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Meet Giselle Carrillo, Cassie Comley and Vanessa Yeager of Courage Camps

Today we’d like to introduce you to Giselle Carrillo, Cassie Comley and Vanessa Yeager.

Giselle, Cassie and Vanessa, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.

We all happen to have family roots in East LA. And as little girls, we never knew anyone who surfed. Yet we decided to be the first in their families to learn, and often felt like the only women and the only Latinas in the water. The first to meet were Giselle & Vanessa. We shared our stories over a few slices of pizza after our first surf together. Soon, we met Cassie, who was looking for Latino surfers as part of her doctoral research. We realized how special it was to have found each other- and soon decided to start a movement to help bring more Latinx people to the ocean. And that was the beginning of Courage Camps: A Project by the LatinX Surf Club.

We want to build a diverse and equitable surf culture for anyone who never had access to surfing. Most people who surf are part of a generational ocean family- where someone in their family taught them to surf. In communities like East LA, Santa Ana, or National City- children and their families are very unlikely to know a surfer. So we provide all of the equipment, the wetsuits, the conchitas (Mexican sweet bread), and community you need to not only start- but hopefully continue to come to the ocean. The ocean taught us so many incredible life lessons- and we hope that by bringing people from our community to surf for the first time- we can expose them to the courage and strength they have in them already. The moment someone does something that seems totally impossible- like surfing- you begin to see that very little is actually impossible.

Has it been a smooth road?
The three of us had a calling- and we found the perfect partners to pursue it. We are each so similar and so different at the same time. And that dynamic is what has actually made building this seed of an idea to a community movement smoother than expected. We have synergy where we need to- yet value the importance of differences. Cassie is a teacher to youth educator in the juvenile system and a professor at her local college. Vanessa is a physical education teacher, is a Surf City USA Ambassador and loves to teach surf lessons regularly. Giselle works in nutrition, both in education and marketing. As people, we are so distinct as well- while Vanessa is the queen of surfing, Cassie’s crossfit workouts would make anyone quit after 5 minutes, and Giselle loves training Jiu-Jitsu. We truly respect and love each other- we are just friends who happen to have built a social movement together.

We have also had incredible support from individuals who were always looking for this community. When we asked for help in finding other surfers- people helped spread the word. When we asked for people to bring their old foamie surfboards- we lined up the beach with spare equipment. When we started fundraising, we had people ready to give at least $5 to help the cause. It works because in a way that is how our LatinX community gets things done in our neighborhoods too – we gather as a village to help each other out.

But what is tough is growing this movement as we balance out our own lives- this is truly a passion project for us. Each day we wake up with more things added to our to-do lists. All while working a 9-5 for Giselle and Cassie while trying to make it to our gyms and training, working multiple jobs for Vanessa while being a mom and wife, making time for our biweekly calls. We have to remind ourselves to still have fun even as we have had to adopt some “business” practices to give this movement the chance to exist beyond us.

So, as you know, we’re impressed with Courage Camps – tell our readers more, for example what you’re most proud of and what sets you apart from others.
Our purpose is to help bring more people from underrepresented communities to the ocean to experience surfing. Lessons are free for anyone who would never have access to surfing. We want to teach people the life lesson that has most transformed our lives- that is courage. Because courage is the energy at which people shift from fear to possibility. And even though courage does exist in our communities- we believe there is an opportunity to shift what that looks like… and to us it looks like a little girl or boy from East LA with a surfboard under one arm excited to jump in the ocean.

And we have started to help bring a new generation of Latinx surfers to the beach. We are probably most proud of the children we have gotten to meet and see smile as they catch waves. The Moreno Family came to us as complete strangers. We do a Welcome Circle at the beginning of each Courage Camp, and Papa Moreno said, “I just want to do things with my son that my father was never able to do with me.” At another camp, we had the Barbosa Family who brought their two little girls along with some cousins. The little girls honestly looked just like us when we were little. And at the end, Mama Barbosa said, “I am just so happy that my little girls got to meet strong Latina women like you. It’s something I wish I had growing up.” These moments are the reason we keep going.

We have also started to develop additional programs after Courage Camps. We host 3 Summer Courage Camps, and at the end of the Summer we host a Dia de Playa for families to come together and share music, food, and waves. We also started a Manana de Surf to bring existing LatinX surfers together at the beach to surf with others who look like them.

Let’s touch on your thoughts about our city – what do you like the most and least?
What we love about our city as the three little girls with humble family roots in East LA had the chance to dream and make those dreams real. Giselle’s parents are immigrants from Mexico, Vanessa’s dad left Puerto Rico as a young man, and Cassie’s grandfather was a recipient of the GI Bill. We recognize that through the sacrifices of our families, we had a unique chance to dream with a purpose. And we hope that one of the little LA girls or boys that comes to Courage Camps can use what they learn through surfing to build their dream.


Contact Info:

  • Website: Our Documentary on YouTube:
  • Email:
  • Instagram: couragecamps
  • Facebook: couragecamps
  • Other: Instagram for LatinX Surfers: @latinxsurf_club

Image Credit:
Giselle Carrillo, Benjamin Soto

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