Posted on 07/22/2008

Photo taken on June  1, 1951

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African American
Santa Monica
Nick Gabaldon

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An Unheralded Surfer

An Unheralded Surfer
Nicolas Rolando Gabaldon (1927 - 1951), was an early surfer who is credited by surfing experts with being California's first documented surfer of African-American and Hispanic descent. Despite being an amateur rather than a professional competitive surfer, many surfers of color consider him as a role model and an integral part of the history of surfing.

Born in Los Angeles, California, very little is known of his childhood. He lived most of his life in Santa Monica, California and was one of 50 black students at Santa Monica High School during the 1940s. Nick taught himself how to surf at a 200 foot roped off stretch of demarcated beach which was part of Santa Monica State Beach. This area of beachfront was informally referred to by names such as "Ink Well Beach", "Negro Beach", and other more derogatory names.

After serving in the Navy during World War II, Nick enrolled in Santa Monica College, where he divided his time between pursuing his studies, surfing and working as a lifeguard. Around 1949, Nick began surfing in Malibu, California at Surfrider Beach where he was accepted without question by several surf pioneers.

On June 6, 1951, Nick died when he crashed into the Malibu Pier while attempting a surfing move known as a "pier ride" or "shooting the pier". At that time, there was a south swell that came on, creating some of the biggest waves known in that area. Nick's surfboard was found immediately, but it would be 3 to 4 days before his body was found washed up on Las Flores Beach, further west of the Pier. Most of his Malibu-based surfing peers had attended his rosary and funeral. He is buried in Woodlawn Memorial Cemetery in Santa Monica, California. Six days prior to his death, Nick had submitted a poem for submission to the Santa Monica College literary magazine. It was entitled "Lost Lives" where he describes the sea as "capricious", "vindictive" and where men "do battle but still die." Some see the poem as being somewhat prophetic in light of how he died.

There is also a brief reference to Nick's death in the 1957 novel, "Gidget" by Frederick Kohner. He is not mentioned by name, but in the story, the protagonist, Frances Lawrence, refers to her parents being opposed to her surfing because of what happened to that "colored boy" who crashed into the pier.

On September 7, 2007, officials for the City of Santa Monica announced plans to commemorate the stretch of Santa Monica State Beach called the Ink Well, and to post a plaque to honor Nick Gabaldon's contribution to the sport of surf.

Here is another photo of him: