Floating on her surfboard in the ocean, 40-plus miles from Claremont, Aditi Madhok PZ ’23 finds joy in her “maritime escape,” describing it as a “hammock in the water.”
Madhok has been organizing surf trips for BIPOC students this year in collaboration with Color the Water — a non-profit organization dedicated to providing a space for BIPOC to enjoy surfing in Los Angeles County. On campus, Madhok partners with Pitzer College’s Womxn of Color Collective (WCC) and Pitzer Outdoor Adventures (POA) to advertise the trips. She said she appreciates the organization’s dedication to increasing accessibility in surfing.
“They really support collective liberation and anti-racism and joy in the water,” Madhok said. “They’re focused on their surf lessons to be tackling anxiety and [building] intergenerational resilience and drawing from the origins of surfing … their mission is really just to foster joy in the water and to have fun, whether you catch a wave or not.”
Madhok said her passion for surfing started her first year at Pitzer. She said she previously had limited experience in the outdoors.
“I first tried surfing at my orientation trip at Pitzer,” she said. “I thought it was really cool that Pitzer does [trips like that], especially in the outdoors. I didn’t really grow up doing summer camps or backpacking or anything like that.”
Madhok said she felt out of place on that first trip but gradually grew to feel more comfortable surfing and wanted to spread the opportunity to engage in outdoor activities to other BIPOC.
“When I became orientation trip leader, I got [assigned] surfing, but then the pandemic happened, so I didn’t get to facilitate that,” she said. “I had been really excited too because I was going to get to be with another woman of color … that was where [my inspiration] first started.”
Madhok began researching surfing organizations that engaged in BIPOC accessibility. She found Color the Water and began organizing Sunday morning surfing trips in collaboration with them. On top of the free surfing lessons they provide, Madhok said working with them has been a great opportunity to engage in the broader context of racial and social justice movements.
“Color the Water started during the pandemic. It’s a nonprofit that started with doing [Black Lives Matter] Paddle-Outs, [where] they paddled out in support of racial justice,” Madhok said.
Madhok said that through Color the Water she learned more about the history of surfing and its roots in BIPOC cultures.
“I remember one of the first things they said in the surf lesson we went to with other women of color was that the first recorded surfing was … in Ghana,” Madhok said. “It was really special to hear [from them] how surfing culture has also been erased and dominated by certain community members even though it has a huge presence in Hawaii and Indigenous communities … so I think that kind of knowledge and history was something important to unpack.”
First-year Clarissa Aquino PZ ’26, who attended the trips this year, said she grew up swimming and playing water polo but had not tried surfing before the trips.
“I think that most BIPOC don’t really have the opportunity to go surfing,” Aquino said. “It’s very comforting and assuring to be able to go surfing with each other. We’re all learning together and it just feels like a safe place with no judgment. I think these trips fulfill a longing within us to do an activity that we’ve only ever really dreamed about doing.”
Corrie Waters PZ ’26, who also attended the trips this year, said she appreciated the opportunity to make new friends on the trips.
“Being Black myself, I don’t really think I’ve ever experienced all-Black surfing or just seen that in my life, so it’s filled me with joy, the times that I’ve been,” Waters said.
Waters said that the trips provide her with a safe space, something she said she feels she doesn’t get very much at a predominantly white institution.
“[I enjoy being able to] immerse myself within nature and outdoors experiences and being able to let that guard down that I have to sometimes put up while being in all-white spaces, which I often am at the Claremont Colleges,” Waters said. “I think this is a really special place that should be protected and continued to have [here] and made as accessible as possible for people.”
Madhok said that as a senior, it is challenging to figure out how to keep the trips running after she graduates. She said she has to think about how to best collaborate between the organizations she works with — POA, WCC and Color the Water — so that all are contributing in their proper capacities and each organization’s needs are met. She encouraged 5C students to look for ways they can support Color the Water so that the surf trips can continue to happen in collaboration with them.
“If students would be interested in donating to Color the Water, that really helps. They really look for ways to support the community,” Madhok said.
She said she also emphasized that everyone should be more conscious of the land they are occupying, especially when working in outdoor recreation.
“I think it’s important to be continuously mindful of outdoor accessibility and relationships to the land and nature,” Madhok said. “Obviously, Southern California belongs to the Tongva people, and the more initiatives, whether it looks like BIPOC surfing or not, we can facilitate, the better. Whether it’s outdoor recreation or sports, [or] anything that honors the people who continue to live here. If we can get more initiatives that can ensure accessibility for a community of diverse backgrounds that don’t normally get to experience this at the 5Cs and beyond, that would be awesome.”