Lizelle Jackson, cofounder of Color the Water, describes the barriers to ocean access for BIPOC communities—and the promise of the 30x30 initiative.
This guest blog was written by Lizelle Jackson, cofounder of Color the Water.
As a surf instructor, my goal is to help people catch waves and feel more comfortable in the ocean. My favorite moment is obviously the excitement that comes from witnessing someone catch their first wave, but I’m always surprised by how that joy is matched by an encounter with dolphins, sea lions, or any of the amazing marine life that call California’s ocean home.
In 2020, I cofounded an organization called Color the Water after a memorial paddle-out in honor of George Floyd, following his murder. My cofounder David Malana and I looked around and realized we were two of very few people of color out in the water. So, the idea for Color the Water was born. We offer free surfing lessons for Black and Indigenous people, and other people of color. Since that summer, we’ve provided hundreds of free lessons and equipment loans and worked to build a supportive community among BIPOC surfers and allies—a small step in making surf and beach culture more inclusive and diverse.
Unfortunately, barriers still exist, and there are many individuals and communities that do not have the opportunity to benefit from our free services. The simple act of getting to the coast is often an insurmountable hurdle to fulfilling surf dreams.
This is why I’m encouraged by California’s 30x30 initiative. As an effort to seeing that 30 percent of California’s waters and lands are conserved by 2030, this is our state’s commitment to a global initiative to conserve the planet’s biodiversity and enhance our resilience to climate change. In addition to helping protect the marine life that brings extra excitement to our surf sessions, Governor Gavin Newsom’s commitment to 30x30 goes even further with a commitment to expanding equitable outdoor access and recreation for all Californians.
Through the governor’s “Pathways to 30x30” strategy, the state lays out in more detail how we can achieve our 30x30 goals. It’s up to us to stay engaged and take advantage of every opportunity to tell our leaders how exactly we can make progress toward the goal to “achieve justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion” through expanded and equitable access.
Here in Los Angeles, getting to the beach without your own vehicle can mean an expensive rideshare. And even if you have your own vehicle, gas prices and parking fees can be more than many can afford for a day of surfing, much less the regular trips to the beach you would need to hone and develop your surfing skills and build confidence in the water. This lack of coastal access is a simple, vital, yet often overlooked barrier to entry for many marginalized communities.
If the commitment within 30x30 to expand access and equity is backed with action, we can overcome this barrier and help connect communities that aren’t currently well represented in surf culture to California’s iconic ocean lifestyle. We have an opportunity to create programs for free or subsidized transit and parking for inland communities, fund programs that teach youth from underserved communities water skills and safety, and create a robust water quality testing and reporting program to ensure that all Californians have access to a safe and healthy beach experience.
Those special moments I’ve been fortunate to help create through Color the Water—like when you’re out on a board and see dolphins jumping in the ocean—are just the beginning of a lifelong connection and appreciation of our natural world. The more Californians who are given the opportunity to access and enjoy the ocean, the more of us there will be who will care about and be invested in strengthening protections to preserve this incredible resource
Those of us who play in the ocean want to keep it clean and full of marine life. Protecting our playground and making it more accessible to everyone is how we make sure a healthy and abundant ocean is available for future generations. That’s why Californians who love their ocean overwhelmingly support the 30x30 initiative.
Read more about this initiative in NRDC’s factsheet, “A Healthy Ocean For All: The Promise of 30x30 For California.”
An avid traveler and lover of all things outdoors, Lizelle Jackson has often worked at the intersection of these two passions. She spent almost 10 years traversing the globe while guiding hiking and cycling tours. A lifelong competitor and former professional athlete, Jackson has always been happiest and in her element when being active. While no longer competing at the professional level, she now channels her energy into outdoor adventures. Whether it’s competing in multiday races with Team Onyx—the first all-black adventure racing team—or chasing waves along the California coast, it is a rare day that she doesn’t find herself outdoors. Color the Water, which Jackson founded with David Malana, is a community for BIPOC to reclaim space in the ocean through joyful, defiant anti-racist surf lessons, celebrations, education, and media.