Pleasure’s In Life
I’m “Coach Rho” aka as Rhonda Harper, a 51-year-old veteran of the United States Coast Guard. How I came to be a surf coach is by happenstance. I started this blog with the intent of inspiring women to surf. Over the past year, I’ve learned there’s a need for my voice in the surf industry.
Now, let’s first establish some facts, I am not the first Black female surfer, if history is correct there was a woman in Hawaii who was a teacher and a surfer.
My journey began in Kansas City, Kansas. Understand, where I grew up was a whole new territory for my family. My parents moved us from an all-Black neighborhood to an all-White neighborhood. It was a complete culture shock for the entire family. We no longer had the protection of our community. It was then I realized I was different. It was there where I first experienced racism.
There are no beaches in Kansas City, Kansas so we substituted surfing with swimming and skateboarding. My first skateboard was a yellow Makaha with a kicktail and green wheel. I rode that thing all over town. Back then, you didn’t take the bus and there definitely wasn’t an Uber. We had skateboards. Do you want to go to your friend’s house? Skate. How about the bowling alley on Minnesota Avenue? Skate.
The only place we couldn’t skate to was school and we regretted moving at that point. We had to change schools when I was in the third grade because my parents had taken in her late sister’s son and the school said we were being transferred to an all-White school across town. We lived for summer break.
As for swimming, we had to also go to the Black neighborhood pool, Parkwood Park. It was there I learned to love the water. There were two pools, the baby pool, and the big pool. I spent two years wishing I was swimming in the big pool.
My day would come soon, I just knew it and it did. I graduated to the Big Pool. Basically, I was a grown-up in my head. My dad’s method of instruction was tossing me in the pool and telling me to kick my feet. It actually worked and subsequently became a passionate swimmer. We attended private Catholic schools without a pool or swim team so we could only swim in the summer.
Summer’s are hot in Kansas City. On the days we couldn’t go outside, we’d all sit together, eat homemade popcorn balls and watch movies. All summer-themed movies ran on one channel. It was Utopia for us.
One day, I was at home watching TV with my siblings, when a young Black man appeared on the screen. He was blind and singing. It turned out to be Little Stevie Wonder as he was known then. The movie was “Muscle Beach Party” with Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon. I felt connected to this new beach magic and was immediately hooked on surf culture.