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Exploring the Legacy of Black Surfing and Aquatic Culture in "Wade in the Water" Documentary

Wade in the Water
By: Kimberly Porter| "Wade in the Water" | Image: David Mesfin

In the vast ocean of surfing culture, there's a rich tapestry of stories often overlooked by mainstream narratives. "Wade in the Water" seeks to unveil this hidden history, diving deep into the vibrant world of Black surfing and aquatic culture.

But what spurred this exploration? In this exclusive interview, we sit down with David Mesfin, the visionary behind the documentary, to uncover the inspiration and journey behind "Wade in the Water." From the initial spark of curiosity to the meticulous research process and the challenges faced along the way, we find out more about the heart of this groundbreaking project, shedding light on the untold tales of Black surfers and their enduring legacy. So, grab your board and join us as we ride the waves of history, exploring the depths of "Wade in the Water."

1. What initially drew you to the concept of exploring Black surfing and aquatic culture in your documentary "Wade in the Water"?

"Wade in the Water" is an exploration of Black surfing and aquatic culture, capturing the rich history and contemporary experiences of Black surfers. The concept was initially inspired by a desire to shed light on a lesser-known aspect of surfing and highlight Black surfers' significant contributions to the sport and culture. Through interviews, archival footage, and personal stories, the documentary aims to celebrate the resilience, creativity, and joy within the Black surfing community while also addressing issues of representation and access within the broader surfing world.

2. Could you describe the process of researching and gathering historical accounts for the film, especially considering the often overlooked history of Black surfing?

Researching and gathering historical accounts for "Wade in the Water" involved a multi-faceted approach due to the often overlooked history of Black surfing. The process typically began by delving into various physical and digital archives to uncover historical documents, photographs, and videos documenting the presence and contributions of Black surfers throughout history. This included exploring archival materials from libraries, museums, surfing organizations, and personal collections.

Additionally, interviews with historians such as Professor Kevin Dawson, Alison Rose Jefferson, M.H.C. | Ph.d, scholars, and members of the Black surfing community were crucial for obtaining firsthand accounts and insights into this history. These interviews provided context, personal stories, and perspectives that enriched the documentary's narrative.

Furthermore, engaging with oral histories and community networks played a significant role in uncovering hidden stories and connecting with individuals who had valuable experiences and knowledge to share. This involved attending community events, surf gatherings, and reaching out to individuals through social media and other platforms.

Overall, the research process was comprehensive and collaborative, drawing from a variety of sources to ensure a thorough and accurate portrayal of the often overlooked history of Black surfing.

3. How did you navigate the balance between historical documentation and modern-day testimonials in the narrative of "Wade in the Water"?

Navigating the balance between historical documentation and modern-day testimonials in the "Wade in the Water" narrative was a careful and deliberate process. The goal was to seamlessly weave together the historical context with contemporary experiences to create a cohesive and engaging story. To achieve this, the documentary utilized a combination of archival footage, photographs, and documents to provide the historical framework. This allowed viewers to understand the evolution of Black surfing over time and appreciate the challenges and triumphs faced by Black surfers throughout history.

In parallel, modern-day testimonials from members of the Black surfing community were integrated to offer personal insights, reflections, and experiences. These testimonials provided a human element to the narrative, allowing viewers to connect on a deeper level with the individuals featured in the documentary and understand the ongoing impact of historical events on contemporary surf culture.

Throughout the editing process, careful attention was paid to balancing the historical and modern elements to maintain a cohesive and compelling storyline. This involved selecting testimonies that complemented the historical narrative, juxtaposing past and present footage for visual impact, and ensuring a smooth transition between different periods.

Ultimately, by carefully navigating the balance between historical documentation and modern-day testimonials, "Wade in the Water" was able to present a comprehensive and nuanced exploration of Black surfing culture that resonated with audiences.

4. In what ways do you believe your film contributes to breaking down racial barriers within the conventional surf culture?

