The Universal Love for Moving Over Water

Article by Randy Gaetano

The Universal Love for Moving Over Water

At the end of last April, 2023, I had the honor and privilege of attending the very first Black.Surfers camp/surf event in San Clemente, California. NEMO's partnership with the group is one that we cherish, and as one of the resident surfers at our company, I was especially excited to join.


The overnight was a big success on many levels — from helping folks who are new to camping have a great outdoor experience, to making new friends, to creating a ton of fun, authentic content to inspire more people to get outside. The event was attended by Kayiita Johansson (founder of Black.Surfers), some of the group’s board members, and a few lucky contestants who were selected in a drawing that we helped facilitate on Instagram. For me personally, the experience offered the fresh perspective of being the minority in two activities that are near and dear to my heart — camping and surfing. I felt warmly embraced and included within this group of wonderful adventurers and enjoyed the role of camp guide, NEMO representative, and trip documenter.


For those who don’t know, Black.Surfers is a growing community of kind, positive people seeking equitable access to surfing for people of color through inclusive experiences, policy work, and community engagement. It started in 2018 as an Instagram account with the simple goal of showing Black surfers, and has since grown into a true community that hosts and promotes meetups in addition to supporting a more diverse lineup in the water.


I met Kayiita, one of his board members, Lawrence Rickford, and long time supporter of Black.Surfers, David Malana, at San Mateo Campground on Friday afternoon with a pile of gear. We hustled to get the camp set up so that the contest winners could arrive to a beautiful campsite that was fully kitted with NEMO sleep systems. 




After a quick welcome ceremony, the arrivals were itching to get in the water for a sunset surf at Old Man’s. Old Man’s was where I learned to surf in the early 90s and it was amazing to see some of the new-to-surfing folks in our group find this break a great place to learn. Having not been there in such a long time, it was a bit surreal to see how little had changed in the vibe of this storied break, but it was sad to see how much of the beach has eroded over the years. We returned to camp pretty late, so it was take-out burritos from Sancho’s for dinner (amazing, by the way — highly recommend after a day in the water) and early to bed for a dawn wake-up. 


Saturday, we ventured to Trestles, one of the most iconic breaks in Southern California, to spend the day at the beach, chasing waves and enjoying some relaxation. Trestles is the name of a stretch of beach where you’ll find several premier surf breaks — classic spots like Cottons, Uppers, Lowers, Middles, Churches, The Point, Old Man's, and Dog Patch. Lowers is a world-class surf spot that hosts a World Surf League event each year. 


It’s quite the long walk through the reserve to get to the beach, so with boards, cameras, Stargazes, wetsuits, and more, we made the long trek. Meanwhile, SoCal locals easily whipped by us on e-bikes equipped with boards racks and wetsuit baskets, without a care in the world. 




Trestles is steeped in surf culture history. I found this passage on the web and thought I should share, as it’s quite fitting with the intent of our weekend… 


“In 1933, Lorrin "Whitney" Harrison and a few friends discovered San Onofre Beach and its surfing potential. Fifteen years later, Duke Kahanamoku visited the place. (Duke is one of — if not the — most famous Hawaiian surfer of all time.) The establishment of Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton in 1942 cut off access to the San Onofre State Beach, but surfers continued to chase the local gems, which broke over cobblestones, creating perfect point break waves. Some of them were arrested for trespassing; a few others were even shot for attempting to surf in a military zone.

However, in 1971, and thanks to President Richard Nixon, the creation of the San Onofre State Park would grant people the right to enjoy the 2.5-mile-long stretch of sandy beaches.”


And… there just so happened to be a growing south swell in the water! The Black.Surfers crew absolutely scored. It was the best conditions I’ve ever seen there, with smooth glassy waves — often in the overhead range on the sets. Unfortunately, it was also the first real swell of the season, so everyone was on it. I think there were at least 400 surfers out across the various peaks — it was crazy. It made me very thankful for my humble Maine and New Hampshire breaks. But with enough quality waves to go around, the group had a day they won’t soon forget and experienced Trestles at its (close to) finest.




I managed to get the crew out of the water and back to camp just in time to get a fire going and some food cooking before dark, and captured images of a few sun-kissed smiles. This was followed by stories, stargazing in Stargaze™ chairs, and philosophical conversations on the nature of flowing on the waves... all while enjoying a few variations on the classic s’mores. Their joy was profound, and their gratitude was immense.




I was there as a witness, but I was included as family.


It was amazing to hear and experience their sincere awe and delight when reacting to our gear. We make thoughtful, well-designed gear and they really appreciated the details, designs, ideas, and added comfort. I was proud to see that we'd lived up to our mantra of only producing gear that improves the adventure experience.




Over 48 hours, we galvanized a growing partnership and, with total sincerity, made some great new friends. Hope you’ll connect with the @black.surfers folks on Instagram!




As NEMO’s Director of Content, Randy Gaetano is a passionate adventurer and surfer — and an advocate for sharing the wild, and waves, with anyone who shows enthusiasm and love for these special places. A lifelong photographer, he's endlessly inspired to capture folks discovering their best selves in the outdoors.