Inglewood Surfer Paul Cooper – Los Angeles Standard Newspaper
By Jason Lewis
Surfer Paul Cooper makes the fairly short early morning ride to El Porto beach several times a week for what he considers a magical experience.
“It’s a wonderful feeling to get up on a wave,” he said. “The wall is there and you go up and down, just riding that wave. There is nothing… nothing like it. It’s like magic. That’s why I keep coming here. I make it a point to come here every weekend.
El Porto Beach is in the northern part of Manhattan Beach, and without traffic Cooper can get there quickly from his home in Inglewood. He also surfs the beaches along the southern California coast.
Cooper’s journey in surfing began in 2004 when he was 34 years old. While on vacation in Hawaii, he and his wife Claudine purchased a parasailing and surf package, and they received a basic introduction to the surf lesson. He liked it so much that he bought a few learning to surf books. After getting home and reading the books, he headed to El Porto beach, rented a 10ft surfboard, then quickly realized he was no longer in Hawaii.
“I probably looked crazy because I didn’t know what I was doing,” he said. “This water here is not Hawaii because it is freezing cold. And I had board shorts and a normal t-shirt. People would ask me if I was cold, and I would say I was good. But in fact, I was frozen.
Very soon Cooper bought a surfboard and a wetsuit, but he was still figuring out the label in the water as he was in the way of more experienced surfers.
“Some people have been patient, some people are not new to the water,” he said. “But the people were welcoming.”
Surfing has both mental and physical benefits, which Cooper both experiences.
“I find peace here, and I love to train,” he said. “This is a different type of workout because it’s not like the gym. You just got out with nature and you are fighting against this ocean. It will work for you on some days, and on some days it will give you freebies all day. Just nice waves all day.
“I’d rather do that than stand on a treadmill and run in one place. But it is different. You will work your back, your arms and shoulders, your legs. It’s a full body workout when you paddle and chase those waves.
When Cooper started surfing in 2004, he didn’t see many other black people in the water. He said that over the years he has seen more black people playing sports, but they are still in the minority. He made an interesting observation about why many black people, who live within 15 miles of the Pacific Ocean, have shown no interest in surfing.
“I think it’s a fear of the water,” he said. “From my conversations with a lot of people, they don’t want to be in the ocean. We don’t even go in the pool at pool parties, and there’s nothing but chlorine. It’s a whole other thing to say, ‘Let’s go into the ocean beyond our knees.’ There are sharks, dolphins, sea lions. There was a sea lion here yesterday trying to find food, or doing what they’re doing here. It was like a stray dog running around.
Overcoming this mental obstacle can take people on an incredible journey.
“Once they get past that and get in here, there will be no turning back,” Cooper said. “It’s a job to learn to surf, and it’s a job to fight against these waves and this ocean. But once they get past all that and you get on that wave, and you just slide down that wave, you’re so connected and so connected, it’s ridiculous. These waves are addicting.
Cooper recommends that beginners take lessons, rather than learning on their own like he did. Compared to other sports and activities, surfing is not too expensive. Renting a surfboard costs around $ 20. Buying a used surfboard, which Cooper recommends for beginners, costs around $ 100. A brand new surfboard can cost anywhere from a few hundred dollars to over $ 1,000. Cooper said a good wetsuit, needed for the Pacific Ocean, costs around $ 250, but a cheaper one can be purchased for around $ 100.
“The rest is free,” he said. “The beach is free. You may need to pay for parking at some locations.
Although Cooper started playing the sport as an adult, he said it was a good activity for kids to learn.
“It’s wonderful for the kids,” he said. “The age range is when they’re pretty strong swimmers. I’ve seen people bring toddlers and have them on surfboards. If you give a kid a surfboard and put them in the water, they’ll adopt it quickly.
There are local black surfing organizations that run events, classes, and promote the sport to black people. The Black Surfer Collective sponsors family activities that bring people to the beach to share their love of the water. Through these seaside events, they hope to spark public interest in surfing, history, beach culture and ocean management. Visit their website at www.blacksurferscollective.org and follow them on social media.
Black Sand Surf is a surf and art collective who believe that surf culture is poised for a rebirth of inclusiveness, peace and responsibility among all humans who share the ocean. Visit their website at www.blacksandsurf.com and follow them on social media.
Color the Water is a defiant, joyful and anti-racist community of surfers from BIPOC. They have surf lessons and events. Visit their website at www.colorthewater.org and follow them on social media.