Nick Gabaldon has been recognized by California’s surf historians as the first surfer of color to emerge from the tight-knit community. Gabaldon has been hailed for breaking barriers in the sport, and serves as an inspiration for other Black and Latino surfers around the world.
Nicolás Rolando Gabaldón was born February 23, 1927 in Los Angeles, Calif. to a Black mother and Latino father. He was raised primarily in the Santa Monica region, and attended Santa Monica High School as one of a handful of students of color. Gabaldon graduated in 1945 and served one year in the United States Navy before returning home and attending Santa Monica College.
The honor student was also an aspiring writer and poet, but the ocean drew him. Gabaldon frequented a Santa Monica beach area known as “Inkwell Beach” or “Negro Beach,” a roped-off section of the beach that separated Black patrons from other parts of the public beach. After befriending a white lifeguard, Gabaldon taught himself to surf using the lifeguard’s rescue board.
Among surfers, Gabaldon was accepted and even loved for his pioneering efforts on the waves. But on July 5, 1951, Gabaldon went out on his surfboard and performed a maneuver that wiped it out from under him. Although Gabaldon’s board was immediately found, his body didn’t wash ashore until three days later.
Today, groups like the Black Surfers Collective honor Gabaldon for his contributions to the sport. In 2008, Los Angeles and Santa Monica named Inkwell Beach as a historic landmark. And on June 1, 2013, Black Surfers Collective, Heal The Bay and the Surf Bus Foundation established Nick Gabaldon Day.
(Photo: Public Domain)