Commemorates Ink Well Beach,
First Black Surfer
By Anita Varghese
September 19 -- Ink Well
Beach, the 200-square-foot portion
of Santa Monica State Beach that was
once roped off and reserved only for
African-Americans, will soon be awarded
its own commemorative plaque by the
||The City Council
directed staff last year to research
options for creating a plaque
in honor of Ink Well Beach and
surfer Nicolas “Nick”
Rolando Gabaldon, who is historically
considered to be the first African-American
Rhonda Harper, an African-American
female surfer, asked the City
to install the plaque because
many African-Americans and other
minorities still frequent the
former Ink Well Beach site between
Bay and Bicknell streets south
of Santa Monica Pier.
She said many beachgoers have no
idea about the history behind Ink
Well Beach or of the Gabaldon legend.
“There are two heroes here
in Santa Monica that have not been
recognized -- Nick Gabaldon and the
Ink Well Beach,” Harper said.
“My nieces and nephews look
at me as a hero, because there are
no other black female surfers that
they know of. I have surfed everywhere,
but this one particular spot in Santa
Monica is so important to me, and
I feel the City of Santa Monica should
Harper said she surfs in Los Angeles,
Hawaii and Costa Rica, among other
Currently, the Ink Well Beach site
is home to a storm drain and a Millennium
Tree that comes with a plaque.
However, the tree plaque does not
identify the location as a popular
beach hangout for segregated African-Americans.
A new bronze plaque, approximately
20-by-24 inches, will be mounted on
a large boulder and placed in a landscaped
area adjacent to the intersection
of the bike path and the boardwalk
that extends out onto the beach.
The location was selected to offer
the public an opportunity to learn
about one historical aspect of one
specific stretch of the beach without
impacting existing landscaping, said
Jessica Cusick, Cultural Affairs manager.
Staff consulted with the Black Surfing
Association, Santa Monica Conservancy
and historian Alison Rose Jefferson
to write the three paragraphs to be
engraved on the plaque, which will
“The Ink Well”
A Place of Celebration and Pain
The beach near this site between
Bay and Bicknell Streets, known by
some as the Ink Well, was an important
gathering place for African-Americans
long after racial restrictions on
public beaches were abandoned in 1927.
from Santa Monica, Venice and Los
Angeles, as early as the 1920s to
the end of the Jim Crow era in the
1950s, preferred to enjoy the sun
and surf here because they encountered
less racial harassment than at other
“In the 1940s, Nick Gabaldon,
a Santa Monica High School student
and the first documented black surfer,
taught himself how to surf here.
Gabaldon was born February 23, 1927
in Los Angeles and is actually of
African-American and Hispanic descent.
He lived most of his life in Santa
Monica and was one of 50 African-American
students to attend and graduate from
Santa Monica High School in the 1940s.
As a teenager, he learned to surf
at Ink Well Beach with a wooden surfboard
borrowed from a friendly Caucasian
In the 1940s, roughly 2,000 African-Americans
lived in Santa Monica and created
a thriving community of well-attended
churches and successful businesses
at the neighborhood end of Ink Well
Lloyd C. Allen became Santa Monica’s
first African-American millionaire
with his Allen Janitorial Supply business,
which opened in 1949 at the corner
of Fourth Street and Pico Boulevard.
After graduation, Gabaldon joined
the United States Navy and fought
in the last months of World War II
between 1945 and 1946. With his Navy
enlistment over, he returned to Santa
Monica in 1946 and enrolled in Santa
He spent his time studying at the
local college and honing his surf
skills with better surfboards at Ink
The waves were higher and more challenging
at Malibu’s Surfrider Beach,
Gabaldon learned in 1949.
Other legendary surfers of the 1940s
and 1950s such as Ricky Grigg, Matt
Kivlin, Mickey Munoz, Bob Simmons
and Buzzy Trent were in awe at Gabaldon’s
Malibu surfing abilities and counted
him as their close friend.
He made Surfrider Beach his surfing
home, but initially had difficulty
making the 12-mile trip north from
Not owning a car, he tried to hitchhike
along the Pacific Coast Highway, but
most drivers refused to stop for the
tall, muscular African-American man.
Gabaldon found a novel way to reach
Malibu -- by paddling on his surfboard
across Santa Monica Bay nearly each
day until his untimely death at age
He died on June 6, 1951 when he slammed
into the Malibu Pier after riding
a strong south swell estimated by
witnesses to be 10 feet high.
His surfboard was found immediately,
but his body washed ashore on Las
Flores Beach a few days later and
is now buried at Santa Monica’s
Woodlawn Memorial Cemetery.
The Gabaldon legend continues after
the discovery of an ominous poem,
“Lost Lives,” which he
wrote on May 31, 1951, six days before
he died at Surfrider Beach.
The capricious ocean so very
Robust, powerful, can I be wrong?
Pounding, beating upon its cousin
Comes it clapping, rapping with a
The sea vindictive, with waves
For me to battle and still they die.
Many has it taken to its bowels below,
Without regards it thus does bestow,
Its laurels to unwary men.
With riches taken from ships
Its wet song reaches to the sky,
To claim its fallen manmade birds,
And plunge them into depths below,
With a nauseous surge.
Scores and scores have fallen
To the salt of animosity,
And many more will victims be,
Of the capricious, vindictive sea.
O, avaricious ocean so very strong,
Robust, powerful, I’m not wrong.
Pounding, beating upon your cousin
Come you clapping, rapping with a