By Paul Richardson
“The sport of kings”
I am pretty sure some of you have heard that phrase before, but did you know that in some circles, it also refers to the sport of surfing? Earliest reports say that the first recorded observation of people surfing was 1779 in Hawaii. While I am not trying to steal Hawaii’s thunder on this one, I think there’s a pretty good chance that somewhere else in the world around that time others were “surfing”. In any event, as far as the “written” history is concerned, Hawaii is the birthplace of modern surfing.
As far as we know the first black surfer in the U.S, or at least on the West Coast, was Nick Gabaldon who lived in Santa Monica. He was born in 1927, did a stint in the military, and then returned to California. In 1951, while surfing at Malibu and apparently trying to pull out of a wave, he ran into the pilings of the Malibu pier and was killed. The timeline from this point gets a wee bit hazy, but somewhere around 1961 or so, history seems to point to Frank Edwards as the next notable black surfer from the Torrance, Redondo Beach area of Los Angeles. Frank is still alive and lives in Northern California; though he no longer surfs (I am working on that).
At this point a few other brothers began coming onto the scene, such as Rick Blocker, and Stanley Washington and including one Tony Corley, who in 1973 (or was it 75?) wrote a shout-out letter to other black surfers which was published in Surfer magazine, the premier magazine on surfing at the time. Predictably, some of the responses were less than friendly, but he did manage to get some feedback from other black surfers. Were these the only ones? Probably not. As the 70’s roll through we begin to see more black surfers, and even a few in advertisements published in the surfing magazines. Buttons Kahluhilokalani, who is Black and Hawaiian, arrives on the scene in Hawaii, arguably one of the most influential surfers (for insiders) to come around in awhile. By the time we get to the early to mid 80’s the first black woman, Sharon Schaffer, competes on the women’s professional tour and from this point, the momentum has been established.
The Black Surfing Association was subsequently founded, and today is growing stronger with each passing season. There are a few brothers and sisters surfing up near where I live in Northern California, but black surfers are everywhere; on the islands, the east coast — Jamaica has a pretty strong amateur team, and who knows what is going on in the motherland!
Peace, share the stoke,
Paul by day is an engineer working in Silicon Valley. When not working, he is a father, husband, loves to surf, read, and in general, be outside as much as he can. He is also a contributing blogger at Oaklandseen.com