Heal the Bay Blog

Category: Nick Gabaldón Day

Nick Gabaldón Day will take place on Saturday, June 18, 2022 from 9AM – 4:30PM.

Nick Gabaldón (1927-1951) was a pioneering surfer of African American and Mexican American descent. He was the first documented surfer of color in the Santa Monica Bay. Gabaldón’s passion, athleticism, discipline, love, and respect for the ocean live on as the quintessential qualities of the California surfer.

In 2013, with the help of African American historian Alison Rose Jefferson, Heal the Bay joined forces with the Black Surfers Collective to amplify and expand their prior Nick Gabaldón efforts. Nick Gabaldón Day, in its current form, is now in its 10th year and will be held on June 18, 2022. This innovative celebration provides an amazing opportunity for broadening outreach, action, and education to connect Angelenos with their cultural, historical, and natural heritage.


The shoreline and waters at Bay Street in Santa Monica were an active hub of African American beach life during the Jim Crow era. This beach was popular from the 1900s to early 1960s among African American people, who sought to avoid hostile and racial discrimination they might experience at other southland beaches. Racial discrimination and restrictive covenants prevented African Americans from buying property throughout the Los Angeles region, but their community’s presence and agency sustained their oceanfront usage in Santa Monica.

In 2008, the City of Santa Monica officially recognized the “Inkwell” and Nick Gabaldón with a landmark monument at Bay Street and the Oceanfront Walk. In 2019, this same beach was listed as the Bay Street Beach Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places for its significance in the African American experience and American history.

Nick Gabaldón Day introduces young and old from inland communities to the magic of the coast through free surf and ocean safety lessons, beach ecology exploration, and a history lesson about a man who followed his passion and a community who challenged anti-Black discrimination to enjoy the beach.

The Black Surfers Collective, Heal the Bay, Surf Bus Foundation, and the Santa Monica Conservancy collaborate for Nick Gabaldón Day to reach families in resource-challenged communities and connect them to meaningful educational programming. Together, we are helping build personal experiences with cultural, historical, natural heritage, and civic engagement that make up the foundation of stewardship, and the development of the next generation of heritage conservation and environmental leaders.

Heal the Bay Aquarium under the Santa Monica Pier will be free for all visitors in honor of Nick on Saturday, June 18 thanks to a grant from Northrop Grumman. A celebrity guest reader will pop in for story time and special art activities will be offered, as well as screenings of documentaries exploring issues of race, coastal access, and following your passion against all odds.

Tentative Agenda: June 18, 2022

  • 9 am Welcome Ceremony and Memorial Paddle Out for Nick at Bay Street Beach
  • 10 am – 1 pm Free surf lessons, beach and local history exploration, and cleanup at Bay Street Beach. Surfers must register in advance.
  • 1 pm – 4 pm Celebration continues at Heal the Bay Aquarium under the Santa Monica Pier; admission to the Aquarium is free today in honor of Nick.
    • 1 pm Documentary screening
    • 2 pm Children’s story time with special guest reader
    • 3 pm Documentary screening

Nick Gabaldón Day 2022 Partners
Black Surfers Collective
Heal the Bay
Surf Bus Foundation
Santa Monica Conservancy
Color the Water

Northrop Grumman

For more information about partnership and sponsorship opportunities please contact: Jeff Williams, Black Surfers Collective, or Meredith McCarthy, Heal the Bay 310.451.1500 ext. 116 or


Nick Gabaldon Day, June 3, 2017 welcome and on-land paddle out ceremony. Participants surround a replica of a painting of Nick Gabaldon by Richard Wyatt. Photography by Elizabeth Espinoza, Martin Luther King Recreation Center, Los Angeles.
Adults pictured, standing, left to right: Eric Griffin, director of Martin Luther King Jr. Recreation Center; Albizeal Del Valle, field deputy for Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson, Michael Blum, author of the Malibu Historic District National Register Listing Nomination; Alison Rose Jefferson, historian and coordinator of Santa Monica Conservancy’s youth program; Effie Turnbull Sanders, California Coastal Commissioner; Shelley Luce, CEO of Heal the Bay; and Tom Ford, executive director of The Bay Foundation. Front row, kneeling: Meredith McCarthy, programming director, Heal the Bay, led the big hug for the bay.

Join the celebration to honor Nick Gabaldón and his legacy as the quintessential California surfer. 