"Wade in the Water" contributes to breaking down racial barriers within conventional surf culture in several significant ways.

The documentary sheds light on the often-overlooked history of Black surfing, highlighting the significant contributions of Black surfers throughout the sport's evolution. By uncovering these stories and celebrating the achievements of Black surfers, the film challenges the dominant narrative within surf culture that has historically marginalized or erased Black voices and experiences.

"Wade in the Water" amplifies the voices of Black surfers and provides a platform for their stories to be heard. Through personal testimonials, the documentary humanizes the experiences of Black surfers and Black beach residents, allowing viewers to connect on a deeper level and empathize with their struggles, triumphs, and aspirations. By centering these voices, the film challenges stereotypes and misconceptions about who belongs in the surfing community, promoting greater inclusivity and representation.

Additionally, it addresses systemic issues of racism and inequality within U.S. beach communities, sparking meaningful conversations and prompting reflection on how to create a more inclusive and equitable place to live and enjoy aquatic culture. By confronting these challenges head-on, "Wade in the Water" inspires action and advocacy for positive change within surf culture, encouraging individuals and organizations to actively work towards dismantling racial barriers and fostering a more welcoming and diverse community.

Overall, "Wade in the Water" serves as a powerful tool for challenging the status quo within conventional surf culture and promoting greater diversity. By amplifying the voices and experiences of Black surfers, celebrating their contributions, and confronting systemic racism, the film paves the way for a more inclusive and vibrant surfing community for future generations.

Wade in the Water
"Wade in the Water" | Jessa William Woman's Surfing School| Image: David Mesfin

5. Can you discuss the significance of featuring both historical experts and community leaders in the BIPOC surfing movement in your documentary?

Featuring both historical experts and community leaders in the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) surfing movement in, our documentary holds immense significance for several reasons.

Historical experts provide crucial context and insights into the often overlooked history of BIPOC involvement in surfing. Their knowledge and research help to unearth hidden stories, document milestones, and highlight the contributions of BIPOC surfers throughout history. By including historical experts, our documentary can accurately portray the evolution of BIPOC surfing culture and challenge prevailing narratives that have marginalized or erased BIPOC voices from the surfing community.

Secondly, community leaders within the BIPOC surfing movement bring a contemporary perspective and firsthand experience to the documentary. These individuals are actively engaged in shaping and promoting BIPOC representation and inclusion within surfing today. Their voices offer valuable insights into the ongoing challenges, triumphs, and aspirations of BIPOC surfers, as well as the efforts being made to create a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive surfing culture. By featuring community leaders, our documentary can highlight current initiatives, amplify diverse voices, and inspire viewers to support and participate in efforts to build a more inclusive surfing community.

By combining the expertise of historical scholars with the lived experiences and activism of community leaders, our documentary aims to provide a comprehensive and nuanced exploration of BIPOC surfing culture. Through their collective contributions, we hope to honor the past, celebrate the present, and inspire positive change for the future of surfing.

6. How do you envision "Wade in the Water" inspiring and supporting the next generation of Black surfers, specifically Black youth?

"Wade in the Water" has the potential to inspire and support the next generation of Black surfers, specifically Black youth, in several impactful ways.

The documentary serves as a powerful representation of Black excellence and resilience within the surfing community. By showcasing the achievements and contributions of Black surfers throughout history and in the present day, "Wade in the Water" offers Black youth positive role models to look up to and aspire towards. Seeing themselves reflected in the stories of trailblazing surfers can instill a sense of pride, belonging, and possibility, inspiring them to pursue their passion for surfing despite any obstacles they may face.

"Wade in the Water" provides valuable insights and resources for Black youth who are interested in getting involved in surfing. The documentary not only highlights the rich history and culture of Black surfing but also addresses the challenges and barriers that Black surfers have historically encountered. By sharing these stories and experiences, the film can help empower Black youth to navigate and overcome obstacles, whether it's accessing resources, confronting stereotypes, or finding community support.

