Nick Gabaldon

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Nicolás Rolando Gabaldón (1927-1951) was an early surfer who is credited by surfing experts with being California's first documented surfer of African-American and Latino descent at a time when many beaches were segregated and opportunities for minorities more limited than today. Despite being an amateur recreational surfer rather than a professional competitive surfer, he is widely considered a role model for his part in the history of surfing and African American history in the areas of Santa Monica and California.

Nick was born February 23, 1927 in Los Angeles, California. His mother was Black and his father was Latino. 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 [3]. In 1924, after the forced closure of black owned and operated Bruce's Beach [4] and due to de facto segregation, that portion of beachfront near Bay Street and Ocean Bouelvard became the only place in Southern California that racial minorities were freely allowed to use without harassment or violence.[1] The area remains popular with African American Angelenos up through present day.

Accomplishments[edit]

After serving in the Navy Reserve 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 mainland surf pioneers. His friends and surf contemporaries included Greg Noll, Mickey Munoz, Ricky Grigg, Matt Kivlin, Buzzy Trent, Robert Wilson Simmons aka "Bob Simmons".[2] and Les Williams. Since he did not own a vehicle, Nick would either get there by hitchhiking on the Pacific Coast Highway, or he would use his surfboard to paddle the 12 miles to Malibu by way of Santa Monica Bay. According to the Encyclopedia of Surfing, Nick did this water commute each day for several weeks.

On June 5, 1951 (some reports cite June 6), Nick died when he crashed into the Malibu Pier while attempting a surfing move known as a "pier ride" or "shooting the pier"[5]. 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 east of the Pier. The coroner ruled that Nick died as a result of drowning. Most of his Malibu-based surfing peers had attended Nick's rosary. His funeral was held at St. Monica Catholic Church, Santa Monica. He is buried in Woodlawn Memorial Cemetery.[3]

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. The poem was published in its entirety in the now defunct newspaper Santa Monica Evening Outlook

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, Franzie, refers to her parents being opposed to her surfing because of what happened to that "colored boy" who crashed into the pier. No such reference is made in any of the subsequent films.

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.[4] The plaque was officially dedicated on February 7, 2008.

References[edit]

Further reading[edit]

Book:

Encyclopedia of Surfing by Matt Warshaw [6]

Magazine Articles:

  • Surfer Magazine, Vol. 24 #8, August 1983
  • The Surfer's Journal, Vol 14, #1 Early Spring 2005

Newspaper Articles:

  • Popular CC Youth Dies In Surf Tragedy,Santa Monica Evening Outlook, 6 June 1951
  • Grim Foreboding Stalks Through Lines Of Poem by Tragedy Fated Student, Santa Monica Evening Outlook, 14 June 1951
  • L.A. Then and Now: In 'Whites Only' Era, an Oasis for L.A.'s Blacks, Cecilia Rasmussen, Los Angeles Times, 3 July 2005 [7]

External links[edit]