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The History of Surfing & Nick Galbaldon's Legacy

Updated: Oct 22, 2022

There is more to surfing than mounting a board and traveling on a wave, it takes a sense of balance, confidence and finding solidarity with the Sea.

As early as the 12th century, history tells us surfing activities were documented in Polynesian cave paintings depicting people riding on waves. Sometime during the 19th century Polynesians brought surfing to Hawaii where interest in the sport increased. During that time Europeans made frequent excursions oppressing the inhabitants making it difficult for them to continue surfing.

Christian missionaries continued colonizing Hawaii demanding the residents convert to Christianity and attend church, in addition the Islanders were required to dress according to the guidelines established by the church, and though surfing lost influence during the European take-over, it was never completely forgotten by the inhabitants.

Travel book notaries like Mark Twain and Jack London capitalized on the dwindling surf interest and began reporting on the sport arousing curiosity once again with Europe.

In 1912 the Olympic Games showcased a famous Hawaiian surfer, Duke Kahanamoku, who won the meter freestyle race using surfing techniques.

After the Olympics, Kahanamoku went on tour introducing surfing around the world and by 1959 when Hawaii became the 51st U.S. state, tourism and interest in surfing had quadrupled.

Surfing legend Nick Gabaldon, America’s first Black/Latino surfer taught himself how to surf.

Born in Los Angeles on February 23,1927, he spent his early years practicing at the Santa Monica Beachfront area known as the Inkwell or the Negro Beach, where people of color were allowed to swim.

After serving in the Navy Reserve during World War II he attended Santa Monica College and in his spare time worked as a lifeguard all the while perfecting his surfing technique.

Around 1949 without hesitancy, Nick was accepted as a professional surfer with the Surfrider Beach group. Because he didn’t have a car he often hitchhiked and had to scramble to attend the competitions, paddling twelve miles each day from the Santa Monica Bay to make the events.

Not much is known about Nick’s surfing achievements from 1949 to 1951 but the fact that he was quickly accepted into an elite group of surfers without any formal training is a good indication his surf skill was exceptional.

Nick died untimely in a surfing accident at the Malibu Pier in 1951 at the age of 24 while attempting a surfing move known as the “pier ride.” Reports say he crashed into the Malibu Pier; an area known for large waves; his surfboard was found immediately, but it took several days before his body washed up on Las Flores Beach east of the Pier.

The coroner ruled his death an accident without foul play, it is unclear whether there were any witnesses or how extensive the investigation entailed. Malibu Lagoon had huge impact on the surfing culture, unfortunately Nick’s premature death left him out of the surfing boom that began in the late 50s.

Fortunately, a host of Black Surfers are following Gabaldon’s lead including Sharon Schaeffer, the first Black female professional surfer, Mary Mills, and newcomers, Jessa Williams, Gage Crismond, Nina Stouffer, Dominque Miller, Kimiko Russell Halterman, Autumn Kitchens and Nina Stouffer of Jacksonville, Florida.

Sharon Schaeffer, America's first Black female professional surfer

Nigerian sufer, Tamarakura Pekipuma

Gigi Lucas of Jacksonville, Florida, founder of SurfearNegra, a nonprofit who teaches surfing

Hunter Jones

Jessa Williams

Mikey February

Jamaican Surfer

Imani Wilcot, founder and instructor for Black Girls Surf

Dominque "Nique" Miller

Nikolas Rolando Gabaldon, America's first Black/Latino surfer, image edited by Olivia Meadows

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