Mami Wata offers a more diverse vision of surfing


As a little one, my first introduction to surfing got here from manufacturers like Billabong, Quicksilver, Ripcurl, and Volcom, which arrange retailers in seaside cities in every single place I visited from Bali to Santa Cruz to Mauritius. Their shops had been coated in photos of blond-haired, blue-eyed surfers, suggesting to me that surfing was a pastime reserved for white individuals.

I wasn’t alone in feeling excluded from surfing. Peet Pienaar, a South African inventive director and artist, has spoken to many Africans who felt similar to I did. “Folks grew up with manufacturers like Billabong, considering they had been cool,” he says. “Instantly, after they obtained a little older, they realized these manufacturers by no means represented them. They didn’t see themselves on this model. And so they don’t need their youngsters to purchase into what these manufacturers are promoting them.”

In 2015, Pienaar joined forces with fellow South Africans Nick Dutton and Andy Davis to launch a new sort of style label, one which mirrored the thriving world of African surf tradition. They known as the model Mami Wata, a West African pidgin English time period for Mom Ocean which, in native mythology, is a water spirit that seems within the form of a mermaid. A number of months later, Salema Masekela, a well-known surfer with each African-American and South African roots, fell in love with the model and have become the fourth co-founder. As Mami Wata launches in america later this month, the model’s aim isn’t just to supply a more diverse vision of surfing, however to offer the world perception into components of Africa that don’t usually get portrayed by the media.

[Photo: courtesy Mami Wata]

A sport with historical roots

Surfing has all the time been a diverse exercise. Its roots go back centuries, the place individuals in historical Hawaii, Samoa, and Tonga developed the artwork of crafting boards that may enable them to crest waves. However within the early 1900s, Hawaiians launched the exercise to Individuals and Australians, who rapidly co-opted the exercise. By the mid twentieth century, American popular culture portrayed surfing as a largely caucasian exercise, because of movies like Gidget (1959) about a feminine surfer and songs just like the Seashore Boys’ “Surfin’ Safari” (1962). American and Australian manufacturers like Billabong and Quicksilver bolstered this concept, with imagery that featured largely white fashions.

Immediately, though there are numerous well-known surfers of coloration, from Sharon Schaffer to Michael February to Hunter Jones, the game remains to be usually perceived as catering to the white and privileged. Masekela remembers beginning a new highschool in Carlsbad, California, and confiding in a classmate that he wished to surf. “He responded by saying, ‘You individuals don’t even swim, so how are you going to study to surf?’” Masekela recollects. “I’ve been surfing for 30 years now and perception-wise, not a lot has modified in any respect.” Final yr, amid the protests after George Floyd’s homicide, surfers around the world drew attention to the game’s historical past of excluding individuals of coloration.

[Photo: courtesy Mami Wata]

Manufacturers form notion

Nick Dutton was sitting on a seaside in Cape City six years in the past when he observed the distinction between the surfers on the seaside and the manufacturers that these surfers had been carrying. “There are hundreds of thousands of individuals surfing in Africa and but, there’s no African surf model on the market,” he says. “You’ve had generations of Africans rising up with a narrative of blond-haired, blue-eyed surfers, offered by surf manufacturers. I felt like there was a chance to inform a completely different story concerning the creativity, design, and the deep historical past of surf happening within the continent of Africa.”

[Photo: courtesy Mami Wata]

Dutton factors out that surfing has been a well-liked pastime in lots of international locations in Africa for a number of a long time now. In South Africa, as an example, surfing was first introduced below the British colonial regime, which solely served to bolster the concept it was a white exercise. Nonetheless, within the years after apartheid, Black South Africans started to learn to surf, and over time, they’ve made the game their very own. Now, there are individuals of all ethnicities, religions, and backgrounds throughout the continent who’ve adopted surfing. Mami Wata refers to this as Afrosurf tradition. “One of the fun of Africa is the sheer variety you see in surf tradition,” he says. “We’re attempting to problem the notion that there’s one single Africa.”

They started creating T-shirts, sweaters, shorts, hats, and surfboards that mirrored the artwork and design of Africa. Pienaar, who serves as inventive director for the model, frolicked finding out African iconography and talking with African designers as he developed the visible language of the model.  The garments within the line are minimalist, with vivid pop-art graphics which might be tied to conventional African aesthetics. Photos reference African mythology: There are crabs, which had been used to foretell the longer term, and birds, which signify the necessity to mirror on the previous. Mami Wata herself is a image of fertility and a guardian of sea creatures. However you don’t want to grasp the historic that means of the picture to understand the enjoyable, vibrant aesthetic.

[Photo: courtesy Mami Wata]

Projecting a constructive picture

Dutton and his co-founders imagine that manufacturers can do a lot to form individuals’s notion of a nation—or a continent. Dutton says that the remainder of the world tends to solely hear concerning the darkish, damaging tales about Africa. “They solely speak about AIDS, poverty, and corruption, as a result of it’s what’s within the information cycle,” he says. “It’s to not say that that stuff isn’t taking place, however what Africa lacks is manufacturers telling the constructive tales. Folks’s admiration for America has been partly outlined by the trillion {dollars} American manufacturers have spent speaking concerning the constructive attributes of the nation like freedom and household. If what we learn about America solely got here from what’s taking place on the bottom, we might have a completely different perspective.”


More broadly, he believes surfing has been a constructive pressure within the continent. It drives tourism to the seashores of Ghana, Senegal, South Africa, and different international locations, serving to stimulate these economies. And Mami Wata companions with the group Waves for Change that makes use of surfing as a type of remedy to assist avenue kids rising up in traumatic, difficult environments. “Rather a lot of these kids really reside subsequent to the seaside however they by no means swim or surf as a result of they by no means had that as a reference level,” Dutton says. “These packages give them a sense of group and use surfing as a option to train them life expertise.”

[Photo: courtesy Mami Wata]

Bringing African surfing to the world

To assist assist native manufacturing, the Mami Wata group manufactured all the things in Africa utilizing African cotton. This additionally units the model other than old-fashioned surf manufacturers, which largely make their merchandise in Asian factories. “We wished to be completely different from these surf manufacturers which might be all telling the identical story,” Dutton says. “We had a actual alternative to be purpose-led, reasonably than pushed by revenue, and to attempt to develop into a inventive pressure for good in Africa.”

Over the previous six yr, Mami Wata has expanded past South Africa to the remainder of the continent, after which to Europe. Now the model in touchdown in america, the place it is going to be accessible by way of the model’s direct to client web site and huge retailers like Nordstrom. This development will enable the corporate to speculate additional in its manufacturing. However importantly, it should enable the American market to get a completely different view of surfing. Hopefully, my daughter will develop up with completely different reference factors than I did in relation to surfing. She may be more inclined to select up the game when she sees photos of individuals of all races cresting the waves on their colourful surfboards. “Range (in) the surfing panorama will proceed to happen by telling new and thrilling tales of what surfing seems and appears like throughout race, gender, physique kind…all of it,” Makesela says. “It’s fairly easy. When you can see it, you could be it.”

Mami Wata clothes price between $49.50 and $98.50, whereas surf boards begin at $817.50. They are often bought on the model’s website.