Nick Gabaldón Day introduces communities across Los Angeles County to the magic of the coast through free surf and ocean safety lessons, beach ecology exploration, and a history lesson about an individual who followed his passion against all odds.

In 2013, with the help of African American historian Alison Rose Jefferson, Heal the Bay joined forces with the Black Surfers Collective to amplify and expand Nick Gabaldón Day. This year marks our organization’s 8th Annual Nick Gabaldón Day celebration!

As a result of the COVID-19 response, this year we partnered with World Surf League and the California Coastal Conservancy to create a virtual Nick Gabaldón Day with a series of online panels to dive deeper into past and current issues of justice, equity, and access on our coast.

Panels for Nick Gabaldón Day 2020

The “Nick Gabaldón Day Knowledge Drops Panel” features Alison Rose Jefferson (Historian and Author), Rhasaan Nichols (Filmmaker), and Inés Ware (Special Events Manager at Heal the Bay).

The “Women in Surf Panel” features Rhonda Harper (Founder and President of Black Girls Surf), Jeff Williams (Heal the Bay Board member & Co-President of Black Surfers Collective), and Marion Clark (President of Surf Bus Foundation).

The “Surf Sustainability Panel” features Ryan Harris (Co-Owner of Earth Technologies), Greg Rachal (Co-President of Black Surfers Collective), Jeff Williams (Heal the Bay Board member & Co-President of Black Surfers Collective), and Dr. Shelley Luce (Heal the Bay President & CEO).


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The “Community Connectedness Panel” features Greg Rachal (Co-President of Black Surfers Collective), Jeff Williams (Heal the Bay Board member & Co-President of Black Surfers Collective), Jamal Hill (Paralympic Swimmer), Giovanni Douresseau (President of Youth Mentoring), and Marion Clark (President of Surf Bus Foundation). Watch the full video on WSL >

The recent civil unrest has laid bare the desperate need to address racism and racial injustice across all sectors. Our coast is no exception. Let’s dive into some local history and why we honor Nick Gabaldón’s legacy as an early surfer of color in Los Angeles.

Who was Nick Gabaldón?

Nick Gabaldón (1927-1951) was a pioneering surfer of African American and Mexican American descent. He was a Santa Monica local and the first documented surfer of color in the Santa Monica Bay. As an accomplished board rider, he smashed stereotypes surfing the Bay during the 1940s and 50s. Gabaldón would sometimes paddle 12 miles from Santa Monica to the fabled break at Malibu. The grueling trip showed true commitment and passion for ocean sports. Tragically, Gabaldón would lose his life during a huge swell at Surfrider Beach in 1951, crashing into the pilings as he tried to pull off a dangerous maneuver called “shooting the pier”.

Gabaldón reminds us of a time when beaches suffered from de facto segregation. The shoreline and waters at Bay Street Beach in Santa Monica were an active hub of African American beach life during the Jim Crow era. This beach was popular in the 1900s to early 1960s among African Americans, who sought to avoid hostile and racial discrimination they might experience at other southland beaches. Racial discrimination and restrictive covenants prevented African Americans from buying property throughout the Los Angeles region, but the community’s presence and agency sustained their oceanfront usage in Santa Monica.

Gabaldón 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, Gabaldón helped integrate what largely was an all-white sport. In 2008 the City of Santa Monica officially recognized Bay Street and Nick Gabaldón with a landmark monument at Bay Street and the Oceanfront Walk. Today, Gabaldón is an enduring symbol that our beaches are recreational havens for all people.

nick gabaldon day 2013 poster

What is Nick Gabaldón Day?

To honor his pioneering spirit, Nick Gabaldón Day is celebrated during the first week of June with community partners, including Heal the Bay, the Black Surfers Collective, the Surf Bus Foundation, and the Santa Monica Conservancy.

In past years, we have hosted nearly 150 African American and Latinx youth from Pacoima to Compton for a day of ocean exploration and cultural reflection at Bay Street Beach. Many youth who particpate are learning to surf for the first time. Usually, we celebrate with a paddle out, free surf lessons, and free Heal the Bay Aquarium admission.

In 2020, World Surf League and the California Coastal Conservancy joined our efforts as well.

What was “The Ink Well”?

