Salt water can cure a wound in myriad ways. Being in it and around it, feeling its presence wash upon you — it has the power to cleanse you from the inside out. Brick knows the transformative pull of the ocean. It’s what led him and his close friend, Gage Crismond, to start the surf and arts collective Ebony Beach Club. Formerly known as Black Sand, the collective is hosting monthly gatherings through the summer at Dockweiler Beach — dubbed the Beach Bounce — where Brick and his friends DJ and local surf organizations including Color the Water and Sofly Surf School offer free surf lessons. The Beach Bounce has taken on a life of its own in only a couple of months. People come out in droves, they tell their friends to do the same. Ebony Beach Club has shown that a surf party can be a vehicle for something deeper: collective healing. In this essay, as told to Julissa James, Brick shows why partying is a restorative practice. Whether you’re in need of healing from witnessing or experiencing pain — in the world, in yourself — celebration offers a clean slate.
Celebration brings closure to a lot of things. When you have a moment where you can just celebrate, it closes the last door and opens the next one. It’s such a refresh. To go out and have a good time after you’ve been stressing for three days — or even when we experience the death of a family member who wanted to be celebrated — there’s some type of serotonin that’s getting released. It brings all the best parts to the top, to the forefront. Music, the weather, trying something new. Celebration is the closure for it all.
Ebony Beach Club was originally started by a man named Silas White in 1957. At the time, there were other Santa Monica beach clubs that were offered, but obviously Black people weren’t allowed. His whole idea was: There’s no place for Black people to have leisure. Leisure has always been a tool of white supremacy. He opened it at 1811 Ocean Ave., put up a big sign, 2,000 members signed up. And then of course prior to its official opening, the city of Santa Monica claimed eminent domain on the space.
My mom recently visited my grandpa, who is 90, maybe 89, and used to be a city planner for L.A. His name is Donald Dove. She told him about this thing I’m doing, and then he goes, “Oh, I signed up for Ebony Beach Club back in 1957. It never opened.” My grandfather, who can’t swim, could have had an opportunity to learn and here he is today.
Getting called a racial slur while surfing Manhattan Beach changed how Justin ‘Brick’ Howze and Gage Crismond view their role in the sport.
That’s ultimately what it was about: reinventing beach culture as a whole. Especially forward-facing American beach culture and definitely Southern California beach culture, which has always excluded us. What we’re doing today is the exact rebirth of [the original Ebony Beach Club]. As we expand it and move forward, I want it to be a place for leisure, which is a healing experience. It’s a spiritual experience, especially once you’d start to find a tribe within it. At the last Beach Bounce, there was 250 to 300 people — twice as big as the one before that. I feel like next time it’s going to be 500.
That’s what’s been so cool: Since everybody’s gathering for the same reason, everybody’s so down to interact and talk to each other. Everybody’s on the same vibe and everybody’s just so open. When I’m DJing on the back of my El Camino, I’m going for straight like positivity. I’ll jump between ‘90s R&B, new jack swing, stuff like that. Then I’ll go to some reggae, Senegalese, funky soul vibes and then James Brown, and also Ja Rule and Ashanti.
There’s so much space for healing through that. People are sharing the wetsuits, sharing the board, there’s so much exchange going on. We’re in the sun and we’re touching the water. It’s like a party with the option to heal or find something new. People are challenging themselves, but then they can just come right to a party [on the beach] and be accepted and hugged and embraced by others that look like them. I call it like putting the medicine in the candy.
This whole thing that we were trying to solve — of not being allowed — the actual answer to that is: Why don’t we just find and create space with each other? They’ll always have a place where they’re like, I can come here and surf. I can come here and try to learn. Even if I don’t go out 29 days a month, there’s one day where I can pull up. It creates the solution for us. Moving forward, we want to do different water experiences, a fishing experience like Silas had planned, and do a yacht party. Hopefully we do some out-of-the-country trips or group trips to a resort at some point. Really continue to just build it up to where it’s a fully immersive, experiential club with a baseline message that we all believe in.
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It makes me emotional, like on the verge of tears looking at the scene, because I just know this is something that I’m gonna think about on my deathbed one day. I’ve done a lot of things and I’ve learned a lot along the way. I feel like what’s happening now is the most unexpected turn of all of my skills and experiences coming together in a place that is useful and healing and important. To watch other people start that, I always say it’s like a conduit or a catalyst for whatever it is that you actually are. The energy from that transfers into whatever and whoever you are. It amplifies you because there are so many elements of it and people can find it in different ways. It’s not just through surfing, but it’s about that thing. Having that thing that puts the battery in your back. It’s about connectedness with nature, people.
When I’m surfing, I don’t really have time to even think about things. When you’re ducking under waves and there’s a bigger one coming and you’re paddling out and then see another dude and you’re trying to not be in his way but still get the wave … you’re not thinking about anything else the whole time. Even in a moment when I’m just sitting out there in stillness — I’m waiting, I’m being patient, I’m looking at the horizon to see if something comes in. So it’s hard to even be like, “Oh s—, did I send that PDF file?” It’s hard to even think about that. There’s also nothing I can do about it even if like I come to some realization. I get to just be present and be completely excused from the world.
Me doing what I’m watching other people doing with this party — [surfing, finding community] — is what opened up the channel of all these changes in my life, and this feeling of: I’m actually finding my true purpose. It’s the convergence of all the worlds in the best way possible. It’s total bliss when people are there. I’ve been getting so many personal hit-ups afterward, unlike other parties I’ve thrown. Like, “That was like church today.”