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Want To Stay Active And Make New Friends? Here’s Our List Of L.A. Sports Groups
From biking to volleyball, these homegrown groups are open to all.
This collage features a group of surfers with their boards at rest on the left; two volleyball players, a soccer player, and another surfer in the center; and a smiling group of friends on the right– all on top of an image of a hiking trail with high-rise buildings in the background.
(Alborz Kamalizad for LAist
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(Alborz Kamalizad for LAist
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In most parts of Los Angeles, gyms and exercise studios are ubiquitous. Sports leagues are also common, but many of these groups are made up of longtime athletes with little patience for beginners. They can also be costly.

If you’re looking to get some exercise in a different setting — or if you just want to try something new — here’s a list of groups that welcome newcomers at every experience level, along with a little history about how each group got started.


    • Group name: People for Mobility Justice
    • Who can join: Everyone is welcome, including children.
    • Details: For information on upcoming rides, visit the group’s Instagram and Twitter accounts. The average ride is 8 miles long.
    • Good to know: Just bring a bike, the rides are free.

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“When you join us for a bike ride, you will be supported and you will not be left behind,” said Erick Huerta, a Boyle Heights resident and longtime volunteer at People for Mobility Justice.

The nonprofit, which advocates for better access to public transportation in communities of color, organizes mural rides, art gallery rides and Taco Tuesday rides open to all Angelenos, including children.

For the most part, the rides take place in eastern L.A. County and in South L.A. The organization has also hosted rides in other areas, like Pacoima, Wilmington and Culver City.

A group of cyclists -- and a small dog-- wait for guidance from a community ride leader.
People for Mobility Justice kicks off every community ride with an overview of safety precautions.
(Courtesy of Erick Huerta)

Huerta, who often serves as a guide, said his favorite tour is the Eastside Mural Ride. It takes cyclists through neighborhoods like Boyle Heights, City Terrace and East L.A — an art-rich region with street artwork that dates back to the ‘60s and ‘70s, all the way to present day.

Those who lead the rides make sure to pause before the most notable murals, giving cyclists a chance to rest and get a drink of water while learning about the work they see before them.

For Huerta, riding his bicycle is about freedom.

“I grew up undocumented, so I didn't have access to a driver's license,” he said. “Because of that, I chose never to drive.” For years, Huerta relied on public transportation and his bicycle to get around. With time, this morphed into “a passion and a love for just riding my bike anywhere.”

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Lena Williams, who heads bicycle education at People for Mobility Justice, is especially fond of rides that highlight L.A.’s rich history. Last year, for instance, the group hosted a ride from Leimert Park to the Biddy Mason Memorial Park in downtown L.A., built in honor of the first Black woman to own property in the city. The nonprofit also organizes events to help cyclists get acquainted with e-bikes, a low-carbon alternative to cars.


    • Group name: Black Girls Trekkin’
    • Who can join: The group welcomes hikers at all levels. It hosts beginner-friendly hikes, but it also covers trails geared at hikers with more experience.
    • Details: For more information, check out the group's Instagram account. You can also sign up for its newsletter.
    • Good to know: In 2023, the group plans to venture beyond California.

Tiffany Tharpe loves the outdoors, and about five years ago, she took on a challenge that’s become popular among avid hikers: Over the course of one year, she would complete a weekly hike, totaling 52 trails.

Two Black women, clad in hiking gear, hug each other and smile. There is a forest in the background.
Michelle Warren, left, and Tiffany Tharpe are the co-founders of Black Girls Trekkin'.
(Courtesy of Michelle Warren)

But while out in the California wilderness, Tharpe noticed she was often the only Black woman. She thought it was weird. Then, she decided to do something about it.

Tharpe created an Instagram account to document her excursions, using the hashtag #blackgirlswhohike. Her goal was to inspire other Black women to venture out. Soon, her DMs were full of people asking if they could join her on the next trail.

For support, Tharpe reached out to Michelle Warren, an old friend from her days at Bishop Montgomery, a Catholic high school in Torrance. Warren is a fellow lover of the outdoors. Tharpe asked her if she’d be willing to help guide a few hikes.