“The Ink Well” is a derogatory name that was used for a stretch of beachfront near Bay Street and Ocean Avenue in Santa Monica, which was a safe haven for African American beach-lovers during the Jim Crow era. This area became a sanctuary of sorts for Gabaldón. He learned to surf at the gentle beach break about a half mile south of the Santa Monica Pier.

In 2019, the Bay Street Beach Historic District became officially listed in the National Register of Historic Places. “[The addition of the] Bay Street Beach Historic District [to the National Register of Historic Places] increases the number of listings associated with communities of color, which [as of July 2019] is less than five percent of the total sites represented on the National Register,” according to Santa Monica Conservancy.

How can I support?

Please consider making a donation to these organizations creating opportunities to advance equity:

Save the Date: Nick Gabaldón Day 2021

The Black Surfers Collective, Heal the Bay, Surf Bus Foundation, Santa Monica Conservancy, and more organizations will be back for the next Nick Gabaldón Day on October 9, 2021. Together, our goal is to continue to reach families in underserved communities and help build personal and shared cultural, historical, and nature heritage as well as civic engagement, which makes up the foundation of stewardship for the next generation of leaders.



Photos from past #NickGabaldónDay events

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Life lessons. #nickgabaldon

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Oh, what a year! We reflect on some of our favorite milestones from this past year. A huge thank you goes out to our bold and dedicated Heal the Bay community. We would not have achieved these victories without your ongoing support.

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heal the bay aquarium

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Take a swim down memory lane with us and replay 6 unforgettable moments from 2019.

6. Released our first-ever Stormwater Report—a groundbreaking assessment of stormwater pollution management in Los Angeles County.

In our new Stormwater Report we found that local governments have made shockingly minimal progress in addressing stormwater pollution over the last 30 years. If the current rate of stormwater pollution cleanup continues, LA County communities will wait another 60 years for clean water.

The LA County stormwater permit, the only real mechanism we have for regulating stormwater pollution, is up for renewal in early 2020. Heal the Bay is pushing hard for a strong stormwater permit. We fear it will be weakened and deadlines will be extended, further delaying cleanup of local waters. Municipalities can tap into various funding sources to implement projects, so there is no reason for them to not make meaningful progress moving forward.

Our Stormwater Report was big news for LA and was covered by the L.A. Times, The Guardian, NBC, CBS, KCRW, KPCC, KNX, LAist, The Argonaut News, Daily Breeze, Patch and more.

Heal the Bay Aquarium
Photo by Kelton Mattingly

5. Welcomed our 1 millionth visitor to Heal the Bay Aquarium at the Santa Monica Pier.

Since our Aquarium opened its doors in 2003, our mission has been to give visitors an underwater experience of the Pacific Ocean without getting their feet wet. We invite all our guests to explore critically important marine habitats and environmental issues.

From swell sharks to red octopus, and seahorses to stingrays, more than 100 local wildlife species thrive at our Aquarium. And now we can proudly say that more than a million visitors have met our local underwater residents!

Around 100,000 visitors come to Heal the Bay Aquarium each year. Local residents and global tourists share their passion for their own local waterways with us and inquire about how to protect what they love. In order to better serve the public, we’ve centered our programs and events around environmental advocacy, community science, pollution prevention and family education.

We also host 10,000-15,000 students each year for school field trips and we offer fun, educational, zero-waste birthday parties.

4. Hosted our 30th anniversary of Coastal Cleanup Day as the LA County coordinator.

What an honor it has been for Heal the Bay to steward this annual event since the 1990s, especially with such vibrant community support. Our very first Coastal Cleanup Day hosted 2,000 volunteers – my how far we’ve come! From diving underwater in the Santa Monica Bay to hiking along the East Fork of the San Gabriel River and everywhere in between, 13,914 volunteers removed more than 30,165 pounds of trash — from 79 locations in Los Angeles County, in a span of three-hours — on Coastal Cleanup Day 2019.

The weirdest finds from 2019 included: A laptop and electric scooters (underwater in Santa Monica); A 20 foot industrial ladder (underwater in Redondo Beach); Horseshoe (Compton Creek); Cat skull (South LA); Positive pregnancy test (White Point Beach); Shake weight (Venice); Half a rat (Arroyo Seco Confluence); and a California King Mattress-sized Styrofoam block (Arroyo Seco Confluence).


