Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Master of Science (MS)

Degree Name

Environmental Studies

Other Degree Name/Area of Focus

Environmental Writing

Department or School/College

Environmental Studies Program

Committee Chair

Mark Sundeen

Commitee Members

Caroline Stephens, Pardis Mahdavi


University of Montana


In this debut book, Bela García-Arce explores what it means to reconnect with saltwater roots in tiny coastal towns across Baja California through a collection of personal essays. She starts by telling the story of her foundation—about growing up in San Diego and falling in love with the ocean, about what it was like to be a young Mexican girl with a family with no interest in the water. She leans heavily on humor to deliver playful jabs at the toxic masculine beach culture while also revealing how she played a role in combatting it. Between exploration of toxic sludge spills and the lack of clean water, García-Arce also examines how the constraints of Mexican culture and religion have ostracized her from her family. Her prose—sometimes dry, sometimes lyrical, leave the reader with the itch to wade into a body of saltwater. This memoir explores the tension of Mexican-American identity while also showing us what it’s like to drop in during a summer south swell, what it’s like to dive for lobster with your own gloved hands.

This book finds the bridge between William Finnegan’s surfing memoir Barbarian Days and Gloria Anzaldúa’s Borderlands/La Frontera. We see a surfer’s story told through the lens of a Mexican American waterwoman, a narrative never-before seen in print. By unpacking the fabled Baja California surf trip, every SoCal surfer’s rite of passage, Bela is forced to come face to face with an identity split—the cerebral existence of the White Bela in contrast to the Brown Bela. Is she going to align with the Bela that craves adrenaline hits or with the Bela that makes tortillas and exists within the confines of Mexican machismo?

García-Arce’s work is inspired in part by the New Journalism in Joan Didion’s Slouching Towards Bethlehem. In search of literature that does the same for Southern California surf culture, she began writing about her own experiences, the experiences of her friends, and the oceanic narrative that dominates SoCal lineups.



© Copyright 2023 Izabela Garcia-Arce