Nick Gabaldon was the first known black surfer in the United States. He openly surfed in the segregated beaches of California. Gabaldon is noted as being a historical leader for black surfers in the United States. Raised in Santa Monica, California in the 1930’s, he taught himself how to surf at a nearby beach. it was the “Ink Well Beach,” the most popular and historic black beach of the time.
A former WWII Navy vet, Nick Gabaldon worked as a lifeguard after the military. He didn’t own a car, so he surfed to many of his destinations. Although the beaches were segregated in 1949, the white surfers did not take an issue with a black surfer – something that was rare to see.
In 1951, Gabaldon tried a surfing stunt at the Malibu Pier called “shooting the pier.” He died during the execution. His board was found immediately but his body was found a few days later after washing up on a nearby shore.
To tell the story of Nick Gabaldon’s life, a documentary was made entitled “12 Miles North: The Nick Gabaldon Story.” The city of Santa Monica named June 1st as “Nick Gabaldon Day.” In celebration of the day, The Black Surfer Collective offered kids free surf lessons.
Gabaldon was lightly referenced in the famous novel “Gidget” in 1957. His legacy is memorialized on a plaque at the 200 sq ft beach stretch that was formerly known as the Inkwell in Santa Monica, CA.