3. Supported Straws-On-Request going into effect in the City of LA.

Los Angeles City Hall passed the Straws-On-Request ordinance this past Earth Day, making single-use plastic straws available by request only at all food and beverage facilities in the City of LA. This, along with other plastic reduction strategies, will hopefully decrease the amount of trash we see in our environment while still giving patrons access to straws when needed.

Often times plastic trash flows from our streets into our storm drains and out to the ocean. Plastic straws and disposable beverage, food, and snack-related items are some of the top types of trash we find at Heal the Bay cleanups. In fact, our cleanup volunteers have picked up more than 138,000 plastic straws from LA beaches over the last two decades.

The Ocean Protection Council acknowledges that trash in the ocean is a persistent and growing problem that is negatively affecting human and ecosystem health, not to mention coastal beauty. We’ll continue to work locally and at the state-level in California to reduce the use of harmful single-use plastics.

2. Rejoiced over these announcements: Hyperion will recycle 100% of the City’s wastewater and LA will phase out gas-fired coastal power plants.

LA Mayor Eric Garcetti announced that the Hyperion Water Reclamation Plant (aka sewage treatment plant), one of the largest in the world, will recycle 100% of the City’s wastewater by 2035. The water will be treated extensively and then put into our local groundwater supply for additional treatment by natural soils. Afterwards, the clean water will be pumped up to replenish our local tap water supply. Hyperion’s capacity is 450 million gallons per day and treated water currently flows out to the ocean. But with full recycling at Hyperion we can re-use that water!

Garcetti’s next big announcement was that the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power will close three coastal gas-burning power plants in El Segundo, Long Beach and the Los Angeles Harbor area by 2029. The plants will be replaced by renewable energy sources and storage.

Heal the Bay was integral to both advancements. We advocated for over a decade for wastewater recycling and for eliminating the marine impacts of the coastal power plants. Our founder Dorothy Green would be so proud of us, and of our City, for taking these giant steps forward.

the inkwell

1. Celebrated the new listing of the Santa Monica Bay Street Beach in the National Register of Historic Places.

The shoreline at Bay Street in Santa Monica was an active hub of African American beach life during the Jim Crow era. This beach was popular from the 1900s to early 1960s among African Americans, who were barred from enjoying most other southland beaches. Santa Monica’s Bay Street Beach Historic District recent listing in the National Register of Historic Places recognizes this important coastal history.

Since 2013, with the help of African American historian Alison Rose Jefferson, we’ve joined forces with the Black Surfers Collective to honor Nick Gabaldón Day at Santa Monica Bay Street Beach.

Nick Gabaldón (1927-1951) was a pioneering surfer of African American and Mexican American descent. He was the first documented surfer of color in the Santa Monica Bay. Nick Gabaldón Day provides an opportunity for broadening outreach, action and education to connect Angelenos with their cultural, historical and natural heritage.

Now go check out our top Instagram posts from 2019. And view our 2019 wrap up for environmental legislation in California.

December 17, 2015 — 2015 was truly a year of extremes for the Bay. From defeating a dangerous proposal to drill for oil in Hermosa Beach to holding city agencies accountable following a sewage spill at Hyperion, Heal the Bay defended its title as the premier protector of Los Angeles’ ocean and watersheds. It was also our 30th Anniversary–and we definitely proved that 30 year-olds still pack a serious punch!  Read on for a recap of Heal the Bay’s greatest hits of 2015, and scroll to the bottom to make an important year-end donation to keep us going in 2016.



Heal the Bay defeated Measure O in Hermosa Beach


Keeping Big Oil Out of Our Bay

What we did: Our staff and volunteers mobilized a grassroots campaign to defeat Measure O, which would have allowed an oil company to drill underneath the ocean in Hermosa Beach. Thanks to our community outreach and concerted advocacy, voters rejected the harmful project by a nearly 7-to-1 margin last May.

Why it matters: Opening up the Bay for oil exploration would have not only posed great environmental risks, it would have set a dangerous precedent for further industrial exploitation of our local shorelines.

Surfing lesson high-five at Nick Gabaldon Day


Protecting the Health of Beachgoers 

What we did: Working with Stanford University, we launched a new beach water-quality forecasting model this summer, allowing us to predict when local beaches should be closed because of bacterial pollution. Buoyed by our successful pilot at three beaches, we hope to secure funding to expand predictive modeling statewide.

Why it matters: More advance public notification about troubled beaches will better safeguard the millions of people who visit California beaches each year.


