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June 1 is Nick Gabaldón Day

Published on May 29, 2024

On Saturday, June 1, join us at Santa Monica Beach to celebrate the life and legacy of Black surfing pioneer Nick Gabaldón. 

Over the years, numerous people have left their mark on Santa Monica’s surf scene, but few have achieved the legend status of Nick Gabaldón. Born in 1927, Gabaldón emerged as the first known African American surfer in Santa Monica during the 1940s, when when racial segregation was still prevalent. His courage, skill, and determination broke down racial barriers and became a role model for future generations.

Nick Gabaldón Day is celebrated on the first Saturday of June each year. On this day, multiple organizations such as the Black Surfers Collective, Heal the Bay, Surf Bus Foundation, Swim Up Hill, and Santa Monica Conservancy unite to honor the fearlessness and trailblazing spirit of Nick Gabaldón. This event is a celebration of diversity in surfing and a chance for our community to come together in Gabaldon’s honor.

Heal the Bay Aquarium under the Santa Monica Pier will be free for all visitors on Nick Gabaldón day! Bring your friends and family out to celebrate Gabaldón’s enduring legacy. Kids will enjoy story time with a celebrity guest reader and art activities, and adults can enjoy documentary screenings exploring race, coastal access, and triumph against adversity.

So, bring your surfboard or your kids or just yourself, and celebrate a man who paved the way for countless others.

Nick Gabaldon Day 2024

Saturday June 1, 2024
9 AM – 4 PM

The Historical Inkwell Tower, Tower 20 of Santa Monica Beach


Who Was Nick Gabaldón?

Born Nicolas Rolando Gabaldón Jr. in Los Angeles, California, Gabaldón grew up during a time when racial segregation was a harsh reality in many aspects of American life, including at the beach. He was the first documented surfer of African American and Mexican American descent, and his story encompasses the fight for civil rights and equal access to public spaces.

The Jim Crow Era at Santa Monica Beach

In his teens, the Santa Monica native taught himself how to surf at ‘The Inkwell.’ This is a small two-block area of beach in Santa Monica, south of the pier. During the 1940s, this was the only beach where African Americans could spend time and not get harassed. Despite these obstacles and many others, Gabaldón became an avid surfer. He tried to hitchhike to Malibu in search of waves, but no one would pick him up, so he often paddled the 12 miles north on a huge heavy wooden board just so he could surf at Malibu Pier.

Gabaldón’s very presence in the water challenged the norms of the time. His determination and skill was respected within the local surf community, where was known for his graceful style. With the sea and surfing as the great leveler, he became friends with many (white) Malibu surf legends—which was unheard of at the time.

Gabaldon’s Tragic End and Legacy

Unfortunately, Nick Gabaldón’s life was cut short in a surfing accident in 1951, when he was just 24 years old. However, the young surfer’s impact on surf culture and his role in advancing civil rights cannot be underestimated. We  continue to celebrate and remember him, especially on Nick Gabaldón Day.


Feature image courtesy of the Office of Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas