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Second Annual Switch: An Exhibition of Queer and Trans Surfing

On June 15th, 2024, Queer Surf hosted the second annual SWITCH event—an expansive and non-traditional community celebration of non-binary, trans, and queer expression in the waves and on the beach. Surfers flocked to Linda Mar in Pacifica to display their talents and style, shredding in heels and holding hands, sharing boards and kissing on waves, riding backwards, switch stance, and with toes on the nose. And of course big gay party waves… 

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Photo Credit: Sachi Cunningham

Over the course of the exhibition, forty-five trans, nonbinary, and queer shredders took to the waves in ten heats. Despite the rough conditions, body surfers, boogie boarders, former and current pros, short boarders, long boarders and big wave surfers alike all showed up in full force to celebrate the joy of surfing with queer community. Erin (she/her) shared her experience: “We were just smiling the whole time… it was really fun just cheering for each other, catching waves together. SWITCH means so much to me. I really love the diversity of people at an event like this. It makes me feel very seen, surrounded in love. The people that I met last year, I’m still friends with and it's really nice to see them again this year... It’s really nice to be at an event rooted in acceptance and pride.” 


Photo Credit: Sachi Cunningham

This is the second year that Surfrider San Francisco showed up as allies to support SWITCH. Marley Salangsang (she/her) a Surfrider San Francisco chapter leader explained that “Surfrider supporting SWITCH is not only directly supporting the queer community, but also creates an inclusive space within Surfrider as a byproduct. The ocean and beaches are places where everyone can belong, express themselves and learn from the water.” 

Photo Credit: Mia Bolton

Sarah (she/her), Surfrider’s Northern California Regional Manager shares the importance of Surfrider’s supportive role in the event, “It means a lot to me both personally and professionally to have Surfrider San Francisco and Surfrider San Mateo show up as allies to support SWITCH. I’m a proud queer surfer and spaces like this make me feel welcome in surf culture. Queer Surf is a lifeline for myself and so many others in the surf world. Trans and nonbinary inclusion in surfing is vital. When Surfrider says we are fighting for “beach access for all!”, SWITCH is what that means. The ocean needs more queers! And the ocean needs more allies to show up in support of queers.”


Photo Credit: Sachi Cunningham

This year, SWITCH included a T4T Surf heat consisting exclusively of all trans-identified surfers, a historic event. Mando (they/them), a renowned surfboard shaper, emphasized the importance and significance of the moment: “Just being able to walk into a space and be completely yourself, when… so many of us are performing or code-switching regularly, especially within the surf community, which is so insular. [SWITCH] just means being your fricken self and flying your flag!”


Photo Credit: Sachi Cunningham

Queer people have rarely been included or represented in surf spaces. Surf competitions are traditionally incredibly gendered spaces that exclude queer, trans, and nonbinary surfers from participating. Beaches are not always a welcome or safe place for queer, trans, and nonbinary people and Queer Surf is changing this. SWITCH is a space rooted in inclusion and queer joy and is a true beach utopia for queer people to feel safe, loved and supported to fully be themselves. A surf competition without hierarchy, binaries, or intimidation on the waves, with an emphasis on fun, joy, and sharing the waves is revolutionary and transformative. As Sage (he/him)  put it, “SWITCH means making spaces for queers in the waves! And allowing us to have a space to be and take up the lineup.” 


Photo Credit: Sachi Cunningham

Between surf heats, there were incredible beachside drag performances by Golden Hour Drag, a weekly drag show hosted oceanside on San Francisco beaches,that captivated beach goers as they danced in the sand and dove into the waves. Queer community and allies gathered to celebrate and enjoy the show.


Photo Credit: Sachi Cunningham

After the heats, it was time for an alternative surf craft relay race! Teams of four wave riders took to alternative surf crafts (sleds,hand planes, finless surfboards, floaties…) and raced out to catch a wave, ride it for at least five seconds, and then tag the next member of their team. The relay race exemplified Queer Surf’s motto: all bodies, all boards. It doesn’t matter what you’re riding; the focus is on the joy of sharing waves and playing in the ocean with the community. Xian (they/them) explained that “SWITCH means being able to ride a wave, however you want, no matter where you came from.” 


Photo Credit: Sachi Cunningham

The Surfrider Foundation is committed to supporting the queer and trans surfing community  and helping create a more inclusive, welcoming and safe surf culture. Queer, trans and nonbinary people belong in surfing. “To protect our oceans, waves and beaches we need to show up consistently as allies, build an intersectional movement and center our shared love for one another and the ocean” Linnea Nichols (she/her), Surfrider San Mateo.


Photo Credit: Sachi Cunningham

Much love for Surfrider San Francisco, Surfrider San Mateo, and beyond for helping make SWITCH happen. A huge thank you to Queer Surf for the work that you do to increase access to the ocean and expand surf culture. Queer Surf is a California-based organization dedicated to supporting queer mental and physical health through relationships with the ocean.