Finding Salvation, Strength and Self

Finding Salvation, Strength and Self

Surfing came into Marlim Reynosa’s life at a time when she felt lost and was experiencing panic attacks. It wasn’t until a friend who was living on the Dominican Republic's North Coast invited Marlim to visit did surfing become accessible for her culturally.

By Marlim Reynosa, lead instructor at Brown Girl Surf 

Even though I went to college in Southern California, the mecca of surfing, I never thought it was for me. Everything about it felt so alien. It was only when I saw surfing in a familiar cultural setting (Dominicans surfing in my country), was I able to think of surfing as something that I could do. I, as a woman of color, could surf. 

When I got into the water and caught wave after wave, I felt completely present for the first time in my life. I felt powerful, I felt humbled.

I grew up in the Dominican Republic until my parents moved us to the U.S. to give their kids a better life. I was 15 and I struggled to fit in, to feel worthy and strong. I carried the burden of the expectation to succeed because of the sacrifices my parents made for me. In the Dominican Republic, they lived pay to pay check, had no financial stability and they came to states with complete faith in the American system and the American Dream.   

My experience in America was very white. The high school and college I went to was predominantly affluent and white. In order to navigate these spaces, my strategy for survival was to repress my Latina identity, to blend in and modify my behavior. I also never had any women of color as role models so I equated success with whiteness. I did everything I was supposed to; I got good grades, I dressed appropriately, I went to college and graduated with honors.

Then I failed, I failed to fit in, I failed to fulfill the expectations of my hard-working parents and as a woman in America. I was drowning in debt after college and struggling to keep a job. 

So I ran home to the Dominican Republic.  My grandmother passed, I was going through a bad break up and I was having an identity crisis. I felt trapped.  

That’s when I found surfing. But as I got deeper into surfing, I started to experiencing discrimination from Dominicans. Colorism is prevalent in the Dominican Republic. People with lighter skin have more access and are perceived differently than those with darker skin. As I got darker from surfing, my family started making comments on my skin color. When my shoulders got stronger, the local boys started making fun of my broad back.

So I left the Dominican Republic because I started this path of social, racial justice and equity. This whole world was open to me and I started seeing the world through a different lens. I started identifying as an athlete, which helped me feel like I didn’t have to fit into one box of being fragile, feminine or similar expectations that my family and my very machista country imposed on me.

I wanted to go back to the states to explore this identity, learn more about this process, find a social justice programs, then bring back what I learn to my community in the Dominican Republic.

When I got to the Bay Area, I didn’t surf for months because it was so intimidating. It was Brown Girl Surf that got me in the water. Surfing among a group of women of color is so powerful, there’s nothing else like it. 

That is the first time I truly learned not only to celebrate my identity as a Latina but to be loud about it.

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Marlim is the lead instructor at Brown Girl Surf

"There’s something uniquely healing and empowering about playing in the ocean and being in nature. Every girl should feel like they have the right to access the ocean and feel like they belong. But the history of exclusion and segregation in America, and the lack of representation of POCs in main stream surf media shuts us out.  

Beaches in California were segregated all the way up to the 1960’s. People of color didn’t have access to swimming and connecting to the ocean. There’s a fear of the water and a pervasive negative narrative that we at Brown Girl Surf are trying to change. 

The common feeling among girls and women of color is that we are out of place and this is a white male’s playing field. We want to make sure every girl feels like the ocean is their playground, this is where they belong."

Learn more about Brown Girl Surf.