern surfing club, called the Outrigger Canoe and Surfing Club and started in 1908, was a unofficially a whites- (and male-)only organization.
Though some will point to this early interest by rich Europeans as the catalyst that helped save the sport from obscurity, the current sport of surfing is still—even in 2021—heavily represented by white faces. Looking out at any myriad of breaks, especially across the United States, and you’ll see the faces of mostly males of the same race bobbing in the ocean waiting for their turn to make a turn.
It’s a definite problem that the surfing community is just becoming broadly aware of, and for South Bay-based, newly pro surfer Hunter Jones, one he’s been aware of his whole life. The newest addition to Body Glove’s surf team, Jones says that, “When I was growing up, I didn’t have someone that looked like me that I could look up to. Even when I paddle out now on any given day at 45th Street [in El Porto, L.A.], I’m the only one that looks like me. I want to help the next generation of surfers by creating an inclusive and representative environment in the water.”
Hunter continues: “I feel that I have a responsibility to be a role model to help inspire more diversity in the water. It’s both humbling and a cool opportunity and I want to try my hardest to enact change and have fun while doing it.”
Name: Hunter Jones
Title: Professional Surfer, Filmmaker, Co-founder of 1 Planet One People
Location: South Bay, L.A.
Years You’ve Been Surfing: 16
Men’s Journal: How did you get started surfing?
HUNTER JONES: I got pushed into my first wave by my best friend’s father and it changed my life forever. I remember that wave clearly—we were at 45th Street in El Porto and I stood up and rode the wave all the way to the beach. Growing up I loved skateboarding and pulled a lot of inspiration from all action sports. But after I caught my first wave, surfing kinda just took over.
Who were your mentors?
I didn’t really have many mentors in the surf space. I kinda had to figure it out on my own in a way. I pulled a lot of inspiration from the local pros that came out of the South Bay [like Matt Pagan, Dane Zaun, Noah Collins and Alex Gray]. But for the most part, I would watch videos on YouTube and study how the best guys were surfing and would try to mimic them. I didn’t grow up in a household where my parents were trying to force me to become this “pro surfer” like some kids now. Surfing was just my passion. For me, I first fell in love with the ocean, then I fell in love with surfing and me being the competitive person that I am, I just wanted to be the best I could be.
Anyone of color?
Ryan Harris, a well-known surfboard shaper from the South Bay had a big influence on me growing up. He was one of my first sponsors and would hook me up with boards and let me hang at his shop while he made boards. I met him at El Porto, our local spot, when I was a teenager and from then on we both helped build on each other’s careers. Ryan definitely inspires me with how he’s shifting the culture of sustainable surfboard manufacturing.
When did you get signed to Body Glove?
I officially signed with Body Glove on November 12, 2020, but the announcement didn’t go out to the public until the beginning of January. The whole process was really special for me. We worked on my welcome to the team video and I had a hand in producing the story.
Are you the only person of color on the team?
I am the only person of color on the team. There are not many in the sport as a whole.
Have you noticed any change in the surfing community since George Floyd’s death and the subsequent protests?
I think more people are open to having honest conversations now.
Have your fellow surfers been supportive?
I’ve always felt super supported by my fellow surfers and especially the local community. Being from the South Bay, we’re kind of a small bubble in the surf world and I’ve had some random people come up to me and say they’re stoked for me and the path I’m on.
Do you see signs of hope or change in the community?
Totally! Ya know, as a kid growing up I was typically the only surfer of color in the water on any given session. Now, it’s becoming a lot more common to see a person of color in the water and overall I think there’s a push within the community to expose surfing to more and more people. At least for me, if I can be a part of inspiring the next generation of surfers, that makes me feel like I’m doing my part.
How are you giving back to the community?
Myself and shaper Ryan Harris of Earth Technologies collaborated on a surfboard model together called the HJM. For 2021, $100 from each one sold will be going to Color The Water, a rad nonprofit that gives free surf lessons to the BIPOC community, [helping to encourage] more diversity in the lineup. I plan on working alongside them this year as well as the City Surf Project out of San Francisco.
I also co-founded 1 Planet One People, a collective activation supporting climate action, racial, and social equality. Our site is basically just a hub of organizations that fall under our core values and that are trusted sources. But most of all we’re just trying to spread good vibes.
What is your greatest challenge moving forward?
I don’t see many challenges, I just see a lot of opportunities.
What can readers do to help?
I think in each of our lives if we can make it a point to be selfless, give of ourselves, and love unconditionally, I think we’ll start to see more positive change across our communities and our world—one step at a time. People aren’t going to remember the things you say, they’re going to remember how you made them feel.
What are some of your favorite films you’ve made?
My surf film Still Dreaming:
A music video I made for my two younger brothers, Ride In:
The Journey To Your Happy Place (feat. Cori Rose):
… and I’m going to be dropping my first vlog in the coming weeks, so definitely be on the lookout for that on my channel.
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