Hyperion Treatment Plant sewage spillHolding Polluters Accountable 

What we did: We demanded answers following a horrifying sewage spill from the Hyperion treatment plant that left South Bay beaches closed for four days and littered with used condoms, tampons and hypodermic needles. We provided constant online updates to the general public, alerted media, and spurred members of the L.A. City Council and the Regional Water Quality Control Board to demand formal contingency plans to prevent future mishaps.

Why it matters: Our advocacy team remains the first and foremost watchdog of the Bay, holding officials’ feet to the fire when warranted to guarantee that our coastline remains safe, healthy and clean.


Ballona WetlandsGuarding Our Few Remaining Wetlands

What we did: Working with a coalition of partners, our staff scientists published a comprehensive set of guidelines for the restoration of Southern California’s quickly dwindling wetlands. The 9-tenet protocol establishes clear and non-negotiable principles for rehabilitating special places like the Ballona Wetlands, which are scheduled to undergo what will likely be a contentious restoration in the next two years.

Why it matters: Highly urbanized Southern California has already lost 95% of its wetlands, which provide critical habitat for plants and animals. They also supply much needed ecosystem benefits like flood control, water purification, fish nurseries, bird watching and other educational opportunities.


Kids at the Touch Tank at the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium

Educating and Inspiring Southern Californians

What we did: Heal the Bay hit two important milestones in our 30-year mission to empower environmental stewards throughout California. In 2015, we welcomed our 1 millionth visitor to our Santa Monica Pier Aquarium, and participants at our all-volunteer beach cleanups picked up our 2 millionth pound of trash.

Why it matters: Scientific studies and regulatory frameworks can only get us so far. Meaningful change in our region requires participation and passion from people and communities who love our beaches and watersheds.

We love what we do, and we’re proud to be the watchdog of Santa Monica Bay. If you value a cleaner ocean and healthier inland communities, please make a year-end donation today.

Make a year-end donation to Heal the Bay  

June 24, 2015 — We love celebrating Nick Gabaldón Day each May, recognizing the first documented surfer of African-American and Mexican descent, and showcasing the heritage of the historical African-American beach site in Santa Monica, formerly referred to as the “Inkwell.” Gabaldón’s legacy and his passion for the ocean has inspired many surfers of color and continues to inspire us. We are so thankful for the support of the following groups and individuals who make this day possible:

And mostly, three cheers to all the brave youth from Alliance Neuwirth Leadership Academy and Concerned Black Men International who took the plunge and surfed their hearts out!

Coastal Cleanup Day – scheduled for Sept. 19th this year – will be here before we know it; thank you, REI for already contributing to help us make the biggest volunteer day on the planet a success.

Nick Gabaldon Day

Today’s guest blogger is Tony Corley, the  founder of the Black Surfing Association, which is partnering with the Malibu Surfing Association on a special paddle out this Saturday, Feb. 28 to honor the legacy of Nick Gabaldon.

The Black Surfing Association has been in existence since 1975. This grouping of surfers was the first of its kind. Our intent and purpose is the continuous search for the unique character and individuality that are so fluidly expressed in dancing — wave dancing that is. 

We are a developing organization — young and old, male and female – that seeks to share the pleasures of oceanic rhythms. Our distinctive group, which is increasing in number, is greatly diversified in our individual perspectives and pursuits.  Our politics, philosophies, vocations and social relations are as varied as our personalities and spiritual realizations.

Yet with our varied lifestyles, we are bonded together by two cosmic forces: blood and water. The blood being our ancestral African roots, and the water being the oceans and seas of the world.  The focal point of this bond is the sharing of the sport and art-form of surfing.

This water sport, believed to have been created by our own oceanic ancients, is enjoyed today throughout the coastal regions of the world.  Though comparatively small in numbers, the black surfing community is passionate and committed. Our community continues to grow.

From this growth of participation and the need to share arose the conception of the Black Surfing Association. Umoja, together as One, let us surf, share, and save our oceans and seas.

The BSA and the MSA will be meeting this Saturday near the Santa Monica Pier to celebrate Nick Gabaldon, the first documented surfer of color in the Los Angeles region. You can register for the paddleout and after-party here.

