Wonderful day you and [all] planned. My daughter Asha has repeated the Nick story over and over to friends and family.
Lifeguard and Water Safety Instructor
Santa Monica, California, Email/6 June 2013
Heard about you guys on NPR. Shout out from Jacksonville, Florida!
Comments on the Black Surfers Collective Facebook page/3 June 2013
We had a delightful day with several hundred appreciative people visiting the place sometimes referred to as the “Inkwell,” the gathering place of African Americans during the nation’s Jim Crow era of racial restrictions on many areas of life, even on some recreational public space. The day of celebration around the pioneering African American and Mexican surfer Nick Gabaldón (1927-1951) and others that have come before us, included many youth, and a few adults, from the Los Angeles County region learning to stand on surfboards for the first time. All attending learned about local history, ocean stewardship and marine biology.
I and the other members of this year’s Nick Gabaldón Day organizing team are especially appreciative that Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and his staff joined us to support this educational and recreational programming of the Black Surfers Collective (BSC) and Heal the Bay.
Thanks to all the other groups who supported the programming: Surf Bus Foundation, the Santa Monica Conservancy, Clif Bar, BlackSurfing.com, the California Historical Society, the Sierra Club Outdoors, Rusty’s on Santa Monica Pier, the LA County Lifeguards, CYA in California, Santa Monica Co-op, Dan Cobley from DANC Surfboards and Jeffrey Sudzin from Om Surfboards.
Highlights of Nick Gabaldón Day
The day’s event opened on the sand with Dr. Alvin McKinney playing a jazzy rendition of the national anthem on saxophone and libations were offered by Nana Gyamfi. In the sea BSC’s Jeff Williams lead a paddle out for Nick Gabaldón and the ancestors. Historian Alison Rose Jefferson spoke about the significance of Nick Gabaldón and the Inkwell site to regional and national history.
Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas unveiled the new portrait of Nick Gabaldon. Richard Wyatt, a Los Angeles artist known for his many history-based public art projects, painted this inspired artwork, commissioned by native Angeleno and surfer Rick Blocker. Historic Preservation and Naturalist educators were on hand to broaden the experience for those on the beach, along with volunteers offering surfing instruction to young and old event attendees. Take a listen to Karen Grigsby Bates’ NPR story to get the flavor of the morning activities on the beach.
After lunch the activities moved to Heal the Bay’s Aquarium at Santa Monica Pier, where admission was free for the afternoon. KPFK FM Radio Show Host and BSC member Dedon Kamathi acted as MC for the afternoon, with colorful and politically astute commentary introducing the films shown that afternoon, “12 Miles North” about Nick’s life and “White Wash” about the complexities of race using the ocean as a lens. Educator and BSC member Tejvir Grewall was a fabulous guest storyteller, moving around with enthusiasm and theatrics that engaged the audience of kids and adults.
Nick Gabaldón Day coloring book pages were introduced and are still available for download at the Heal the Bay website. On their heads, several kids as well as an adult or two, were showing off their freshly colored and constructed “Nick Gabaldón Day Wave Crowns.”
Very popular with afternoon visitors was taking photographs in front of the surfing backdrop in Heal the Bay’s Aquarium outdoor space provided by Rusty’s Surf Ranch Restaurant on the Santa Monica Pier. Upstairs Rusty’s created special Nick Gabaldón Day drinks for the day, and offered discounts on food and beverage for the day to anyone who mentioned the event, the Black Surfers Collective, or Heal the Bay.
The Significance of Nick Gabaldón to Southern California Surfing and the Nation
As a teenager, Gabaldón began surfing in the Pacific Ocean at the Bay Street beach. Anglos referencing the skin color of the beach-goers who visited the area derogatorily called this beach the “Inkwell.” Gabaldón and other African Americans in Southern California, however, transformed the hateful moniker into a badge of pride.
Gabaldón’s courage and dedication have empowered many for generations to see him as a role model as they pursue their passion of surfing and other human experiences as he did. He challenged racial hierarchies when he surfed and when he and other people of color, hung out at the beach public spaces that were at the core of California’s formative mid-century identity.
His and others actions are the local stories historians identify as “document[ing] a national narrative of mass movement to open recreational facilities to all Americans.” In reconsidering the formation of California’s leisure frontier, scholars has moved beyond examination of economic and political issues, to demonstrate how the struggle for leisure and public space also reshaped the long civil rights movement.
In 2008 the City of Santa Monica officially recognized the historical African American beach gathering place controversially known as the “Inkwell” during the nation’s Jim Crow era (1900s-1964) and Nick Gabaldón, with a landmark monument at Bay Street and Oceanfront Walk. Nick Gabaldón Day joins this Inkwell/ Gabaldón monument to further support an identified sense of place and inclusive social history in the landscape, which allows for a more culturally inclusive shared civic identity, and history encompassing public process and memory.
I and the other team members who organized Nick Gabaldón Day, hope everyone learns more about the regional and national history of the Inkwell and individuals such as Nick Gabaldón, and that people will connect this to their enjoyment of the ocean, action, education, and remembrance of our collective history and shared cultural identity. United by our love of the ocean, we remember the past and move forward together as stewards of this precious environment and cultural touchstones.
You can learn more about the significance of Nick Gabaldón to Los Angeles County history by listening to Larry Mantle’s “AirTalk” interview with me on KPCC, and Avishay Artsy’s “Which Way, LA?” discussion on KCRW.
Celebrating Nick Gabaldón goes on all summer! Free Pan African Beach Day surf classes will be happening July–October, the first Sunday of the month. For more information go to: Black Surfers Collective Facebook page.