Ever since making her debut as a professional longboarder and Stand Up Paddle Surfer, Dominique “Nique” Miller has been faced with discrimination in the industry. After a life of pushing aside racist obstacles, the Black Lives Matter movement was the ammunition Nique needed to finally say “enough is enough” and fight for equality in the surfing industry and beyond.
“Excluded from the surf industry,” Nique Miller reflects on the uphill battle she had to fight to become recognised as a true contender in ocean sports. “Prior to Black Lives Matter, a lot of the big surf brands were not showcasing, or sponsoring women of colour. At one point, I was ranked 3rd on the APP World Tour and I still didn’t have any sponsors backing me. I had to make a Go Fund Me page to get to the last stop in the Canary Islands; it was so frustrating. Why wasn’t I good enough?”
Nique Miller longboarding at her home spot in Waikiki, photo by Nick Cribbs.
Raised by a single mother between Michigan and Texas, Nique identifies as AfroLatin; her father is of African American descent and her mother Mexican American. Growing up, Nique went to a predominantly white high school where she experienced racism from the other students, leading her to feel like she wasn’t good enough because of the colour of her skin. It wasn’t the pretty or the popular thing to be a dark skinned women.
"I felt that the only way I could fit in in school was to be a really good athlete. I made sure I was the best runner and when I finished high school, I had scholarships for both lacrosse and track.”
Nique then moved to Hawaii on a running scholarship from the University of Hawaii, which changed everything for her. “When I moved, I became a lot more confident. I got compliments on my skin colour and hair texture for the first time in my life. I felt like I could finally accept being black.”
Nique learnt to swim before she could walk but to this day has never had a surf lesson; she is a self-taught longboarder and Stand Up Paddle Surfer. She would watch the local surfers in awe and promised herself she would be as good as them. After years of borrowing boards wherever she could and staying determined to get better, Nique has gone from novice, to one of the most recognisable female surfers in the world.
Nique Miller competing at the APP Sunset Beach event 2018.
Feeling at home in Hawaii, Nique felt she had left racial discrimination behind on the mainland, but when she started competing, she felt herself being ostracised from the whitewashed surf industry.
“There were times when I was working six days a week and I still didn’t have enough money to travel to compete. I had to make decisions between paying rent and competing, which was so frustrating. I was good enough and I was talented enough, but brands were only sponsoring the stereotypical-looking girl.”
The homogenous image showcased by surf media and brands excluded women of colour. This was damning to Nique’s career as it meant she struggled to get sponsorship, but it was also damning to her confidence.
“There was a point when I didn’t think I was skinny enough and hated that my thighs touched. I always wanted my hair straight and never wanted to have it out and curly. I just wasn’t pretty according to industry standards. I used to wish I was just Mexican and would look up skin lightening creams because I didn’t want to be this dark.”
Nique Miller competing at the APP World Tour stop in 2018.
When the Black Lives Matter movement gained momentum following on from the death of George Floyd in 2020, everything changed for Nique. Surf brands finally wanted women of colour to represent them and invited the rich diversity of women in.
“Before Black Lives Matter, I was scared to speak out about the discrimination in the industry because I didn’t want to get blacklisted, but now I feel like I can finally speak out about it in interviews and on my platforms.”
For her part, Miller is doing all she can to change the status quo – including working tirelessly to promote marginalised voices through her social media platforms, where she has a huge following.
“I try to make my platforms not only about me but my mission and my statement. I want my platform to be uplifting, not only for people of colour, but people of all shades; whether you are plus size or petite size; whether you are 2 years old or 80 years old. I accept everybody, and it would be good if the surf industry could accept everybody too.”
Nique Miller in Waikiki, Photo by Nick Cribbs.
Increased visibility and representation in the media has helped too. Since BLM, Nique bagged a sponsorship deal with clothing giant Billabong and has featured on multiple magazine covers including the coveted spot on the cover of Surf Girl, finally putting women of colour in the spotlight, after years on the side-lines.
Nique’s mission to represent and inspire people of colour is working. “I get messages daily from people telling me I’ve inspired them. I’ve had older black people tell me they’ve never seen a black woman surf. The younger generation need to see it because they can see themselves reflected. The more the industry incorporates these women the more younger kids will want to do it.”
Nique Miller on the podium for the APP's New York SUP Open 2019.
Until now, Nique has not been able to fully commit to both the WSL longboarding tour and the APP World SUP Surfing Tour due to lack of sponsorship. Now, with full support from Billabong, Nique is firing herself up for a very exciting year of competing on both tours, pulling herself closer to her ultimate goal of getting a world title.
“There hasn’t been a black, female world champion in longboard or in Stand Up, so I want to win a world title not only for myself but to show other people of colour what they can accomplish. You can come from a low-income family, like I did, and work your way up. I don’t just want to be a really good surfer I want to be a champion; I want to make it into the history books.”
Nique has already made waves on the APP World Tour. She ranked 5th in 2018 and has competed against and beat out the likes of Annie Reickert and Izzi Gomez. Now with full support from her sponsors and a renewed commitment to SUP after pausing to concentrate on longboarding, Nique is a force to be reckoned with.
“I have so much belief in myself and I do believe you can accomplish anything. Dream as big as you can. You never know what you’re going to accomplish.”