Black Surfers Collective: Riding the tide

The day wasn't bright but it did start early for Jeff Williams co-president of the Black Surfers Collective. “I load my truck, come to the beach and get ready for busloads of kids," said Williams. Around the tent were surfboards, bodysuits, food and lots of surfers ready to introduce Los Angeles area youth to the waves; all free as part of the 4th annual Nick Gabaldon Day on Saturday.

The event put together by Heal The Bay, The Surf Bus Foundation, and The Black Surfers Collective along with a multitude of sponsors honors the legacy of Santa Monica surfer Nick Gabaldon by providing youth the opportunity to do what Nick loved doing most: surf.

“It’s about exposure” says BSC co-president Greg Rachel. “Every time you expose a young person to something new, the chances of them reaching out and wanting to experience something else is greater.”

According to Alison Rose Jefferson, a historian with the Santa Monica Conservancy, Nick Gabaldon was a graduate of Santa Monica High school, a student of Santa Monica College, and a Navy veteran who gained notoriety in the 1940’s for being the first known surfer of African-American and Hispanic descent. Because he didn’t own a car, Gabaldon often paddled his board many miles to other beaches in order to find the best waves.

Gabaldon died while surfing the Malibu pier in 1951. In his honor the city of Santa Monica has declared June 1st Nick Gabaldon Day. His life, while brief, has inspired many people from all backgrounds over the years to take to the waves and to share Nick’s love of the water with others.

The day started with a memorial ceremony and paddle out, something that surfers do to honor those that came before them. After the paddle out the lessons got under with many kids, many of whom were bused in from the inner city, catching waves for the very first time.

Though the Black Surfers Collective is named to honor a man of color, the event and its organizers welcome all without regard to race.

“We ended up with a name with the word black in it because we wanted to be accessible,” says Rachel, who also has a love for the waves and was also once a student of SMC having studied fire science and biology before starting a successful career as a fire fighter. Rachel went on to explain that because the group is trying to include people of color in the surfing life the group decided on a name that was inclusive to blacks and other minorities whom the collective is trying to welcome to surf culture. “The name is out there to connect with others not to separate ourselves from others,” Rachel said.

The event and those who donate their time to it do so to encourage new surfers but also to educate. According to its website, The Surf Bus Foundation and the Surf academy was inspired by the tragic events of June 1998 when a 12 year old girl drowned at Manhattan Beach just feet from where academy founder Mary Setterholm was teaching other children how to swim. Nearly 20 years later instructors like Chris LaFevre, a local surf team coach, whose Santa Monica Surf Acadamy is partnered with Surf Bus was at the beach to continue Setterholm's mission.

“Today I’ve had the honor of taking two kids who had never surfed and they both caught caught waves,” says Le Fevre beaming with pride and enthusiasm. He hopes that those who came for lessons will continue to come back and learn to be comfortable in the water.


Edited June 4, 9:25 a.m.: It was formerly stated in this article that Surf Academy operates in Malibu, which it does not. It has also been clarified that Chris LaFevre is a local surf team coach with Surf Academy.