Gabriella Angotti-Jones re-writes the narrative for Black women and non-binary surfers

Combining two of her favourite things – the ocean and her friends – Gabriella set out to make a zine that's both intimate and filled with high-action shots.

8 December 2022

Gabriella Angotti-Jones has always had an affinity for the sea. Growing up between Capistrano Beach, Dana Point and San Clemente she almost didn’t have a choice. But where others may have just dipped their toes into it, from an early age Gabriella was destined to dive straight in. “I’d spend a lot of my summers during or after high school in the Dana Point harbour working at the Ocean Institute or outrigging,” she says. An enduring affection for the ocean and a curious mind led her into oceanography. But when she started to take photos while on a research internship, she quickly realised, “I liked documenting the process of research as opposed to actually doing it".

After this switch-up, Gabriella transferred to San Francisco State from community college and started covering local protests leading up to the 2016 elections. With the documentary skills she taught herself, she picked up an internship at San Francisco Chronicle followed by Las Vegas Review-Journal, Tampa Bay Times and New York Times before settling at the Los Angeles Times as a staff photographer.


Gabriella Angotti-Jones: I Just Wanna Surf (Copyright © Gabriella Angotti-Jones 2022)

Gabriella Angotti-Jones treats her subjects with attention and dignity seldom granted to Black and non-binary folks in the surf community. In one photo from her latest book I Just Wanna Surf, her subject stands on the shore of an unnamed beach, poise framed by the soft oranges of the twilight, holding her surfboard. “I was just capturing moments of love, connection and wonder as they were happening. Like trying to be super in the moment,” she says. I Just Wanna Surf is Gabriella’s exploration of her identity and the place that Black people have in a sport dominated by white men. Since she started photographing the community three years ago, she’s travelled across the country to surfer communities in Rockaway, New York, Jacksonville, Florida and across California. “I made some of my closest friends in the process,” she tells It’s Nice That

The zine features high-action shots that wouldn’t look out of place in an old MTV smash cut opening theme. It's equally intimate, where slower behind-the-scenes images are reminiscent of a family album. This aesthetic makes sense considering Gabriella found her inspiration in the late 90s and Y2K action sports imagery that she grew up with – think B!SS, Ghetto Juice, Transworld, Foam and Big Brother. “I always wanted to see people like myself in that context,” she details, "depicted as wild, free and doing dumb shit with my friends. So I decided to make a photo book inspired by that era.”

Part zine, part visual journal, the project was also an expression of Gabriella’s love for her friends. The photographer has been candid about her depression and the effect that time spent with close friends has had on her. “In the context of my depression, I think I was idealising a little bit, like looking for moments that made me feel rooted in some sort of definitive emotion.”

GalleryGabriella Angotti-Jones: I Just Wanna Surf (Copyright © Gabriella Angotti-Jones 2022)

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Gabriella Angotti-Jones: I Just Wanna Surf (Copyright © Gabriella Angotti-Jones 2022)

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About the Author

Roz Jones

Roz (he/him) joined It’s Nice That as editorial assistant in October 2022 after graduating from Magazine Journalism and Publishing at London College of Communication. He’s particularly interested in publications, archives and multi-media design. Feel free to get in contact with Roz about ideas you may have for stories from the Global South.

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