Nick Gabaldon Day celebrates surfing pioneer today in Santa Monica


Nick Gabaldon, a Santa Monica High School student who in the 1940s became the first documented surfer of African American and Mexican descent, is being celebrated Saturday with a number of activities at Santa Monica Beach.

Sponsored by Heal the Bay, the event features free surfing lessons from the Black Surfers Collective and other groups and a welcome ceremony that will include paddling out to sea in a tribute to Gabaldon. Free admission will also be offered at the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium.

There will be two screenings of a documentary on Gabaldon’s life called “12 Miles North: The Nick Gabaldon Story” at the aquarium. Screenings will be at 1:45 and 4:15 p.m.


Among those attending the event will be youngsters from the Watts/Willowbrook Boys and Girls Club. Activities will run from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

In the 1940s Jim Crow-era, blacks were not welcome at most Southern California beaches. But Gabaldon was undaunted and often paddled 12 miles north to Malibu to surf.

“Nick Gabaldon’s story is not one of just a surfer,” Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said in a statement. “It is about a man who refused to be held back by limitations imposed on him. He was determined to live his life to the fullest and paved the way for generations of young people to follow in his footsteps.”

Gabaldon died in 1951 in a surfing accident in Malibu at the age of 24.


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