Heal the Bay Blog

Category: Nick Gabaldon Day

Join us for the 5th annual Nick Gabaldon Day on Saturday, June 3 to celebrate a local who broke racial barriers with style and grace.

Who was Nick Gabaldon?

A Santa Monica native, Nick Gabaldon was Southern California’s first documented surfer of African-American and Latino heritage. An accomplished board rider, he smashed stereotypes surfing the Bay during the 1940s and 50s. Because he didn’t own a car, Gabaldon would frequently paddle 12 miles from Santa Monica to the fabled break at Malibu. The grueling trip showed true commitment. Tragically, Gabaldon would lose his life during a huge swell at Surfrider in 1951, crashing into the pilings as he tried to pull off a dangerous maneuver called “shooting the pier.”

Why does Heal the Bay honor him?

Gabaldon reminds us of a time when Southland beaches suffered from de facto segregation. With a smile on his face and a board on his back, he overcame overt and tacit racism and became a role model for communities of color. Taking his rightful place in a lineup with such legends as Ricky Grigg and Matt Kivlin, Gabaldon helped integrate what largely was an all-white sport. Today, Gabaldon is an enduring symbol that our beaches are recreational havens for all Angelenos – regardless of race or socio-economic background.

What was “The Ink Well”?

A stretch of beachfront near Bay Street and Ocean Avenue in Santa Monica became a safe haven for racial minority beach-lovers during the Jim Crow era. Also known as “Negro Beach” and other derogatory names, this roped-off area became a sanctuary of sorts for Gabaldon. He learned to surf at the gentle beach break about a half mile south of the Santa Monica Pier. (You can read more about the legacy of this spot in historian Alison Rose Jefferson’s excellent essay.)

Who will be celebrating his legacy?

To honor his pioneering spirit, Heal the Bay organizes Nick Gabldon Day each June around the anniversary of his untimely death. Working with our community partners the Black Surfers Collective the Surf Bus Foundation and the Santa Monica Conservancy, we host nearly 150 African-American and Latino youth from Paicoma to Compton for a day of ocean exploration and cultural reflection at Bay Street. Many of these underserved youth have never seen the beach before.

What activities are planned this year on Nick Gabaldon Day?

At 9 a.m., local surfers will hop on boards for a tribute paddle out.

From 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., trained volunteers will be conducting free surf lessons for visiting youth, followed by a brief history tour of “The Ink Well.”

From 12:30-6 p.m., our Santa Monica Pier Aquarium will be providing free admission to all visitors, thanks to our sponsors L.A. County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl and the Bay Foundation.

UPDATE: Joel is unable to make it! Feel better, Joel! Singer Joel Harper will be doing children’s story time at 2 p.m., followed by screenings of various documentaries about the life and death of Gabaldon.

How can I get involved?

All local surfers are invited to join the Collective at Bay Street Beach for the memorial paddle-out, and volunteers are needed to assist with lessons.

If you don’t surf, we’d still love to see you at the beach to watch the paddle out, meet other ocean lovers, visit the Aquarium for free, and wave the flag for community, inclusiveness and diversity.

Find more details about Nick Gabaldon Day June 3, 2017.

See photos from past #NickGabaldonDay events


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Life lessons. #nickgabaldon

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