Heal the Bay couldn’t have produced last Saturday’s amazing Nick Gabaldon Day without the support, generosity and guidance of a number of co-presenters and community partners. First and foremost, we thank the Black Surfers Collective for providing their inspiring vision and on-the-ground organizing skills in co-producing the event. And if it wasn’t for the Surf Bus Foundation, we wouldn’t have witnessed the birth of the next generation of groms!

We’re also grateful to LA County Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Zev Yaroslavsky for making the event possible; the Santa Monica Conservancy and the Santa Monica Co-Opportunity for their contributions; and LA County Lifeguards for ensuring the safety of all surfers.

We stayed warm, nourished and expertly outfitted with donations from Clif Bar, the Association of Surfing Professionals and Body Glove.

Thanks to all, and be sure to check out the event’s Facebook photo album here!

Extra special thanks to Main Street Santa Monica and the Main Street Business Improvement Association for donating a portion of proceeds from Summer SOULstice 2014 to Heal the Bay. Be sure to cruise Main Street this Saturday, 11 a.m. – 7 p.m., for sidewalk sales, live music and more!


Programs director Meredith McCarthy says the shared history of L.A.’s beaches isn’t always black and white.

“History is messy.” That’s what local historian Alison Rose Jefferson told me when we started planning a day to honor Nick Gabaldón. By designating a day to commemorate Nick, we celebrate our shorelines and also recognize the struggle for equality of beach access. In the post-WWII years, Nick became the first documented surfer of color in the Santa Monica Bay. With our partners the Black Surfers Collective and SurfBus, we are again celebrating his passion and legacy on Saturday, June 14, at Bay Street beach in Santa Monica.

In honor of Nick, we are offering free surf lessons and beach exploration with Heal the Bay naturalists and docents from the Santa Monica Conservancy. In the afternoon, there will be free admission to our Aquarium at the Santa Monica Pier. No cleanups, just fun – especially for children visiting from underserved inland communities, many of whom have never even seen the ocean, let alone surfed it. We want people to understand how special Nick Gabaldón was and the incredible backstory of Bay Street. 

Referred to by many whites as “the Inkwell,” Bay Street beach was a safe haven for local African American beachgoers during a time of de facto segregation. I told Alison I didn’t feel right mentioning “the Inkwell” on the flyer announcing Nick Gabaldón Day. “People need to know their history,” she said, and spoke of the importance of remembering places with ugly names—especially as our society continues to grapple with issues surrounding race and ethnicity.

As a young man of African American and Mexican American descent, Nick faced many challenges learning to surf in Jim Crow America, but none of them stopped him from getting into the water. Since he didn’t have access to a car for many years—and you just didn’t see a black man carrying a surfboard on a bus to Malibu in 1949—Nick would sometimes paddle the 12 miles to his favorite spot in the lineup at Surfrider. His grueling trek forces us to recognize how far we’ve come on our shorelines—and how far asea we were when we started. (Tragically, Nick died surfing the Malibu breaks he loved in 1951.)

After watching a documentary about Nick’s life called “12 Miles North: The Nick Gabaldón Story,” I was ready to jump on a board and join the paddle-out for Nick at our inaugural event last year. There was just one problem, though. I can’t surf. I am terrible at it. But by helping to organize Nick Gabaldón Day, I hope I’m doing my part to link people together in a meaningful way.

It’s time to face the messiness of our shared past and address the fact that 70% of African Americans can’t swim. I want to undo all that fear and ignorance that promulgates the misperception that the beach isn’t for everyone. The beach belongs to all of us, and I face the guilt and the ignorance with hope in my heart.

Please join us on June 14 to paddle out for Nick. Or, you can join me on the beach, where I’ll be standing and cheering.


World Oceans Day on June 8 provides us with the welcome excuse to celebrate the vast water body that links us all. We hope you find a way to honor the sea this week!

Last weekend, we honored the legacy of ocean lover Nick Gabaldon, who perished while surfing at the Malibu pier in June 1951. Gabaldon, the first documented L.A. surfer of African and Mexican descent, has inspired local surfers for generations. He continued to serve as inspiration on Saturday when the Black Surfers Collective and Surf Bus Foundation provided free surf lessons to kids from Watts and other inland communities. (You can get the feel for how awesome the day was by listening to this NPR story.)

