Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on February 16, 2012. “12 Miles North” was just nominated for a Webby. Vote for it here.

The Inertia, in partnership with Nike Surfing, is proud to present the online premiere of 12 Miles North: The Nick Gabaldon story. You can also visit Nike Surfing’s Facebook Page to watch and download the film.

Read more about 12 Miles North below:

Our lives revolve around stories. When told correctly, stories have the power to inspire, challenge, and organize ideas in an otherwise puzzling world. They often provide a framework for understanding ourselves, so when a story realizes its potential, it’s an absolutely transcendent event. Nick Gabaldon’s is one such story. Laden with superlatives, it strikes a deeper place where passion, risk, and iconoclasm intersect.

According to Matt Warshaw, author of The Encyclopedia of Surfing, Nick Gabaldon was the first African American surfer. He learned to surf at an informally segregated beach called “The Inkwell” in Santa Monica in the 1940s and regularly paddled twelve miles north to surf Malibu, one of California’s best waves. In doing so, Gabaldon defied conventions in an America that had 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.

But that’s just context. Forget the racial boundaries he collapsed by simply standing on a surfboard. Instead, ponder the stroke-after-shoulder-burning-stroke that a 12-mile open ocean paddle demands. Gabaldon pursued his passion for surfing to an extent most would never consider, which stands alone as an impressive feat, magnified further by his tragic, yet poignant conclusion.

On June 5, 1951, Nick Gabaldon caught his last wave. During an eight-foot south swell, Gabaldon lost control of his board and struck a piling beneath the Malibu Pier. His board washed up on the beach shortly after. Three days later, lifeguards recovered his body and the small community of (white) surfers who had come to accept and respect Nick mourned.

Eerily, just six days before he passed away, Gabaldon, who was enrolled at Santa Monica City College, submitted a poem entitled “Lost Lives” to the school’s literary magazine. The poem praised the power of the sea and foreshadowed the events of June 5th. Nick wrote:

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.

We can’t pretend to know what Nick was thinking as he glided towards the Malibu Pier on his final wave. And we’ll never know the exact relationship between Nick’s poem and his end. But we can salute the depth of his passion and its cultural import.

As Director Richard Yelland told me, Nick’s story isn’t about surfing. It’s about humanity. It’s about sourcing inspiration from extraordinary ambitions and obstacles like those that Nick confronted and applying them to your own life, whatever that may mean. For Nick, surfing was a vehicle to improve his world. The ocean was his medium, which is fitting because the sea knows no prejudice; it’s the ultimate equalizer. As is a basketball court. Or a soccer pitch. Or a football field. Or, especially, a great story. - Zach Weisberg, Founder, The Inertia

Be sure to check out more editorial celebrating black surf culture on The Inertia:

Read Director Richard Yelland’s take on the making of 12 Miles North.

View original art from artist Peter Spacek for the film.

Read Black Surfing Association President Tony Corley’s piece, “I Have a Dream.”

  • ctwalrus

    I MUST HAVE A COPY OF THIS TO SHOW TO MY HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS!     WOW!     chicken skin as i type….So, how did i get a copy?   OR, should i just ‘sorts bootleg it?     someone email me @   CTwalrus@aol.com  to get a copy

  • http://twitter.com/aquasadj Nick

    wow. awesome little flick. speaks to the heart. especially to those of us who have lost loved ones to the ocean, doing what they loved. 

  • SW

    Kudos Nike & Inertia. Surfing as catalyst for cultural pluralism speaks volumes! Encore, encore…

    • Tripoli

      Agreed. So rare to see editorial and documentaries of substance in surfing – especially done by major companies. This piece had heart and soul and inspiration in spades.

  • Al Baydough

    This is a GREAT PIECE and does much to redeem the Leave a Message tripe and other flash-in-the-pan drivel offered to date. If Nike keeps this kind of thing up I’ll happily eat my words. Now, can we please have an equivalent offering for the women? Or do we want to keep treating them as the hyper-sexualized (as John Lennon calls them) “n*****s of the world?”

    • Tim Hamby

      I knew Al would come around to Nike eventually! … ; ) But yes- props to them for identifying a really interesting, enlightening and surprising subject they might explore and share within the surfing world. Relevant in every way, including their partnership with Zach and this community. Coincidentally, I had an African-American friend reach out last week and ask I’d teach him to surf. Incredibly, the first time that’s happened in many years of surfing, so I’m stoked for the opportunity, and to share this website and film project with him. He’ll love it. He’s also a pretty gifted professional writer, so perhaps once he catches the bug, he’ll share some his own perspective and experience(s).

