Surfers 'paddle out,' circle up in memory of George Floyd

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Nathan Rangel, 11, jumps in the water carrying a rose as surfers participate in a paddle out ceremony at "The Ink Well," a beach historically known as a surfing refuge for African Americans, to honor the life of George Floyd on Friday, June 5, 2020, in Santa Monica, Calif. Floyd died after he was restrained in police custody on Memorial Day in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

SANTA MONICA, Calif. – SANTA MONICA, Calif.On a sliver of sand that before the Civil Rights era was derisively dubbed "The Ink Well" because of its popularity among black people, hundreds of surfers gathered Friday to honor the life of George Floyd and other African Americans killed by police.

The occasion was a paddle out, a Hawaiian tradition to celebrate a life and mourn its passing, organized by Black Girls Surf to share the pain they are feeling with devotees of a sport that has not always welcomed them.

“This speaks so much more to people because if you think about black girls surfing in the ocean, people are like, 'Ha, ha, you don’t surf,’” Sayuri Blondt said. “But when you see everyone coming out to support us, it sends a message in a very unusual way and catches people’s attention.”

More than 200 surfers of all ages and races paddled through a set of crashing waves under cloudy skies to form a massive circle near the Santa Monica Pier, where they chanted Floyd’s name nine times to mark the nearly nine minutes prosecutors say his neck was pinned to the ground under the knee of a white Minneapolis police officer.

They also sang “Happy Birthday” in memory of Breonna Taylor, who was shot in March by Louisville, Kentucky, police officers and would have turned 27 Friday.

Panpan Wang, who had “Black Lives Matter” written in marker on his back and Floyd and Taylor's names across his chest, said he became emotional floating in the water while thinking of how they died.

“I was very aware of my body, feeling cold and trying to remember everybody and what their bodies went through,” Wang said. “I just wanted to feel. I’m trying to lean into the pain and suffering and not shy away from it.”

Giovanni Douresseau, who grew up in South LA and was nearly arrested his first time surfing after being mistaken as a criminal, told his fellow surfers that his heart broke at Floyd's death. Video of Floyd in handcuffs saying he couldn't breathe reminded him of the way he had seen uncles and a brother treated by police.