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WADE IN THE WATER | David Mesfin

Wade in the Water David Mesfin, Director

Rather than viewing challenges as obstacles, we perceive them as opportunities for growth and innovation.

David Mesfin’s journey into the world of Black surfing and aquatic culture began with a simple yet profound desire: to shed light on a lesser-known aspect of surfing and to highlight the significant contributions of Black surfers to the sport and culture. Initially, the project was conceived as an art endeavor, featuring portrait photos of Black surfers from his community. David was deeply affected by the emotions that surfaced following the murder of George Floyd, feelings that had built up over time and were spilling out. He sought to channel that energy into a project that captured the healing, resilience, and community around him, aiming to take action toward social justice and inspire the next generation of Black surfers. The pivotal moment came when he discovered the history of African surfing through "Afro Surf," which led him to delve deeper into the history of Black surfing. This moment transformed his vision, and he began to see the project as a film. Thus, "Wade in the Water," David's first documentary, was born.

Brick Founder Ebony Beach Club & Gregory Rachal co-founder Black Surfers Collective

Researching and gathering historical accounts for "Wade in the Water" was a multi-faceted endeavor, considering the often overlooked history of Black surfing. David delved into various physical and digital archives, uncovering historical documents, photographs, and videos documenting the presence and contributions of Black surfers throughout history. He explored materials from libraries, museums, surfing organizations, and personal collections. He conducted interviews with historians like Professor Kevin Dawson and Alison Rose Jefferson, as well as scholars and members of the Black surfing community. These interviews provided invaluable context, personal stories, and perspectives, enriching the documentary’s narrative. Engaging with oral histories and community networks further helped uncover hidden stories and connect with individuals who had valuable experiences to share.

Surfer: Sierra Raequel

As I delved into researching the historical context of Black surfers, my path led me to the enlightening pages of "Afro Surf," a captivating book by the 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.

Wade in the Water (L to R) Sahfilli Matturi, Beyin Abraha, and Kayiita Johansson

Balancing historical documentation with modern-day testimonials in "Wade in the Water" was a deliberate and careful process. David and his producer Beyin Abraha aimed to seamlessly weave the historical context with contemporary experiences to create a cohesive and engaging story. The documentary utilizes a combination of archival footage, photographs, and documents to provide a historical framework, allowing viewers to appreciate the evolution of Black surfing and the challenges faced by Black surfers throughout history. Modern-day testimonials from members of the Black surfing community offer personal insights and reflections, providing a human element that connects viewers on a deeper level. This balance was achieved through a thoughtful editing process, ensuring a smooth transition between different time periods and maintaining a cohesive and compelling storyline.

SoFly Surfing School (L to R) Nathan Fluellen, Natasha Smith, Sahfilli Matturi, Beyin Abraha

"Wade in the Water" is more than just a documentary; it’s a catalyst for breaking down racial barriers within conventional surf culture. By highlighting the often overlooked history of Black surfing and amplifying the voices of Black surfers, the film challenges the dominant narrative within surf culture that has historically marginalized or erased Black voices and experiences. It addresses systemic issues of racism and inequality, sparking important conversations and inspiring action and advocacy for positive change. Through its powerful storytelling and compelling visuals, "Wade in the Water" paves the way for a more inclusive and vibrant surfing community, inspiring the next generation of Black surfers and fostering a greater appreciation for the rich and diverse history of surfing.

Jessa Williams, founder of Intrsxtn with her surfing School

Additional information

Where to watch the Film:

Vimeo - Available now

PBS Hawaii - Available June 19th - Available now for institutional rental

Comcast Black Experience on Xfinity - Starting August 1

Full credits list


Sharon Schaffer | First Black female professional surfer

Selema Masekela | American television host, sports commentator, actor, singer, surfer

Tony Corley | Founder of Black Surfing Association (est. 1975)

Rick Blocker | Black surfing advocate

Greg Rachel | Co-Founder of Black Surfers Collective 

Vicky Williams | Surfer who shared waves with Nicolás Rolando Gabaldón: Nick was the first documented Black and Latino surfer in Southern California. 

Afro Surf  By Mami Wata

A special thanks to Rian Rhoe from The Sideways Life for working with us to bring David's story about his journey in making Wade in the Water to the withitgirl platform.

Photos courtesy of David Mesfin

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