Let me start with the truth: I started surfing by mistake. About two years ago, I was invited to Rockaway Beach on a press-related surf retreat. Once I got over my fear of dying, I fell in love with the sport.

When I decide that I’m into something I become a bit of an obsessive. In this case, I spent hours watching films and documentaries about surfing and the ocean (Blue Crush is still top five, but who let Blue Crush 2 happen?) and I took swim lessons at the YMCA in Bed Stuy to help me better understand the ocean and feel more comfortable in the water. I’m still very much a novice, but since then I’ve surfed waves at Ditch Plains in Montauk, Playa Carmen in Costa Rica, Praia Grande in Portugal and of course, back at Rockaway Beach.

Now that I’ve somewhat overcome my fear of the ocean (it’s still terrifying) and I’m able to paddle out by myself, I’m ready to tackle my next big barrier in surfing: my hair. I’m the girl who always has to check a bag when I travel because I need to bring hair care products and a full skincare set. I am unapologetically high maintenance when it comes to beauty; when it came to my beauty routine and surfing, I knew I had to perfect it.

From experience, I already know what doesn’t work. Box braids don’t do it. The saltwater saturates the braids and makes them unbearably heavy. Weaves are fine. I wore one when I surfed in Costa Rica and Portugal, but consistently being in the water loosens the braids and shortens the longevity of the hairstyle. Other protective styles will definitely work (locs, cornrows, flat-twists), but this fall, because September is the best time to surf in NYC, I wanted to experiment with wearing my natural hair, which is low porosity (meaning it’s hard for it to retain moisture), fine and textured between a 3C and 4A. I spent two weeks on my own mission. Here’s what I learned.

A quick note: My hair is slightly heat-damaged, so these photos are not my hair living up to its full potential.

Moisturizing is very, very, very, important.

Normally, I get lazy and skimp on moisturizing my hair. When it comes to the ocean, however, I’ve learned to not even think about skipping. Saltwater will ruin your mane and make your strands super dry and brittle, especially when you’re spending over six hours per week in the ocean.

During my two-week trial period, I made sure my hair was saturated with moisture before I got to the beach, before I got into the water, and after I got out. At home, before surfing, I used a leave-in conditioner on my wet hair. My favorites are: Kinky Curly Knot Today, which I’ve been using for two years now, and Camilla Rose’s Coconut Water Leave-In Conditioner, which smells divine. Both products are lightweight and water-based, which means they penetrate moisture into the hair. I followed that with an oil to seal the moisture.

I used coconut oil on my hair forever until I learned that it’s not the best product for low porosity hair. Oils that are better: grapeseed oil, argan oil, jojoba oil, almond oil and hemp seed oil. Aesop’s Shine Oil is made with jojoba oil, borage seed oil, grapeseed oil and almond oil, and it smells (clearly, I’m into products that are appeasing to my nose) like a citrus forest thanks to the petitgrain.

Shea Moisture’s Manuka Honey and Marufa Oil doubles as a scalp treatment and claims to intensely moisturize (it does). Then, I completed my routine with a cream product to prevent moisture loss. As I Am’s Long & Luxe Curl Enhancing Smoothie is made with passion fruit, so of course I fell in love with the smell and its thick consistency which doesn’t weigh down my hair. R+Co.’s High Dive Moisture and Shine Cream is a little more lightweight and truly delivers on the shine.

That was just my moisture regimen before I left the house. By the time I got off the train, rented my board and got to the beach, my hair was already somewhat dry. I used a leave-in conditioner spray and a spray oil to dampen my hair again (spray bottles are easier to apply on-the-go). I’ve been using Oyin Handmade Juices and Berries since 2011 and even though the company is larger now, the results haven’t changed, it still works wonders for both moisturizing and bringing curls back to life. I layered that with Ouidad Mongongo Curly Hair Treatment, which is my new obsession. The smell is reminiscent of a black hair salon and the formula protects strands from heat and UV Rays, it’s like sunscreen for the hair. I have been using it every day now. After my extensive hair prep (my curls thanked me later), I attempted to catch some waves.