Huge thank yous to L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and his staff for their support of the day. We are also grateful to historian Alison Rose Jefferson for sharing her work and expertise with us. In addition, we’d like to thank the following supporters:

As part of the Nick Gabaldon Day celebration, we debuted our new mobile educational game SurfGod for the iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch. While we think the app is super fun, a lot of work went into it. We’d like to thank Matt Fairweather from Torrid Games who dedicated countless hours to making the eco app such a huge success! We’re already at 1000 downloads! Download it for free today and let us know what you think.

Download the Nick Gabaldon Day coloring book pages from the aquarium here.

A big thank you also goes to two partners who made Heal the Bay’s first gay Pride event a memorable success. Thank you to American Apparel for printing our ultra-cute neon yellow tank tops and to Roosterfish bar for hosting the after-party.

We hope you enjoy LA Pride and World Oceans Day this weekend!

Consult our calendar for more ocean celebrations all summer.

Most surfers know Bay Street beach for its easily-accessible, often fun waves. But on June 1 we’ll be celebrating more than just a sweet surf spot. We’ll be honoring the memory of Nick Gabaldon, an ocean pioneer, the first documented surfer of African American and Mexican descent. Aside from being where Gabaldon experienced the ocean for the first time, the site itself holds cultural significance as a shoreside haven for African Americans during the Jim Crow era.

Here, historian Alison Rose Jefferson shares her thoughts about the cultural complexities of Bay Street/Inkwell as an historical site.

On June 1 we celebrate our shared California seaside, cultural and historical heritage, and outreach to promote the joys of surfing and the beach, historical studies and ocean stewardship. This event is also a way of using historic preservation, nature conversation and environmental justice movement ideals to engage broader audiences in the preservation and ocean stewardship of our precious cultural, natural and historical heritage.

The City of Santa Monica officially recognized the historical African American beach gathering place controversially known as the “Inkwell” during the nation’s Jim Crow era and Nick Gabaldon, with a landmark monument at Bay Street and Oceanfront Walk on February 7, 2008. This site and Gabaldon were locally recognized for cultural and social history significance, rather than architectural or natural aesthetics significance.

This kind of designation infusing a cultural and natural resource site with complexities of human history and experiences strengthens both the historic preservation and nature conservation movements by giving them a critical dimension beyond beauty, rarity and environmental protection. From an environmental justice viewpoint, the inclusion of this history is symbolic of limited social change and pushes forth a sense of shared cultural belonging and common membership in American society that helps in forming a basis for social progress and action in the future.[i]

In the more recent decades, the historic preservation movement has reconsidered the definition of what is worth protecting. Now there is an understanding of a need for a definition going beyond architectural significance in the traditional sense. The movement has slowly acknowledged there are layers of history at sites that deserve recognition, even when those layers affect the original character of the building or there is no extant building.[ii]

Sense of place stories, intangible cultural heritage or social value are the “heritage” that makes many historic sites important to communities of color. These types of social value sites remain a tough sell in many circles of preservation, as well as nature conservation. In order for the historic preservation movement to be relevant in diverse communities, it is slowly finding its way towards more recognition and affirmation of such sites and landmarks.[iii]

The inclusion of the ethnic history such as that of the Inkwell and Nick Gabaldon in the cultural landscape of Santa Monica requires engaging the painful as well as the prideful aspects of the past. Place memory and stories, and human connection are entwined with the built and the natural environment, creating a repository of environmental memory at these cultural landscapes. The Inkwell/Gabaldon monument creates an identified sense of place and inclusive social history in the landscape, allowing for a more culturally inclusive, shared civic identity, and history encompassing public process and memory.[iv]

All this being said, there are still large influential segments of white America, even in Los Angeles County, that continue to have a problem dealing with an identity as a more diverse nation, and the loss of “whiteness” as a defining feature of the dominant group’s American identity. Further this group continues to lag at embracing painful aspects of the past and the breadth of human experience in the nation’s history as a more complex multiracial landscape to see a common destiny. Popular memory of many historical events and sites has proven difficult to extricate or add new information to, even with new scholarship and more enlightened historical and cultural site administrators who began work in the 1990s.

African Americans pioneered leisure in America’s “frontier of leisure” through their attempts to create communities and business projects, as Southern California’s black population grew during the nation’s Jim Crow era. With leisure’s reimagining into the center of the American Dream, black Californians worked to make leisure an open, inclusive, reality for all. They made California and American history by challenging racial hierarchies when they occupied recreational sites like the Bay Street/Inkwell site, and public spaces at the core of the state’s formative, mid-20th century identity.[v]

Black communal practices and economic development around leisure created these sites, marking a space of black identity on the regional landscape and social space. Through struggle over these sites, African Americans helped define the practice and meaning of leisure for the region and the nation, confronted the emergent power politics of leisure space, and set the stage for them as places for remembrance of invention and public contest.

