A weekend of cultural activities honors surfing pioneer Nick Gabaldón

Nick Gabaldón, L.A.’s first surfer of African-American and Mexican descent
Portrait by Richard Wyatt

Nick Gabaldón was the first documented surfer of African-American and Mexican descent to ride the waves in Santa Monica Bay, and since 2012 his legacy is remembered during the first weekend in June.

This year Nick Gabaldón Day (celebrated this weekend) not only honors the memory of this pioneering surfer, but also takes a deep dive into the worlds of female surfers, surfers of color and indigenous surfers.

On Sunday, the Annenberg Community Beach House hosts a panel of surf scholars, storytellers, activists and contributors to The Critical Surf Studies Reader for a heady discussion on the cultural complexities of the iconic water sport.

Expect discussions of surfing and feminism, the cultural practices of Peruvian surfing communities, the role of water sports in the lives of enslaved Africans, and the impact of Jim Crow on early beachgoers of color from surf thought leaders such as Dexter Zavala Hough-Snee (co-editor of The Critical Surf Studies Reader), Rice University professor and Institute for Women Surfers cofounder Krista Comer, UC Merced associate professor of history Kevin Dawson, Emmy-winning filmmaker Elizabeth Pepin Silva and local historian Alison Rose Jefferson.

Prep for the discussion the day before, when the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium and Heal the Bay host a day of activities to commemorate Gabaldón at the aquarium and Bay Street Beach. Participate in a memorial paddle out in the a.m., take free surf lessons, attend a pop-up story time, make art during workshops or see screenings of three documentaries exploring the intersection of race and surfing.


— Christina Campodonico

Celebrate Nick Gabaldón Day from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday (June 2) at Santa Monica’s Bay Street Beach (Bay Street and Ocean Front Walk) and from noon to 6 p.m. at the Santa Monica Aquarium (1600 Ocean Front Walk, Santa Monica.) Visit healthebay.org for full schedule. “Critical Surf Studies” happens from 3 to 4 p.m. on Sunday (June 3) at the Annenberg Community Beach House, 415 Pacific Coast Hwy., Santa Monica. Free, but RSVP at beachculture.eventbrite.com