Wade in the Water_group photo
"Wade in the Water" | SoFly Surfing School (Left to Right): Nate, Natasha, Shfilli, Beyin)| Image: David Mesfin

Video: David Mesfin

Additionally, "Wade in the Water" has the potential to spark important conversations within Black communities about the significance of surfing and water sports as avenues for recreation, wellness, and cultural expression. By promoting greater awareness and appreciation for surfing among Black youth and their families, the documentary can help cultivate a new generation of Black surfers who feel supported and encouraged to pursue their passion for the sport.

"Wade in the Water" is both a celebration of Black surfing culture and a call to action for greater representation and inclusion within the surfing community. By inspiring and supporting the next generation of Black surfers, the documentary contributes to building a more diverse, equitable, and vibrant surfing culture for years to come.

7. Your project includes limited-edition fine art portrait prints and NFTs. Could you elaborate on the decision to incorporate visual art into the broader narrative of the film?

The project initially took shape as an art endeavor, emerging in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement. Inspired to cast a spotlight on the vibrant Black surfing community I had long been a part of and surfed within Southern California, I set out on a journey of exploration. As I immersed myself in the historical backdrop of Black surfers, my exploration led me to the captivating pages of "Afro Surf," a profound book crafted by the esteemed Mami Wata brand in Cape Town, South Africa. Within its depths, I uncovered a rich tapestry of Black surfing history spanning over a millennium, with accounts dating back to 1640.

The revelation of this profound history sparked the realization that a documentary would be a fitting addition to the art project. However, as the project unfolded, it transcended my initial vision, growing into something far more expansive and impactful than I could have anticipated. The ripple effects of its influence have reverberated across the globe, resonating with audiences in profound ways.

As we journey forward, the project continues to evolve, taking on a life of its own as we encounter new individuals, organizations, and stories along the way. With each new chapter, I am filled with anticipation for what lies ahead, confident that our collective efforts will continue to shape and redefine the narrative of Black surfing culture for generations to come.

8. What challenges did you encounter during the production of "Wade in the Water," and how did you overcome them to bring your vision to life?Working on an independent documentary while wearing multiple hats as the writer, producer, and director presented numerous challenges. However, I was fortunate to have an exceptional producer, Beyin Abraha, whose collaboration was invaluable in shaping the film from its inception to its current promotion. Together, we encountered and continue to confront challenges head-on, but our ability to adapt and find creative solutions has been instrumental since the project's inception.

Rather than viewing challenges as obstacles, we perceive them as opportunities for growth and innovation. Embracing these challenges has enabled us to maintain originality, optimism, and openness to new opportunities throughout the filmmaking process. Each obstacle we encounter serves as a catalyst for pushing boundaries and discovering fresh perspectives, ultimately enriching the journey of bringing this documentary to life.

9. What's next for you, and how can fans follow you and your work?

As I look ahead, my focus remains on continuing to create meaningful and impactful projects that resonate with audiences. Whether it's through documentaries, art endeavors, or other creative ventures, I am committed to exploring stories that inspire, educate, and spark important conversations.

For fans interested in following my work and staying updated on upcoming projects, I encourage them to connect with me on social media platforms such as Instagram, Twitter, or LinkedIn. Additionally, they can subscribe to newsletters or visit my website for announcements and behind-the-scenes insights. Your support and engagement mean the world to me, and I look forward to sharing more stories and experiences with you in the future.

Upcoming Screenings: Click here for upcoming events.

Wade in the Water poster
Image: David Mesfin

Wade in the Water with David Mesfin
Director David Mesfin

Final Thoughts| Wade in the Water

As the waves of change continue to shape our cultural landscape, "Wade in the Water" stands as a beacon of celebration, resilience, and unity. Through the lens of Black surfing culture, it transcends mere documentation, evolving into a powerful testament to the human spirit. The currents of history are ever-flowing, and it's their shared responsibility to ride the waves of progress together toward a more inclusive and vibrant future.


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