Feb 18

Paso resident in new film about black surfer Nick Gabaldon

You wouldn’t expect there to be a lot of Black History Month stories that deal with surfing because, well — there just aren’t that many¬†African-American surfers, even today. But the first documented African-American surfer in America goes way back to the 1940s.

A new short documentary on that surfer, Nick Gabaldon, can be seen here. “12 Miles North,” sponsored by Nike, includes interviews with many of the surfers who knew Gabaldon — and those who witnessed his tragic ending. It also has two local connections: It talks of surf legend Buzzy Trent — whose daughter, Anna Moore, lives in San Luis Obispo — being the first person to encourage Gabaldon to surf. And Tony Corley, a Paso Robles resident who founded the Black Surfing Association, is interviewed. (Corley, by the way, wrote this piece on black surfing for The Inertia earlier this week.)

When Gabaldon began surfing, African-Americans were segregated to a beach called the Ink Well in Santa Monica. But because he knew Malibu was the best place for waves, he would paddle from the Ink Well to Malibu — 12 miles — for a surf session. There he was accepted and befriended by surfers like Mickey Munoz and Peter Cole.

Tragically, Gabaldon died in 1951 while trying to shoot the pier on an unusually large day.

Many of his surfers were there when he disappeared. And, as they tearfully recall in this film, they were also there when his body was found.

It’s good to hear these guys — who are getting up ther in years — talk about Gabaldon, whose life represents an interesting look into African-American history at the California coast. While the movie’s untrue “you can do anything you want” ending is a cheesy, Nike marketing driven closer, the rest of the film is a fine tribute and historical recording.

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