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Wed, 02.23.1927

Nick Gabaldon, California Surfer born

Nick Gabaldon

*Nick Gabaldon was born on this date in 1927. He was an Afro Mexican Surfer and California’s first Black Surfing Legend.

Born Nicolas Rolando “Nick” Gabaldon, Jr. in Los Angeles, California, to Cecilia and Nicolas Gabaldon Sr., he grew up in Santa Monica. As a teenager, Gabaldon began surfing in the Pacific Ocean at the Bay Street beach.  Anglos referencing the skin color of the beachgoers who visited the area called this beach the “Inkwell.”  However, Gabaldon and other Blacks in Southern California transformed the hateful moniker into a badge of pride.

Gabaldon taught himself to surf using the 13-foot rescue surfboard of a white lifeguard he befriended at the Inkwell during World War II. He developed his surfing skills 12 miles north at Malibu Beach. Before the “Gidget” novels and movies, which popularized surfing, legendary surfers such as Bob Simmons, Joe Quigg, and Matt Kivlin respected Gabaldon for his great surfing ability.

He served in the United States Navy from 1945–1946. Upon returning home, he enrolled in Santa Monica College, where he became an honor student and aspiring writer. At the same time, he worked as a U.S. Postal Service letter carrier and resumed surfing. He was often called derogatory names by some white beachgoers but rarely by fellow surfers.

Besides the bigotry reflected in limited beach access, Gabaldon and other early Black surfers had to confront the challenge of purchasing the necessary equipment and having access to transportation that brought them to the best surfing locations.  Nonetheless, Gabaldon endured being a participant in this particular sport though associated mainly with white Southern Californians and the people of the South Pacific.

Nick Gabaldon died in a surfing accident at the Malibu Pier on June 5, 1951.  He was 24. On February 7, 2008, the City of Santa Monica officially recognized surfer Nick Gabaldon and the “Inkwell” with a landmark monument at Bay Street and Oceanfront Walk.

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