They began by leading groups of Black women and children, along with allies who supported their mission, through hiking trails in Southern California.

About two dozen hikers pose for a photo. Many of them are wearing hats or baseball caps to protect themselves from the sun.
Members of Black Girls Trekkin' pause for a group photo.
(Courtesy of Michelle Warren)

Since then, the group has become a nonprofit called Black Girls Trekkin.’ Its premise is simple: “We deserve to be here, so let's be out here,” Warren said. “It's really been magical to watch people find adventure buddies, or just a space where they can be themselves.”


    • Group name: Pick Me Up
    • Who can join: Adults at all skill levels are welcome. Kids can play too, but they should be accompanied by a parent or caregiver.
    • Details: For information on upcoming matches and discussion topics, check out the group's Instagram account.
    • Good to know: The players currently meet at Vista Hermosa Field, located at 1303 W. 1st Street, Los Angeles, CA 90026.

About two years ago, Alec Battistoni and Jonny Poilpré sought out a way to play soccer. The East Hollywood residents grew up playing sports, and they missed being out on the field. They also missed being part of a team.

“That's who you talk to when you're going through something. Those are people that you really trust,” said Poilpré, recalling the teams of his youth. “When you get older, it's harder to find those intentional spaces where you're around all these people all the time, and you end up building relationships.”

After searching online, Battistoni and Poilpré found that it was costly to join most soccer leagues. Plus, many required them to drive to fields at least 40 minutes away.

They wanted to keep their matches local to avoid traffic — and stay inexpensive. They also wanted to meet Angelenos outside their social circles. So, in August 2021, they created a soccer group called Pick Me Up and put up flyers throughout East Hollywood and its surrounding neighborhoods, inviting anyone interested to join them for a game.

Battistoni and Poilpré also set up an Instagram account and created a bilingual website in English and Spanish to help spread the word. Now, Pick Me Up members come together to play soccer every Wednesday evening, typically in the northeastern part of L.A. County.

The group, Battistoni said, draws native Angelenos and people who are new to the area. It’s also open to players at all skill levels. In fact, children are welcome to play, too, so long as they’re accompanied by a parent or guardian.

“We have everything from people who literally just had a friend who came and decided they wanted to try soccer, to somebody who is a year out of college and used to play for their college team,” he added.

Players with more experience are expected to match the pace of those around them. They follow community guidelines posted on their website: “This is a learner's league. If you know, share.” And because there are no referees, players are tasked with calling their own fouls.

After each game, the players hang around to chat. Often, their conversions are guided by a question meant to spur conversations about mental health.

“We put the topic out there, and people kind of take it in whatever direction they want,” Poilpré said. Past discussions have encompassed themes like setting boundaries at work and with loved ones, as well as prioritizing rest.

No one is obligated to share during these conversations. “It’s okay to just come and sit and listen and be with everybody,” Battistoni said. The group’s co-founders understand that opening up to new people can take time.

For Poilpré, combining soccer and mental health is the perfect blend. “What are we doing when we're playing sports, if not reaching outside of ourselves to connect with other people?” he said.


    • Group name: Los Courage Camps
    • Who can join: The organization prioritizes children who are 8-13 years old. But adults – including those who don’t have any children – are also welcome.
    • Details: For updates on upcoming lessons, check out the nonprofit’s website, which includes its social media accounts.
    • Good to know: Los Courage Camps is also looking for volunteers who can serve as surf mentors, along with wetsuit and surfboard donations. If you’d like to help, you can find more information on their website.

The first time Giselle Carrillo tried to surf, she was 25 years old. The daughter of immigrants from the Mexican state of Nayarit, Carrillo grew up in East L.A. and Pico Rivera. Her parents were always working, she said, even on weekends, so they were rarely able to take the family out to the ocean.

Carrillo recalls her first surf lesson vividly. She was accompanied by her sister, and they struggled with everything. They caught no waves and accidentally drank a bunch of ocean water as they tried to use their boards. When it was all over, their eyes were red and burning. But they were still smiling.

