12 Miles North is about much more than the first documented African American surfer, Nick Gabaldon. 12 Miles North is about the human experience and how we individually construct Nick’s story as it relates to our own lives.
For that reason, my approach in making the film was not so much to tell Nick’s story as to let others tell it for me. In the minds of many, Nick bravely crossed racial lines and navigated uncharted waters to reach the waves at Malibu—paddling 12 miles from a Santa Monica beach known as “The Inkwell” that was essentially reserved for African Americans. From another perspective, this is the tragic tale of a surfer who met his end by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Like so many men before him, Nick lost his life to the sea.
Little evidence exists to recount Nick’s death on June 5, 1951. With only a handful of articles and photographs to work from, my job in telling Nick’s story revolved around learning what really happened that day in the minds of those who knew Nick, surfed with Nick, and watched him disappear beneath the Malibu pier.