Apres-Surf: Beach sprays can be good for kinky hair, too.

Part of the reason I get weaves or braids if I’m going on a beach vacation is because I hate dealing with my hair after I get out of the water. Realistically, I’m not going straight home to shower. I want to get some food, lay out on the beach, people-watch. My hair is always very dry and my skin is always very ashy (seriously, why don’t beach beauty tips ever mention lotion? You won’t find me at the beach without a travel sized Nivea Body Lotion or Goe Oil). As for my hair during the trial-period, I realized that while my hair was dry, my curls were at their best: elongated, defined and just the right amount of frizz. In this case, saltwater was good. Sometime I would come home like, should I even wash my hair?

In order to preserve my saltwater curls, I tried out some beach sprays. I never thought to try them before because they are always advertised to white women. Seriously, type in “beach spray,” “salt spray,” “beach hair” or “beach waves” in Google images.

Turns out beach sprays can work for curly coils, too. The key is to use the ones that have oil or some sort of protectant. To prep my hair for the spray, I applied either Oyin’s Juices and Berries or Bumble and Bumble’s Hair Invisible Oil Primer for some moisture and also to detangle by just rubbing my fingers through my wet hair. Then I added a bit of hair oil, and finally, the beach spray. This took only three minutes.

Ouai Wave Spray smells of Italian lemon, white musk and amber (read: it smells incredible) and while it doesn’t include oil, it does have a rice protein that claims to protect the hair from getting damaged and dried out. Oribe’s Apres Beach Wave and Shine Spray contains wheat protein and seed oil that conditions the hair. Both sprays helped me to achieve ideal curls on the beach and off, Ouai was easier to travel with but luckily Oribe comes in a travel size.

Do this when you get home.

Once I’d get home from the beach, I started what I liked to call my hair and skin therapy session. I began by mildly detangling my hair, working in some leave-in conditioner spray to make it more manageable. Then, I got really into pre-poo treatments. Shea Moisture’s Manuka Honey & Marufa Oil is an oil that can be used as a treatment, which I applied to my scalp and then massaged for five minutes. Once my ends were dry again, I tried out Oribe’s new Gold Lust Pre-Shampoo Intensive Treatment that’s strictly for your strands. It’s super fun to use: You take the cream, rub it in your hands until it turns into an oil, then apply.

In the shower, I used a co-wash instead of a regular shampoo. I really liked that Briogeo Be Gentle, Be Kind Avocado + Quinoa Co-wash, which is made with rosehip oil, argan oil, coconut oil and vitamin E, sounded like a grain bowl and detangled my hair with ease. Plus, the packaging is super chic. As I Am’s Coconut Cowash, which contains castor oil and coconut oil, has been a standard in my hair routine for years and it’s super affordable. If my hair still felt like it needed some love, I used a conditioner with the winner being Oyin Handmade’s Honey Hemp, or should I say, a miracle worker with an addicting scent.

Then, I deep conditioned with added heat: usually a hot towel over a shower cap because I haven’t invested in a hair steamer yet. Ouidad’s Curl Recovery Melt Down Extreme Mask is one of the best products that I’ve ever used. I audibly said, “Wooooww” when I rinsed it out because it was just that good. Camilla Rose’s Algae Renew Deep Conditioner was another wow-factor product for a fraction of the price. It left my hair extremely soft. Saltwater who? While my hair was in spa mode, I gave my face the same treatment. Saltwater might be a good skin detoxer but it also dries your skin out. I did a moisturizing face mask. I really liked Dr. Jart’s Vital Hydra Solution Sheet Mask and Dr. Barbara Sturm’s Deep Hydrating Face Mask.

Before bed, I slathered my hair and skin in oil. I’ve never met a hair oil that felt like wealth until I tried Shu Uemura’s Essence “Absolue” Oil. It’s velvety and thick without being overbearing, and it absorbs quickly. Moroccanoil Treatment is another oil that felt lavish and had a similar consistency. Both of these oils are definitely going to be mainstays in my regular hair care regimen. For my face, Joanna Vargas’ Rescue Serum immediately makes my skin glow and Pai’s Rosehip Oil is responsible for my blemish-free face.

