Surfing pioneer and historic African-American beach hangout commemorated with day of family-friendly ocean activities on June 1
On Saturday, June 1, Heal the Bay, the Black Surfers Collective, Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas’ office, the Santa Monica Conservancy and other groups will celebrate Southern California’s multicultural ocean heritage by honoring the life of Nick Gabaldón (1927–1951), offering a day of free surf lessons and fun beach activities for all ages in Santa Monica.
Nick Gabaldón Day will also bring to life the historic African American beach site at Bay Street – known as the “Inkwell” during the Jim Crow era. Gabaldón, Los Angeles’ first documented surfer of African-American and Mexican descent, frequented the Santa Monica beach spot.
“Nick Gabaldón’s story is not one of just a surfer,” said Ridley-Thomas, chairman of the L.A. County Board of Supervisors. “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.”
Activities will begin at 9 a.m. on June 1 with an ocean blessing ceremony, a memorial paddle-out in Gabaldón’s honor at the Bay Street/Inkwell site (south of Santa Monica Pier, at the intersection of Bay Street and Ocean Front Walk) with the Los Angeles County Lifeguards and surf lessons from the Black Surfers Collective and Surf Bus Foundation. In addition, local historians will highlight the beach’s historical and cultural significance.
“Even if they had access to the regional beaches, a desire to pursue surfing and the financial means to purchase the necessary equipment, non-whites would have needed courage and dedication to be a participant in this particular, small surfing group that was associated with white Southern Californians and people of the South Pacific,” said Alison Rose Jefferson, a doctoral candidate in Public History/American History at University of California, Santa Barbara and a historic preservation consultant who helped coordinate the event with Heal the Bay. “Although he experienced a common bond in the water among the surfing community, prejudice was not far away on land in the U.S. or in the ocean.”
Dozens of kids – many of whom may be visiting the beach for the first time– from local youth organizations, such as the Watts /Willowbrook Boys and Girls Club, will attend the event. The surf lessons are open to the public, but reservations must be made in advance. (See healthebay.org/nickgabaldon for more information.) In addition, Heal the Bay naturalists will serve as guides to the beach’s habitat.
At an afternoon ceremony on the beach beginning at 12:30, a portrait of Gabaldón painted by Richard Wyatt, commissioned by Rick Blocker of BlackSurfing.com will be unveiled.
Later in the afternoon, Heal the Bay’s Santa Monica Pier Aquarium (1600 Ocean Front Walk) will also screen 12 Miles North and White Wash, documentaries that explore the life of Gabaldón and black surfing history. The facility will also host children’s story time and craft activities. Admission will be free.
In addition, Heal the Bay will premiere its SurfGod HtB iPhone/iPad app, produced in partnership with Torrid Games, featuring a surfer character inspired by Gabaldón. The app is available at healthebay.org/surfgod
“We see June 1 as a day to celebrate Southern California’s beaches and surf culture, as well as promote ocean stewardship in youth throughout Los Angeles,” said Meredith McCarthy, Heal the Bay’s programs director. “Every Los Angeles community is connected to the beach and ocean through local waterways. To this end, the health of our communities mirrors the health of our waterways and ocean. They are inextricably linked.”
Through its Healthy Neighborhoods, Healthy Environment initiative, Heal the Bay highlights this connection by bringing thousands of kids each year on school field trips to the beach and local creeks/rivers, coordinating inland cleanups along our waterways such as Compton Creek, Ballona Creek, Malibu Creek, and the L.A. River, and by cultivating green spaces in highly urbanized areas.
Nick Gabaldón Day sponsors include The Black Surfers Collective, BlackSurfing.com, Rusty’s on the Pier, Santa Monica Conservancy, California Historical Society, and Sierra Club.
About Nick Gabaldón
The Bay Street/Inkwell site was a popular beach hangout for African Americans during the nation’s Jim Crow era, from the 1900s to 1960s. Gabaldón surfed in the waters off Bay Street, as well as Malibu, often paddling 12 miles to reach the waves at Surfrider. While a student at Santa Monica College, Gabaldón perished in a surfing accident at the Malibu Pier in 1951. However, Gabaldón’s influence is still felt among surfers, who recognize him as a role model and pioneer.
In 2008, the City of Santa Monica officially recognized the “Inkwell” and Gabaldón for their cultural significance in local, California and U.S. history.
About Heal the Bay
Heal the Bay is a non-profit environmental organization making Southern California coastal waters and watersheds, including Santa Monica Bay, safe, healthy and clean. We use science, education, community action and advocacy to pursue our mission.
Contact: Matt King, Heal the Bay (310), 451-1500, x 137; cell (310) 463-6266