Shutterstock Studios, working alongside SOMA, Betclic, and Coming Soon partner to improve representation in surfing content by creating authentic footage and photography featuring Black girls surfing.
When SOMA founder, Francisca Sequeira, invited a group of girls to a surf class on the small African island of São Tomé, she had no idea that she’d be creating a source of freedom in the waves.
The fact that no girls were surfing in São Tomé before this represents the extreme gender inequality Santomean women face everyday.
With this realization in hand, Francisca teamed up with mental health professionals, surf coaches, and social activists to develop a complete surf therapy curriculum for girls ages 6-18, becoming the first African surf therapy program exclusive to girls in the world.
When we think of surfing, there are a couple terms rarely associated with it: African. Women. SOMA is bringing representation and perseverance to the forefront as Black girls from São Tomé occupy, grow, and thrive in the spaces traditionally considered off-limits.
Betclic was looking to feature SOMA as part of their “Defying the Odds” initiative that aims to bring attention to unnoticed and under represented athletes. Their agency, Coming Soon, went to several stock imagery providers to find images of Black girls surfing. However, to everyone’s surprise and dismay, they could not find this content.
Coming Soon connected with Shutterstock Studios to solve this challenge.
With the help of Betclic and Coming Soon, Shutterstock plans to create more content featuring Black girls surfing to be made available for license. In addition to this content, Shutterstock Studios gave SOMA a voice and a platform to highlight the great work that they are doing and to shed light on the gender disparity.
In today’s world, representation matters more than ever. Especially in surfing, as these girls find not only their place in the waves, but also solidify their place in the world.
Shutterstock interviewed Francisca Sequeira, Founder & President at SOMA, Rita Xavier, General Manager at SOMA, Ricardo Malaquias, Marketing Project Manager at Betclic, Francisco Faria, Branded Content Manager at Betclip, Marcelo Lourenço, Co-Founder & Copywriter at Coming Soon, and Ana Roseira, Client Success Manager at Shutterstock to learn more about this incredible undertaking.
Shutterstock: How did you become part of this project?
Francisca Sequeira (SOMA): SOMA stands for “Surfers Proud of the African Women,” and it’s a surf therapy program that is dedicated to fighting for gender equality and empowerment for girls.
This is an after-school program where we work with girls from 6-18 years old. So, the girls come every day after school, Monday through Friday. Besides surfing classes twice a week, we also provide academic support, where we educate them with lifelong skills and psychoeducation.
These girls have been educated not to seek help and told that in order to survive, they shouldn’t share their emotions. So, this is a very important subject for us. We have round tables to discuss the roles and responsibilities of women in society and provide sex education.
Those are the main pillars of SOMA. We have another program for parental education to involve the parents and to raise more awareness of the importance of the girls participating in our program.
Rita Xavier (SOMA): We try to find ways to partner with local entities so the girls can get access to school scholarships. We also arrange international scholarships so people can come here and teach the girls how they can grow and get money from the surfing industry.
SSTK: What were the main goals of this project, and what impact did you hope it would have?
Ricardo Malaquias (Betclic): Our main goal is to help SOMA. We think it should be everyone’s main goal because they are an incredible NGO. They help a lot in this community, and we see all the work that they do here. We want to give them the tools to do even better and support more girls.
This program’s mission is all about defying the odds. We want to give spotlights to sportsmen and sportswomen that are not usually in the newspaper headlines. We know football has the attention of everyone in the world, but let’s talk about other sports.
There are certain brands that sponsor surf competitions. So, [it’s important] to create an awareness around Black women surfing and to create a wave of change that will spread to other brands.
Francisca Sequeira (SOMA): We really want to achieve the gold standard for women empowerment through surf therapy in Africa. And this doesn’t necessarily have to do with numbers or being represented in different countries. It has more to do with the impact—if we achieve the gold standard, then we can expand to other countries.
[On a previous trip], I noticed that the only interactions that I had with the community, especially here in Santana, was with the boys. I didn’t see any girls and I didn’t have any conversations because the communication is something that doesn’t exist.
They’re always . . . tied inside themselves like boxes. It’s very difficult to get to know them and to create a relationship. And that actually stayed in my mind for a long time.
Then I heard about surf therapy and it seemed like that would be a great opportunity for me and these girls to start somewhere.
Because of the social norms and cultural traditions, they don’t look for help when they suffer from abuse or violence. Now, we’re starting to be able to support these girls when they are experiencing this kind of trauma, which has a tremendous impact in their lives because they don’t really know how to solve this.
So, giving them the life skills, they’re already showing a lot of ambitions. We can see now that these girls are starting to have some plans. How should I achieve my goals and my dreams?
Rita Xavier (SOMA): So, we create a safe space for them to be. I think the biggest impact that someone has on these girls is giving them worlds. So they start seeing things on a whole new perspective. They start seeing they can be the main characters of whatever life brings them.
Now, they can be proud of their dreams, how they can achieve them, work for them. It’s a whole curriculum that works with them so they can develop their outside world. Their country, their society, and their internal world themselves—and their potential.
We are always there to give the community that support so they can grow.
SSTK: What has been the most exciting part of working on this project / your main takeaway?
Ricardo Malaquias (Betclic): The most exciting part is to see that surfing is only a part of some of the summer projects. The bigger picture is to help this community, and even this country, to provide better conditions for young women born and raised here.
So they can go to school and achieve more with their lives.
Rita Xavier (SOMA): My main takeaway of being here is that a lot of people with different backgrounds . . . can work for the same thing, with the same passion and motivation. And, that’s beautiful to see.
It’s beautiful to see different countries come together on a super small island in the middle of the earth and decide to make a difference. For a common objective and something that can really be a change. Not just on these girls’ lives, but as a whole.
The entire collection of stock content produced in the campaign of video clips and images will be distributed on Shutterstock with proceeds from licenses going to SOMA.
License this article’s cover image SOMA surf-therapy.