And that’s my surfer hair journey, with the main lesson I learned being: Always stay moisturized, literally from head to toe. Also, for anyone who’s reading this and has questions, feel free to slide into my DMs.

Photos by Maggie Shannon; follow her on Instagram @maggiehshannon;  iPhone photos provided by Tahirah Hairston.

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  • Ooo I didn’t know the Shea Moisture’s Manuka Honey & Marufa Oil could be used as a pre-poo. A lot of the Shea Moisture things are too heavy for my wavy white person hair but that product works really well for me.

    • mariahg

      Shea Moisture was too heavy, and too heavily-scented, for me, too! I adore DevaCurl and Briogeo products! I use the DevaCurl low-poo in the summer, no-poo in the winter, and original conditioner all the time. Briogeo’s styling curl cream, Rosarco leave-in conditioner, and deep conditioning mask.

      • they have some less heavy products I’m curious to try – the low porosity and coconut water weightless lines. I bought the shampoo and conditioner from the latter to try this week.

  • Allegra

    okay but where are your wetsuit and swimsuit from?! both super cute!! also as a fellow black surfer (hey!) i don’t even bother conditioning before, because it’s all going to get rinsed out, but i do use carols daughter tui oil or coconut oil when i get out of the water to keep frizz in check and get some moisture at the beach – super low maintenance. I’ll definitely try your post-surf routine tho

    • Elizabeth Tamkin

      Jade Swim is the bikini top and the wetsuit’s Cynthia Rowley! See credit in slides one and two 🙂

  • Micaela Verrelien

    Love this!

  • These pics are A+! Also I def have multiple tabs open with the products you recommended 🙂
    Over the past year I’ve found through trial and error that products for natural hair work wayyy better for me than uh.. white-ppl-focused-products? Idk what the term is, but you catch my drift.
    Using Shea Moisture has cleaned up my dry scalp and it’s seriously the only thing that detangles+softens+doesn’t weigh it down. There’s a tiny natural hair+weave/wig shop down my street and by now I just tell the girl behind the counter what the problem is, she hands me a product, I buy it, it’s perfect. I’m telling you, she’s either seriously knowledgeable or hair-psychic or both.

  • Chelle

    “seriously, why don’t beach beauty tips ever mention lotion?” PREACH
    Also, the cost of all the hair products/amount I need for my thick azz hair makes it sooo difficult for me to wear my hair natural 24/7, but thank you for pointing out some good ones!

  • Kat

    That ouai wave spray sounds like it smells amazing!!! Shame my hair doesn’t like salt sprays.

  • But is your name really HAIRston?! Amazing. Thank you, MR for including more brown girl-focused articles!!!!!!!!!!

  • Love this so much! Yay more brown girls on Manrepeller and also just yay in general. I also have low porosity fine hair so I’m checking these products out. Thanks!

  • Medusa

    Great 👌

  • Modupe Oloruntoba

    As someone finally learning to swim this summer (our summer = your winter), thanks for this.

  • Janine Grevious

    Um. So like 50 products?

  • Dymond Moore

    This is literally the best natural hair feature I’ve read because I LOVE sea salt sprays and how saltwater make my curls look so good! I’m in love 😍😍😍

  • Catalina

    Random question not hair related – where do you store your board? You ride the subway with that thang? Genuinely curious as I’m a novice surfer myself! <3

    • tahirah hairston

      Hi! It’s Tahirah. I still rent a board, but I’m currently in the process of looking for a used one to buy, I know that there are surf lockers at Rockaways at Boarders and Rockaway Taco.

  • Lucy In The Sky

    Nice to see some colour on this page. I also been surfing for years and always a struggle with the hair (4c). I wouldn’t dare going natural, but after reading this I might consider. Thanks for the tips.