Empowering the Youth through Surfing

presented by Boxed Water

An Interview with Laru Beya Collective’s Terumi Murao

All photos courtesy of Jim Petrozzello

Boxed Water™ is changing our relationship with how we consume water. Store shelves are a sea of plastic, so they took a new approach. And they want to give a platform to humans taking a novel approach to the world’s problems. The following story is one of those humans.

There’s nothing like encouraging others to try new things. Because who knows, that person could really like that new thing and go on to inspire and encourage more people to try new things and find new passions. This is precisely what the folks over at Laru Beya Collective are doing for children in the Far Rockaways. They not only provide opportunities for surfing for those with limited accessibility but also encourage the youth to learn about and connect with nature. We paddled out with Terumi Murao to learn more about how Laru Beya is diversifying the lineup while providing education and empowerment to future generations. No small feat.

Two girls walking into the ocean together, holding hands, to go surf. The older one is carrying the surfboard while she guides the younger girl out.
Two girls surfing together. The older girl hangs on to the back of the board while the younger girl is standing on the board surfing.
Group of young girls huddled togetehr talking on a beach in their wetsuits and yellow Laru Beya shirts.

What makes Laru Beya so important to the Far Rockaways and to the youth you serve?

The Laru Beya Collective builds inclusive access to surfing and water safety at the Far Rockaway beaches because many of the existing programs historically excluded much of the local youth. We empower our youth through surfing, rock climbing, skateboarding, and environmental stewardship activities. Our programs are free for all, and we provide transportation, equipment, food, and year-round mentorship to make sure that everyone feels welcome and supported.

Explain how, through your mentorships and programs, you are getting BIPOC surfers access to the water. What do these mentorships look like?

Our organization is primarily Far Rockaway based, so most of our surfers come from our own community through word of mouth. We’ve done some recruiting through local organizations like Young Women Who Crush (YWWC)—a rock climbing and leadership development program serving young women and gender expansive youth from NYC public schools, Stoked— a nonprofit that empowers underserved youth to reach their fullest potential, instilling passion, resilience and determination through mentorship and action sports culture, and local housing and education platforms as well. And a lot of folks see our bright yellow Laru Beya shirts and our diverse group of surfers and come say hello. 

The year mentorship program aims to provide ongoing activities to expose the youth to the widest set of experiences. This includes art workshops, rock climbing clinics, skateboarding lessons, beach cleanups, etc.

Young man in the waves pushing up on his surfboard getting ready to stand up on it.
Young man falling backwards off his surfboard into the wave he was just riding. He's midway through the air as his board is rushing out in front of him.
Photo of three surfers standing in the water together. A young boy holds on to his board while talking to a girl holding a life preserver and another man standing in the water.

Explain the importance of combining the education of diversity and inclusion of surfing along with sustainable and environmental practices for the youth in your program.

Our ethos has always been about respect and appreciation—of people, the ocean and the environment. We’re in the midst of a climate crisis, and it’s even more important to make caring for the planet a priority and an ingrained habit. After every surf lesson, we have the kids collect trash from the beach. Once a month, we partner with local organizations like Surfrider NYC or Patagonia and host beach cleanups for the rest of the community to get involved. 

What makes what you do on a daily basis so rewarding? 

Watching our young groms progress and feel joyful and be proud of their surfing. It brings us so much joy. They’re such incredible spirits with kind hearts, and the sharpest and funniest minds, and we want to give them everything we can to help them chase their dreams and make positive changes in this world.

What do you wish the children in your program take away from being a part of the Laru Beya Collective?

We want them to see beyond what they experience in the day-to-day in Far Rockaway and beyond what they learn in the classroom. We foster this community with strong values of inclusivity, empathy, respect, gratitude, and generosity. We hope they’ll continue to pass it on and maybe someday they’ll take over for us at the Laru Beya Collective. 

Two young girls walking along the shore together, smiling at the camera for a picture.
Two girls on the beach setting with surf gear. One stands next to the multicolored surfboard looking out to the waves and another sits on the sand petting a husky dog.

What was the moment the water changed you?

The ocean can be calm and gentle, like a friendly giant helping you glide across the water. But the ocean can also be an overwhelmingly powerful, aggressive beast that tries to swallow you up and spit you out. Experiencing the ocean in all of her forms is the most humbling and awe-inspiring, and it immediately snaps you out of whatever else you’re caught up in mentally. You have to be present.

What is the change you are looking to make in the water? 

We’re proud of the access we’ve built so far, but we really hope to expand our programming, because there are still many communities without safe access to the beaches and the water. 

Not only do we hope to see more diversity in the lineup, but we also want to see more diversity in the professional competitions, authentic representation in the media and policy changes to mandate water safety education in schools. We’re thrilled to collaborate on these missions with other organizations Textured Waves, Surfear NEGRA, Surfrider NYC, Water Safety Coalition(WSC), Far Rockaway Arverne Nonprofit Coalition(Franc), Young Women Who Crush (YWWC) and Patagonia Works. Together we can!

What is one thing anyone can do to help or get involved? 

Not many people know this, but we are a 100 percent volunteer-run organization, and all of our organizers and volunteers donate their time. We’re always in search of great volunteers who have a passion for surfing, social justice, and inclusivity in the outdoors. If you’re interested in getting involved, join the surf community here.

A teen girl carrying a blue surfboard on her way out of the water.
Young boy surfing on a red surfboard. He stands in a squat position to maintain balance and has both arms out to his sides.
A group of kids on the beach laying on surfboard practicing how to paddle. The kid in the foreground stares straight ahead in focus as he paddles his arms next to the board.