      • Al Baydough

        Don’t get too excited. Nike still has a lot to prove in the surf world. Money is the easy part, understanding and respecting what makes surfing and the lifestyle so special takes much more than deep pockets and a slick marketing campaign. Time will tell…

        • Wildrnes

          Nike bought Hurley recently. A quick in road into the surf world. Oh yeah and having Bourez, Wilson, Young, and Andino doesn’t hurt as well. Nike still has so much to prove, then again so do the other major surf companies.

          • Al Baydough

            Recently? I think Nike acquired Hurley back in ’02 or so (less than 4 years after Bob Hurley launched the thing – LAME). And absorbing the best YOUNG talent is an old, parasitic corporate tactic because they know that young people are much more easily seduced by flash and cash. It’s also why corporations tend to use ad campaigns that appeal primarily to young minds (and immature ones). 

             For all the talk about how much Americans love underdogs I am increasingly dismayed that they are precisely the ones being thrown under the bus to feed our obsession with bigness. We keep sacrificing integrity for prosperity and in the end we lose both. It is possible to have both, but not if we keep letting the terrible twos be the primary emotional impulse in our drive for success. 

             BTW, Ms. Harper made a very impassioned statement with many salient points. Where’s the rebuttal? Nike’s chorus of crickets isn’t exactly confidence-inspiring – but it is not surprising.

             How about a return to companies “for surfers by surfers?” I wouldn’t buy Nike guitars, either.

          • Tim Hamby

            You know, I tweeted to Nike6 yesterday and also posted on their Nike Surfing Facebook Page requesting a response to Ms. Harper’s comments. An associate within the industry tweeted back telling me not to “hold my breath” waiting for a reply, but I did. Now, I’m turning blue.

            I also see on the Nike Surfing Facebook Page where Rhonda herself posted a link to her story (twice), also with no reply. The non-response could be typical lag time for PR approval within a mega-corp, or possibly their strategic stance (doesn’t merit a reply, particularly since they’ve allowed her to post her piece to their page and have not removed it– a good thing. Imagine Nike having to answer/rebut every online comment.)

            I do know that Nike has boasted about their social media marketing savvy, and the resources (i.e. staff and software) that they have dedicated to listening/monitoring online conversations about their brand. Given the generally positive reception of Nike’s latest promotional efforts in a burgeoning industry sector for them and the gravity of Ms. Harper’s comments, I am surprised they’ve not responded. You may not have to eat your words after all, Al.

            P.S. How about a Rob Machado guitar, Al? The Drifter model. ; ) 

          • Al Baydough

            A Machado guitar? Not if Nikurley or Lite Beer has anything to do with it. If Machado can make a guitar that can handle the abuse I’d hammer-and-claw my way through I’d be down to give ‘er a run. I like Machado, though The Drifter was pretty grandiose. Guitarists like Justin King are more my thing:

            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xon04MB1rDw

            http://justinking.com/

          • Tim Hamby

            You know, I tweeted to Nike6 yesterday and also posted on their Nike Surfing Facebook Page requesting a response to Ms. Harper’s comments. An associate within the industry tweeted back telling me not to “hold my breath” waiting for a reply, but I did. Now, I’m turning blue.

            I also see on the Nike Surfing Facebook Page where Rhonda herself posted a link to her story (twice), also with no reply. The non-response could be typical lag time for PR approval within a mega-corp, or possibly their strategic stance (doesn’t merit a reply, particularly since they’ve allowed her to post her piece to their page and have not removed it– a good thing. Imagine Nike having to answer/rebut every online comment.)

            I do know that Nike has boasted about their social media marketing savvy, and the resources (i.e. staff and software) that they have dedicated to listening/monitoring online conversations about their brand. Given the generally positive reception of Nike’s latest promotional efforts in a burgeoning industry sector for them and the gravity of Ms. Harper’s comments, I am surprised they’ve not responded. You may not have to eat your words after all, Al.

