The first Saturday in June was first recognized to celebrate the first black surfer by the Black Surfer’s Collective.
Nick Gabaldon was a Santa Monica native born in 1927. He loved the ocean and frequented “Inkwell Beach”, a stretch of sand a few hundred yards south of the Santa Monica Pier that was open to black Angelenos when the area was still heavily segregated. Gabaldon would leave early from his classes at Santa Monica High school to swim, enjoy the waters, and learn to surf.
The 2014 documentary, 12 Miles North, brought light to Gabaldon’s life in Southern California as an early surfing pioneer who broke racial barriers. The tenacious young surfer would paddle a heavy, mid-century surf board 24 miles to the Point in Malibu and back to Santa Monica daily just so he could catch some of the best waves in the bay. Local surfers in the area noticed Gabaldon’s commitment to the burgeoning surf and started giving him rides to and from the Point so he could save his strength for the surf.
Gabaldon first started paddling up the Pacific Coast not only because he had no car and there was no 534 bus to the ‘Bu in 1949, but because Los Angeles was still socially segregated and black man walking across the private beaches and lawns of white homeowners in those days could have led Gabaldon to trouble. The surfers who frequented The Point in Malibu back then paid no mind to Gabaldon’s skin color – they admired his strength, dedication and love of the waves.
After surfing the waves off the beach in Malibu for two years, Gabaldon died in June 1951 while surfing big waves by the Malibu Pier.
In 2013 the Black Surfer’s Collective partnered with Heal the Bay to bring dozens of young kids from LA Neighborhoods with less beach access to Santa Monica for a free surf lesson. The intent was to provide the kids with a fun day by the water and possibly to inspire them to learn to surf and enjoy the open, public beaches that help make the area famous. For some of the kids, this would be their first experience with the ocean despite living just a few dozen miles from the beach. The Black Surfer’s Collective called the outing Nick Gabaldon Day, in recognition of the country’s first black surfer.
The Black Surfer’s Collective seeks to raise cultural awareness and promote diversity to the sport of surfing through community activities, outreach and camaraderie. The group sponsors family-oriented activities that get people down to the beach to share the love of the water. Through seaside events, the Collective engages public interest in the sport of surfing, history, beach culture and ocean stewardship. Learn more at www.blacksurferscollective.org.
*The Nick Gabaldon Day Celebration has been postponed to October 9th, 2021 this year. You can follow @blacksurferscollective on Instagram to get up-to-date information on the event.
***Photo by The office of Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas