Learning to surf — and accept imperfection — at The Surfrider Malibu.

By Dominique Fluker
April 15, 2021
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Dominique Fluker with a surfboard on the beach and the lounge at the retreat
Credit: Dominique Fluker

Last November, I was cooped up working from home in my small one-bedroom apartment for a total of eight months, all while adjusting to working remotely at my new tech job. I desperately needed a getaway trip but didn't feel comfortable traveling outside of the state. When my company, Glassdoor, announced that we could work from anywhere, I seized the opportunity. It was a no-brainer to book a quick flight to Los Angeles — it's only an hour away from the Bay Area, and my visits have always been pleasant and low-maintenance. When I travel to LA, the trip only lasts several days, but I knew I needed more time this go-around and a change of scenery.

My usual routine for LA trips goes like this: Land at LAX, check into a luxurious West Hollywood or Koreatown hotel, preferably 1 Hotel or The Line, and then frequent my favorite West Hollywood haunts with a friend. My spirit needed a break from my pattern. I wanted to be more adventurous, spontaneous, and daring this trip while prioritizing solitude, reflection, and self-care. COVID-19 changed everyone's perspective on the importance of being present, embarking on new experiences, and living in the moment. So, instead of going with my normal LA itinerary, I decided to switch it up and venture out to Malibu. After staying at the 1 Hotel in West Hollywood for a few days and working out of Soho House West Hollywood, I traveled down the scenic Pacific Coast Highway to check in at The Surfrider. I felt completely out of my comfort zone booking the hotel room, as I was afraid Malibu would be unapproachable and uninviting to a young Black woman, but it was unexpectedly the opposite.

When I arrived at hotel in the late afternoon, I gazed at the light blue waves kissing the worn Malibu Pier, let the seawater and seaweed wrap around my nostrils, observed the tall men and women with sandy hair and feet eagerly walking in wetsuits toward Malibu Surfrider Beach with their surfboards. However, I knew I wasn't in Oakland anymore; I surprisingly felt calm and like I belonged. The Surfrider hotel's exterior looked like a casual California beach house, which made me feel less intimidated. Once I unloaded my bags and stepped into the lobby, I felt like I was safe in my own Malibu home for a few days. While I appreciated how down-to-earth but luxurious the hotel was, I also was grateful for the exclusivity as The Surfrider only has 20 rooms, ideal for keeping your distance from other visitors.

Two people give a Shaka hand signal while surfing in Malibu
Surfing.
| Credit: Dominique Fluker

"Girl, you really are pushing it," I said to myself as I woke up at 6 a.m. to head to the lobby to rent my Roxy wetsuit. When I first came across The Surfrider, what attracted me was the name and how close it was to the ocean. I wanted a place to tune out the white noise and be at peace. I had a feeling it might be possible to learn how to surf during my stay and sure enough, the hotel's resident surf instructor, Pete, was available to give me a private lesson. I was beside myself at my audacity. I asked myself, "Who are you to get a private surfing lesson in Malibu?" Then I thought, "Who am I not to get a private lesson?"

Pete, my private instructor, met me in the hotel parking lot in my wetsuit; I already felt itchy and uncomfortable. He, a local, was naturally excited for my first-ever surfing lesson. I wasn't. I was nervous and shocked that I was actually doing this; I didn't even swim well (still don't). Although there's more representation of Black women surfing now, I never imagined I would do this. That was the point — to push my own limits and commit to new adventures. Pete guided me across the street to Malibu Surfrider Beach to begin our lesson. First, we laid our surfboards on the sand and practiced paddling and gripping the board. After 10 minutes of that, he thought I was ready to get out into the ocean, and I looked at him like he was crazy. I didn't think I was ready, but when would I ever be ready to surf? I timidly followed Pete out to the ocean and felt the silky seaweed wrap around my stubby toes and thick ankles. I quickly hopped on my board and looked out on the horizon to see the advanced surfers, some of Pete's friends, surfing the gentle waves. I kept doing the shaka sign to them, and they just smiled.

As we ventured further out, fear began to creep in. I told Pete I didn't swim too well, but he had the utmost confidence in me, which made me wonder why I didn't have that in myself. After letting the waves pass under me a few times, Pete thought it was time for me to try to catch one. I felt the wave approaching and was prepared to let it pass by when I saw a woman surfer enthusiastically heading into the water. Her presence inspired me to go for it, so I hopped on top of my board and caught my first half-wave. I didn't stay up on my board for long, but I'll never forget the 15 seconds of triumph and satisfaction I experienced.

I let the water wash over me like I was being baptized again and surrendered to the ocean tide. For the first time, I felt free to fail at something, to be a beginner. As a first-generation college graduate, a Black millennial woman, a corporate professional, and a new business owner who prides herself on being excellent, this was a totally new concept. Malibu owes me nothing.