SAN DIEGO — Rock climbing is more than just a hobby for Fernanda Loustaunau — it’s her way to connect with the community.
Loustaunau is the San Diego leader of Brown Girls Climb, a national group that aims to provide a safe, inclusive space for women of color.
She said they offer mentorship, resources and education for anyone who’s interested in climbing. She said in addition to the financial barriers of getting involved in the sport, there are often cultural barriers too. She didn’t experience the outdoors until college.
“I grew up in a Mexican family. I grew up in Tijuana. That’s not a thing to do, right? There are spaces to do it, but my family just never really understood the concept of like hiking or camping,” she said.
A recent study by Merrell revealed the barriers that many communities face, preventing them from fully enjoying the outdoors.
The study found that Indigenous people face several barriers to feeling accepted in outdoor spaces. Discrimination is a main barrier, with 21% of Indigenous respondents vs. 15% of white respondents indicating they experienced discriminatory treatment when outside. Among Indigenous respondents, 22% also noted they experienced discriminatory treatment when shopping for outdoor footwear, clothing or gear in a retail store.
Although 46% of Hispanic/Latin American people state they feel alive when outside, 13% feel cautious — the highest of all groups.
Their data also shows a global increase in women’s fear of men in the outdoors, with 41% of women afraid of men — a 16% rise from their 2020 study.
Loustaunau said groups like Brown Girls Climb are for anyone who has struggled to feel safe or welcome, things she’s experienced firsthand.
“I have had instances where I’m using some sort of equipment, I’m doing my routine, and someone just butts in or makes me feel like this isn’t where I’m supposed to be,” she said. “It hurts, but at the same time it motivates you because this is where I’m supposed to be. People like me are supposed to be here. This is also our sport.”
Andrea Aramburu started coming to Brown Girls Climb when she recently moved to San Diego, looking for a safe space to develop meaningful relationships.
“The only people that I have made friends with are ones that I’ve met climbing,” Aramburu said with a laugh.
She said the environment is a special one, and she hopes everyone can find a place that feels like home.
“Everyone’s really encouraging,” she said. “Like, you’ll be climbing something and there will be like five women screaming. Sometimes it helps you to get over the finish line.”
Loustaunau hopes someday soon everyone will be welcome in outdoor spaces, no matter who they are or where they’re from. But until then, they won’t stop fighting to be included.
“A lot of these spaces are male-dominated,” she said. “We just want to make sure that people that look like me are represented in the outdoors and we can take up space.”
Loustaunau is working to become a certified rock climbing guide to help bring more diversity to the guiding profession. She hopes she’ll be able to take people outside as an official guide soon.