Juhu Thukral

Surfer, Human Rights Activist, New Yorker

When we set out to interview New Yorkers with a passion for the outdoors, we expected to find Colorado natives and people dreaming of quitting their jobs to hike through the remote edges of the Amazon. Instead, we discovered Juhu Thukral - a New York City resident and surfing enthusiast. Her experience takes on a distinctly New York flavor – exposing the quirks of adventuring in the great beach town of Queens. 

“You get older so it's now or never.” 

Juhu Thukral had always wanted to learn to surf. Five years ago, she committed.

Board by: LA-based graffiti artist Gregory Siff

Board by: LA-based graffiti artist Gregory Siff

Thukral had only heard of the surfer community in the Rockaways, but it wasn't until a friend gave her a step-by-step run-down of the sport did she know where to start, where to go, and what to do. She rented a board and signed up for lessons. 

Five years later Juhu is still following her friend's instructions. Every weekend, she hops on the A train from Manhattan to Rockaway, Queens, rents a board from Breakwater Surf Shop and walks down to the beach at 67th Street.

Despite her experience and years on the waves, she still calls herself a beginner surfer,  stressing  the importance of consistency and drive are if you want to improve. 

"You get older so it's now or never - there's a hardcore: I'm going to do this."

And so she does. Juhu can be found surfing all four-season and is one of the only people out on the water on brisk 20-degree days in January. Surfing during the bleak New York City winters requires special equipment: gloves, a hood, and a thicker wet suit to keep you warm.

“I want to continue to build my skills, and I miss it if I take the winter off.  I also like the feeling of having the ocean to myself, it's invigorating. And in a city of eight million, feeling like you have anything to yourself is a rare treasure in the first place."

March 2014: Heading to the beach

March 2014: Heading to the beach

Originally from the Bay Area, Juhu moved to New York to pursue a career in women’s and human rights advocacy. She is the ‎Director of Law and Advocacy at The Opportunity Agenda, a founder of numerous ventures supporting women and LGBT people, and was recognized as one of Women's ENews: “21 Leaders for the 21st Century.” Her keen eye for equality and justice extends to the surfing community as well. 

While the ocean may be physically accessible via the subway, “there is a financial barrier when you need to invest in gear and lessons.” For women especially, it can be intimidating because it is a male-dominated sport: “I had always wondered what it would be like starting this sport as a woman," says Thukral. Local networks like Surf Chicas provide support for female surfers to connect both online and at the beach.

Juhu Thukral and fellow Surf Chica Ruth Mamaril

Juhu Thukral and fellow Surf Chica Ruth Mamaril

Juhu Portrait-2.jpg

This is Juhu Thukral. She lives in Manhattan, doesn't own a car, and has a successful career fighting for the rights of women and other minority groups. She also spends Sundays at the beach. Surfing is her sport, her passion, and another lens through which to experience her city.

"Surfing was a lifelong dream and it took me a long time to actually do it. Be realistic, it's a hard sport to learn. But don't be afraid or embarrassed."

Interview by Sarah L. Knapp. Photography by Larson Harley.