“I'd never felt that before,” Carrillo said. “It made me want to go back and try again and again.”

She kept at it. Other surfers assured her that one day, she’d stop thinking about it, that her body would just know what to do. It turned out to be true.

Carrillo is the eldest among her siblings. She spent her youth and early adulthood completely focused on academics and work. “Everything I did was directed at getting my family out of poverty,” she said.

Being out in the ocean gave her the time and space to do something different: prioritize herself.

“What I realize now is that what I was tapping into and getting so hooked on, was this sense of empowerment, of overcoming something that felt totally impossible,” she said.

A smiling woman rests on a surf board in the middle of the ocean.
Giselle Carrillo, a former teacher, learned how to surf when she was 25.
(Courtesy of Giselle Carrillo)

At the time she learned to surf, Carrillo was a teacher in South L.A.. And when she was at the beach, she often thought about her struggling students. “I just remember thinking: ‘This would be so good for Kayla. This would be so good for Sean,’” she said.

And so, in 2017, Carrillo founded Los Courage Camps — a nonprofit that provides free surf lessons, wetsuits and surfboards for families in L.A. County — targeting those who don’t live close to the sea.

The organization prioritizes children who are 8-13 years old. But adults — including those who don’t have any children — are also welcome.

“Our mission is to show children, especially children from inner cities, the immense amount of courage that already lies inside of them,” Carrillo said.

The lessons run from May through September. They’ll take place at beaches across L.A. County, from San Pedro to Malibu.

“No matter how old you are, you can always learn something new if you’re just a little patient,” Carrillo said, “if you ask questions and are not afraid to look a little dumb.”


    • Group name: Face2Face Volleyball Club
    • Who can join: All skill levels are welcome, even if you’ve never touched a volleyball.  
    • Details: To join the group, check out its Instagram account. You can also sign up for weekly updates by completing this Google form
    • Good to know: To give everyone in the group a chance to play, each session offers 25 open slots, open on a first-come, first-served basis.

Nailah Howze is a director and photographer whose work has graced a number of magazine covers. She’s disciplined, ambitious and accustomed to doing her best work.

But when it comes to going to the gym, Howze has a tough time staying consistent.

LISTEN: From Instagram Idea To A Vibrant Volleyball Club, This Sports Group Welcomes All

“I'm in my head,” she said. “‘Am I doing the workouts right? Who's looking at me?’ I'm thinking about way too many things. And it's just hard for me to stick to a routine. I think I get bored.”

Growing up, Howze went to three high schools, one in Carson, one in Long Beach and one in Raeford, North Carolina. She played multiple sports, but volleyball was her favorite. Unlike going to the gym, practice never felt like a chore.

Inside a gym with wooden floors, four women keep their eye on a volleyball in midair.
Members of Face2Face Volleyball Club say they appreciate the chance to meet other Angelenos and unplug from daily life.
(Courtesy of Nailah Howze)

As an adult, Howze wanted to recreate that. And so, late last year, she took to social media and asked her Instagram followers if they’d be interested in a volleyball club.

To her surprise, hundreds of women said yes.

Howze and her business partner, Suzan “Semii” Gebreyonas, put up a Google form to keep track of everyone who wanted to join. Ultimately, more than 250 women signed up.

Since September 2022, the women have come together on Sundays to play for two hours, starting with a warm up and a stretch. Afterward, the players share that week’s “glow moment.” This can be anything that brought them joy from a new hairstyle to finding the courage to go back to school.

Gebreyonas said she’s proud of creating this space for women, particularly for Black women.

“It's really a community space first,” she said. “Men have flag football, soccer, basketball . . . And for us, it was, like, you don't see that many activities open for women.”

And Howze? She’s no longer bored.

“I get lost in the game,” said. “I don't have my phone. I'm not thinking about work.”

Share your insights

Want to add to our list?
Do you have suggestions for a SoCal sports group that welcomes everyone? Is it free or low-cost (no more than $20) to participate? If so, share your tips between now and Aug. 31, 2023, and we’ll help spread the word.

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