            P.S. How about a Rob Machado guitar, Al? The Drifter model. ; ) 

          • Wildrnes

            Al, I see your point. Yes, it is a bummer that underdogs tend to get thrown under the bus. I can’t speak for this movie though. I haven’t seen it, so I can’t tell what type of impact Nike made on Nick Gabaldon’s legacy. But, when I do get a chance to see it, I will no doubt have Ms. Harper’s comments and sentiments playing in the back of my mind. I will be wondering about Nike’s true intent-was it truly altruistic or straight-up capitalistic? Will it finally give them the edge to be in a minority sport? By this I mean, will it give them an “in” with the small surf market? Surfing is a tiny industry in comparison to other sports, just ask all of the ASP competitiors who make little in comparison to golf, basketball, baseball players. 
             
            Maybe this movie would have earned Ms. Harper’s respect if it was done by the likes of the Malloy bros. and sponsored by Patagonia. They have integrity and sensitivity to issues and stories and yes, they are semi-obscure.

            Yeah, I don’t know the exact year Nike bought out Hurley. My cuz and a few of his buddies left Hurley last year when they learned about the merger/buy-out. Maybe Nick would have done the same. Who knows? 

          • Al Baydough

            Patagonia is an awesome company. Unfortunately, it has an emperor sporting new clothes. And as much as I respect the Malloys as watermen there is a serious disconnect between their romantic visions and the reality of the rest of the world – they also threw a lot of people under the bus many moons ago, when making a spotlight grab to promote themselves, that they owe apologies to. But that’s not my battle and I definitely agree that they would treat a story like this with greater respect and heart than Nike.

             I would say that it’s peculiar that Nike makes a film about a black surfer but doesn’t sponsor one. They do exist and some of the rip.

          • Steven

            This documentary is beautiful and soulful. Period. Honestly, I’m now sure how you could watch it from start to finish and arrive at any other conclusion.

          • Al Baydough

            Did you read Ms. Harper’s post? If you were paying attention you’d notice that I gave the video props at the start but the motivations behind the project are, at the moment, quite suspect.

          • Rhonda R. Harper

             NIKE built a store…just to sell Nick G shirts…inside the theater! Who does that? It was Black History Month and they are selling $50o.00 bomber jackets and Air Force 1′s what does that have to do with Nick..Patagonia and the Malloy’s would have done it with respect and the sense of love and brotherhood for the sport of surfing, not to sell t-shirts to Black children who can’t even afford to purchase one. I love Michel Bourez and I was there when he won in Hawaii for the first time, but a black surfer he is not! HOW CAN YOU “SURF WITH NICK” AND HE IS DEAD!!!!!!???? “The Sell Off of Black Surfing” coming soon.

  • the roller

    First off, my parents are and were Native American’s who grew up in Soy Cal circa 1940…. 

    The positive point being, this Nike film sucked WAY less than Robbie Machado’s The Drifter!Speaking of Rob Machado… Film at eleven!http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H02iwWCrXew

  • the roller

    First off, my parents are and were Native American’s who grew up in Soy Cal circa 1940…. 

    The positive point being, this Nike film sucked WAY less than Robbie Machado’s The Drifter!Speaking of Rob Machado… Film at eleven!http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H02iwWCrXew

  • Kent

    I’ve watched this like 3 times now…and it gets me a little choked up every time. These are the stories I want to read, hear, and know about in surfing!

  • Troy

    That was awesome, loved it.  

  • Rhonda R. Harper

    As the person who went down and got the plaque for Ink Well Beach and Nick Gabaldon..I was appalled, as a matter of fact, I got up and walked out of the movie…Tony Corley was the ring leader against the plaque and you have him in the movie..Greg Rachal? who the hell is he? I was so sickened by the commercialism and sell off of one our American heroes. NIKE left the worst taste in my mouth and now…we are organizing a boycott! How dare you use Nick to sell clothing and then have the benefits going to the organization that held up the plaque dedication by putting me on the 6 o’clock news. You sold us out and I will never forgive NIKE, the Black Surfing Association, Will Lamar and anyone else associated with this sham.
    Los Banos, CA – Last evening was the film premier of 12 Miles North,
    the Nicolas Gabaldon Story. I went down to Los Angeles to attend the
    festivities and celebrate the marking of history. What I found was
    another commercial sell out. This time it was selling of Nicolas
    Gabaldon by NIKE. I cried and walked out on the film, I couldn’t watch
    it, it hurt. I don’t remember giving a speech so that the Black Surfing
    Association can once again gain from my civil duty.

