In honor of Black History Month, the Active Team attended the premiere of 12 Miles North: The Nick Gabaldon Story at the iconic Montalbán Theater in Los Angeles. This film, made possible by Nike Surfing, was directed by Richard Yelland as an homage to Nick Gabaldon — the first documented African American surfer. The evening was steeped in emotion, as carefully curated images, art and performances, when paired together, recreated the spirit of this stoic yet poetic creature that transcended both race and physical restraints.
Nick Gabaldon was a naturally gifted young man, that had a thirst for adventure and a unique love of the water. He found a home at Santa Monica’s beach for African Americans called, “The Ink Well”, in the early 50s…and from there, took it upon himself to paddle “12 Miles North” to Malibu is search of better surf and more challenging conditions. When he arrived at Malibu, he was welcomed by local surfers (and coincidentally some of the pioneers of American surfing) based on his sheer athletic ability, his charisma, and overall gentle spirit. During this period, the color of ones skin determined not only what you were allowed to do, but where you were allowed to do it. According to The Inertia, a partner of the documentary, it “institutionally prevented many blacks from accessing the ocean (and swimming pools) through a variety of latently racist legislation encouraged by Jim Crow laws, which weren’t formally dismantled until 1965 when Lyndon B. Johnson passed the Voting Rights Act.” So the fact that Nick was able to rise above this stigma, and find his home in the water, literally moved us to tears on several occasions throughout the film.
Surf Relics provided by The Surfing Heritage Foundation
This story however, does not have a Hollywood ending. The same force that drove Nick Gabaldon into the ocean, was the same force that eventually took his life, as he died trying to shoot the pier in Malibu on June 5, 1951. The impact that Nick had on his community of (white) surfers, some in their 60s and 70s now, could be felt as they relived their final, painful moments with Nick for the audience.
Ironically enough, Nick must have felt some ominous energies approaching, as he submitted a poem — which artist Peter Spacek etched onto a surfboard from the 50s for the premiere — to the Santa Monica City College literary magazine entitled “Lost Lives”:
The sea vindictive, with waves so high,
For me to battle and still they die…
Scores and scores have fallen prey,
To the salt of animosity,
And many more will victims be,
Of the capricious, vindictive sea.
Artwork provided by Peter Spacek
Before the film started, the audience was treated to a multidisciplinary performance by the Lula Washington Dance Theater. The troupe was able to capture not only the spirit of Nick Gabaldon with incredible passion and precision, they were able to carve out a new chapter for the next generation of surfers, poets and athletes, black or white #findyoursurf - Jeanine Pesce
Performance by The Lula Washington Dance Theater
Visit Nike Surfing’s Facebook Page to download the film