At leisure and recreational spaces, systematized white racism in ethnically diverse Los Angeles was most consistently targeted at African Americans. Yet they proved this regional style of racism more readily challengeable than elsewhere in the country. From working class roots, Nick Gabaldon participated in the sport of surfing at this time when bigotry and prejudice where not far away on land or in the ocean. His courage and dedication have empowered many to pursue their passion of surfing and other human experiences. His and others actions are the local stories historians identify as “document[ing] a national narrative of mass movement to open recreational facilities to all Americans.” In reconsidering the formation of California’s leisure frontier, scholars have moved beyond examination of economic and political issues, to demonstrate how the struggle for leisure and public space also reshaped the long civil rights movement.[vi]

Strategies may vary, but both historic preservation and nature conservation movements focus on the fundamental need to keep all the unique and irreplaceable pieces of our heritage intact for all people to enjoy. The nature conservation movement’s engagement of broader and more culturally inclusive audiences can be enhanced by developing the cultural and historical heritage of natural sites such as the Inkwell to reach specific audiences and align with community values. Both movements must acknowledge that issues of race, diversity and social justices are entwined with heritage matters. Inclusion of the language of injustice, discrimination, inequity and racism in the natural, cultural and historic heritage discussion acknowledges the continuing struggle to totally dismantle these conditions, which in more places than some may want to recognize continues inhibiting communities of color from full civic participation, human experiences, and civil society entitlements.

The Nick Gabaldon Day beach celebration, and, the identification of the historical Bay Street/Inkwell beach site as a local landmark, and as a Heal the Bay/International Coastal Cleanup site opens the door towards environmental justice by recognizing that communities of color have a right to historical and cultural sites, along with clean air, water and enjoyment of America’s nature resources.

These broad public process activities bring the work of the historic preservation, nature conservation and environmental justice movements together, giving us an amazing opportunity for action, education, remembrance of our collective history and shared cultural identity, and, new ways to connect people with natural, cultural and historical heritage. United by our love of the ocean, we remember the past and move forward together as stewards of this precious environment and cultural touchstones.

–Alison Rose Jefferson is a doctoral candidate in Public History/American History at University of California, Santa Barbara and a consultant on Nick Gabaldon Day celebration, June 1, 2013 event. She is the author of “African American Leisure Space In Santa Monica: The Beach Sometimes Known as the ‘Inkwell.’” Southern California Quarterly, 91/2 (Summer 2009). Her website, “Celebrating the California Dream: A Look at Forgotten Stories” is at

To learn more about Nick Gabaldon’s legendary surfing athleticism and why he inspires many surfers of color and otherwise to consider him a role model, you can read the encyclopedia entry entitled “Nick Gabaldon (1927-1951).” 

Join us at the Nick Gabaldon Day, Saturday, June 1, 2013 celebration with the Black Surfers Collective, Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, the Santa Monica Conservancy, the Surf Bus Foundation, among others.  

[i] Delores Hayden, The Power of Place, Urban Landscapes as Public History (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press), 8-9; Ned Kaufman, Place, Race, and Story, Essays on the Past and Future of Historic Preservation (New York: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group), 307.

[ii] Stephanie Meeks, “Sustaining The Future,” California Preservation Foundation Conference: Preservation on the Edge, Santa Monica, California, May 16, 2011, 5-7.

[iii] Ibid., Meeks, 6; Kaufman, 2-5, 12-13, 326; Hayden, 7-13, 15, 22, 46-48, 54.

[iv] Ibid., Hayden, 11, 227.

[v] Lawrence Culver, The Frontier of Leisure, Southern California and the Shaping of Modern America (New York, NY: Oxford University Press), 1-14.

[vi] Culver, 66; Victoria C. Wolcott, Race, Riots, and Roller Coasters, The Struggle over Segregated Recreation in America (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012), 2-3, 6; Jacquelyn Dowd Hall, “The Long Civil Rights Movement and the Political Uses of the Past,” Journal of American History 91, 4 (March 2005): 1-28.