    Dearest Nicolas,

    I would first like to give my apologies for not being more involved
    in recording your history. You see, back in 2005 when I first discovered
    the history of Santa Monica, Inkwell Beach and yourself, I came under
    fire by members of the Black Surfing Association. This was one of the
    reason I stopped my research.

    I sent an email directly to Rick Blocker, BSA surf historian asking
    if there had ever been a request made like a plaque or monument. He
    responded with a simple, no.

    My reason for getting the plaque was not as Alison Jefferson so
    brashly asked me when I presented it to her, for a thesis. I did it
    because, if you remember and  I know you watch over your aina, that
    students at Santa Monica High School at the time were constantly
    embarking in race riots.

    Nicolas, I was trying to use you, as a vehicle to stop the violence. I
    figured if I found a mutual hero from both cultures, the kids would
    have something to be proud of…you heard me say that in my speech. I
    thought it would have been great but then…you got lost in controversy
    from the BSA.

    The day I went down to the city council’s chambers to request the
    plaque, I remember it well. I was supposed to go out to dinner that
    night, I was trying to get my Valentine’s Day on, but the clerk stated
    that it had to be tonight or else I would have to wait until the next
    budget meeting. Imagine my surprise to find that this night was the ONLY
    night to get this accomplished.

    I filled out the clerk’s paperwork and handed it to the clerk behind
    the desk. She was very nice. Her smile let me know that she was wishing
    me “good luck”. She was a very beautiful African American woman, I
    figured she just found out about you.

    I went home, emailed and phoned members of the BSA and asked them if
    they would join me that evening at the chamber. I received numerous
    calls most people were excited about the request others, not so much and
    they made that very clear. One didn’t even know it was Black History
    Month.

    They said I shouldn’t name my company Inkwell Surf and a host of
    other atrocities. When I got up to speak on Inkwell Beach and your
    behalf, no one was there except a friend of mine. No one from the BSA
    came that night, not one person.

    During my speech, I could feel a pulse of calm run through me. You
    can hear it in my speech. I tried to write it down but by the time I got
    up to speak it was 7 hours later and I was half asleep; my focus was
    gone. I didn’t think they went for it so I walked away at the bell.
    Then, to my surprise Councilmen Bloom asked where was the Ink Well. It
    was just then, I knew this would be real possibility. Then the Mayor
    told me to call the city manager’s office.

    So you see, Nick, I tried. I tried with every fiber of my being to
    keep your memory safe, free from greed and wanna be celebrities. I spoke
    to Les Williams, he told me that you wouldn’t have wanted all this
    attention which is the reason I stopped researching your history. I
    should have stood tall.

    I would have but then a news story hit the air waves at six o’clock
    sharp. “Black Surfer Controversy” once again, your memory was tarnished
    by greed. Tony Corley had given an interview saying that I had gone
    around him and got the plaque. Dedon Kamathi, the BSA president at the
    time, tried to quell the drama, but it was too late.

    I had just invited the BSA to join me for a “Jena 6” march in
    Hollywood. The next day, my company, Inkwell Surf marched on Sunset
    Boulevard. The following day was February 7, 2008, the day the plaque
    was dedicated. Not one person that had given grief to me about the
    plaque bothered to attend your dedication.

    Which brings me to the heart of my apology. Perhaps if maybe I didn’t
    get on that airplane and run from people that hurt me, I would have
    been better prepared for yesterday. I have been asked a million times to
    help on projects about you and sit in for this movie or that article. I
    have always turned it down because I felt that the mission had not
    being accomplished, one. There are no black surfers in pro surfing.

    Two, that not enough black surf history has been recorded to feel
    comfortable enough to produce movies and documentary films about black
    surfers without someone feeling slighted as they do now. I hate to
    mention this because I know that you are trying to rest but, last night
    was so horrible for me it was insane. It was so bad I had to get up and
    walk out of the theater. It was nothing that I imagined it would be.

    I sat watching a beautiful memory get slaughtered by the 99% who
    didn’t even dare bother to introduce a shiny, new, black surfer,
    sponsored by NIKE. That would have been worth the drive down to Los
    Angeles, but that wasn’t the case and I am so sorry. I knew if you were
    sold on the block that the organization behind it would be them. I heard
    someone from NIKE brag that it took them four months to accomplish the
    evening, but it took 7 years away from my life trying to protect your
    legacy.

