Xtreme Factor: Urban Legends Become Real Life Heroes

By Rhonda R. Harper
Updated: May 17, 2007

MANHATTAN BEACH, Ca. – African American surfer’s visiting a beach in Southern California will most likely hear the story of the African American surfer that was killed by hitting the pier at Malibu. No one can give his name, but they can definitely tell you the “Urban Legend.”

If you ask anyone anywhere where is Inkwell Beach? They will most likely say, “Wasn’t that a movie with Lorenz Tate?”

The surfer’s name is Nicolas Rolando Gabaldon, Jr. born to Nicolas and Cecelia Gabaldon, February 23, 1927. Nicolas was the first born to Nicolas Gabaldon, and the second born to Cecelia.

Cecelia had a daughter Geraldine Raines, from a previous marriage. The young couple settled into the Santa Monica area of Los Angeles via Albuquerque, New Mexico and Texas.

Santa Monica during the early 1920′s, had a thriving black owned business community in the area around 4th and Bay St. Black churchgoers patronized Ink well Beach as a means of socializing after church.

Carloads of girls would arrive at the beach to meet suitors and chat. Blacks in the community frequently patronized the bathhouse and dance clubs nearby.

Inkwell Beach, a 200-ft roped off “for Negroes Only” section of Santa Monica’s pristine Gold Coast. During the Jim Crow Era, Inkwell was Nick’s homebreak. It was here that Nick honed his surfing skills. Inkwell Beach, is located South of the Santa Monica Pier and north of Ocean Park’s Pier.

As the coastal land for which the community was built became more valuable, the desire for the pristine property would increase racial tensions. Whites were becoming more antagonistic. Legal measures were taken so that blacks could not purchase beach properties.

When black business owners tried to purchase the Crystal Plunge site in 1924, an area adjacent to land purchased for a new beach club and hotel, they were rejected. The Casa Del Mar Hotel opened its doors in 1926. Fences were put up to keep the “undesirables” out.

Nicolas Gabaldon attended and graduated high school at Santa Monica High School. His love for the water increased by frequently patronizing the stretch of beach known as the Ink well.

Nick befriended several pioneers of surfing while they were working as a lifeguard in Santa Monica. Lifeguard legend Preston “Pete” Peterson is said to be one of the biggest influences on Nick. He even loaned Nick his lifesaving surfboard to ride.

Upon graduation, Nick enlisted in United States Navy near the end of World War II. While stationed at the United States Naval at Great Lakes Nick became a championship boxer.

At the war’s end Nicolas Gabaldon returned to his home in Santa Monica. Nicolas’ surfing skillsimproved and he wanted a new challenge. He then ventured out to the Malibu shores, eventually becoming friends with the elite group of surfers.

Mickey Munoz, legendary surfer says,” Nick took me tandem a few times when I first started surfing, it was an accelerated experience only an expert could guide you to. I think it helped plant the seed of stoke that has lasted all my surfing life.”

“First time I saw Nick, he was surfing by what was known then as the Crystal Plunge. He was tall and handsome. He looked like he was Tahitian or Polynesian.” Les Williams, one of Nick’s best friends recalls the first time he saw Nick surfing in Santa Monica. Les continues, “He was a gentleman. He was accepted and respected by all of us. We didn’t look at color, he was just a friend.”

On June 5, 1951, one of the biggest swell in Malibu history reported wave heights to 10 feet. Surfers came from as far away as San Onofre to catch these giant waves. It was Nick’s first ride of the day and the first wave on his new Bob Simmons balsa wood surfboard.

Nick was not alone on the wave. Nick was on the inside and Bob Hogan was in the rear. As Nick’s ride got closer to the pier, Bob called out for Nick to pull out. Nick tried but was not successful. The board was seen striking the pier.

Nick was nowhere in sight. His friends ran down the beach to his rescue but it was too late Nick was gone. Los Angeles Lifeguards recovered Nick’s body days later at Las Flores Beach. Nick Gabaldon’s untimely death would become a story told for years to come.

Today, the Casa Del Mar Hotel still stands. Inkwell Beach, now a storm drain, is still frequented by blacks. There are black staffed beach clean-ups and inner city youth surf camps are now taking the place of volleyball and dancing. The ropes of separation are long gone, but the spirit of our ancestors still exists.

On February 14, 2006, I went down to Santa Monica City Hall’s chamber meeting and patiently waited to speak. When it was finally my turn to address the council, I requested a commemorative plaque to be placed at the site of Inkwell Beach for the future generations.

The plaque was to be in honor of the patrons of the beach and the tragic loss of an unknown hero. Santa Monica City council members decided that a plaque should be placed at the site.

An email on May 16, 2007 confirmed all anticipation; the plaque and monument will now have a home in a landscaped area at the end of Bay St.