    Right after the plaque dedication, I walked down to the beach while
    everyone was hamming for the cameras, thanked you and the patrons before
    me for being strong. I am grateful for all you have given me on this
    journey. I promise I will get back to work doing what I love most,
    surfing.

    With Love,

    Rhonda R. Harper

     

    P.S. I can’t apologize for the sell out, things happen but I can
    assure you I will fight for black surfers in the future no matter what
    Here is the apology everyone involved should be making to Nick, his family and his fans! RIP NICK and I am sooooo sorry!

    • Al Baydough

      Whoa.

       Now there’s a whole new can of worms. The rebuttal? Can’t wait to read that.

  • Bert

    I read that Mrs Harper is angry because Nike used the story of Nick Gabaldon to sell clothes. I think she’s right.
    BTW, Billabong use the image of Bob Marley to sell clothes, with the ($$) agreement of Marley family, of course.
    There is nothing that can halt greed…Except maybe what Leon Bloy, an extremely angry catholic writer wrote:
    “Le riche est une brute inexorable qu’on est forcé d’arrêter avec une faux ou un paquet de mitraille dans le ventre.”
    “A rich man is a relentless brute who only can be stopped with a scythe or a grape shot in the belly.”…
    Just kidding, uh? Don’t call the cops…

  • Black

    This film left much ambivalence. I will tell you why-
     
    It first came off as a documentary about the first documented African American, even Chicano surfer (Nick Gabaldon was half Mexican). The film opens up with legendary surfers such as Mickey Munoz, Griggs, Buzzy to name a few. There is also an African American historian. The credibility of the film is running very strong at this point. There are even other contemporary African American athletes  and member of the Black Surfing Association who discuss the difficulty of overcoming racial barriers within sports and society.

    Things continue to run strong. But then, enter Kai Barger and Michel Bourez wearing a Nike shirt. And what is the relevance of Kai Barger and Michel Bourez to the history of African American surfing? Nothing. How are they included on a survey? What is their relevance to a cultural experience that predates them? How do they fit in with the legends of Malibu and one man’s desire to leave a segrated beach to join this group?

    The movie keeps slanting towards Nike endorsement. More clips of Kai Barger and Michel Bourez. More Nike shirt- they are both wearing the same logo screenprint and color for that matter. Got back from the gym together before the film shoot. Then the voice of the Nike CEO comes on with something warm and fuzzy. And how is he relevant to the film? Oh, I forgot, he signed the check. Lastly, maybe where things get very Halmarkish, are the clips of athletes saying “I surf with Nick!” Totally scripted, worse than a small town TV commercial about a radiator shop, “Now, here’s Andy to tell you about radiators”.

    Why were their not more interviews from people of Nick’s community, both past and present? Interviews with more of the African American population living in the area. More graphic knowlege of the impact of racial segregation. Longer interviews with people who really knew Nick. I admittedly cried when I listened to the legends talk about seeing Nick disappear beneath the pier and later having to ID his body. It really pained me to the core to hear an old friend of Nick tear-up as he talked about what a promising and bright future he had left. This is what makes documentaries so powerful. Human drama is its lifeblood.

    This should have been capitalized on. The facts, the people, the culture of the day. Pushing the Nike athletes and endorsement hurt this film and took away its fire and objectivity.

    A message and a lesson to Nike- DO NOT TOUCH THE DUKE’S STORY!

  • Benjamin Black

    Wow, great movie! I am going to sell some crack to buy a pair of J’s. Thanks Nike! Think you can hook me up with a job in a sweatshop? I’ll shill. 

  • Sabrina Messenger

    Back in 2006 is when I first learned of Nick’s story. Despite being a non-surfer myself, I was inspired to write a song about him which I call Soul Surfer: The Ballad of Nick Gabaldon.  I have no interest in making money off Nick’s story, so I have it posted at youtube and have declared it to be in the public domain.  It’s there strictly for people’s education and enjoyment.  Over the past six years, I’ve met many people surfer and non-surfer alike who share a deep abiding love for this pioneering waterman, and who are eager to see the information re: Nick get out there more widely, and to me this documentary will do much to promote that. I’m looking forward to seeing this documentary someday. May Nick’s memory remain eternal.  Sincerely, Sabrina Messenger.

  • Erich Hicks

    Nick ‘did not’ paddle to Malibu! Soul on a Wave is in the beginning stages of pre-production…