Here comes the 30th Annual Santa Cruz Paddlefest! I remember back in 2006 or so, discussing with the committee and vying for considering bringing a SUP Surf category to the contest, because we’re all armed with paddles, and the more the merrier. Well, now we have no dearth of stand up paddlers at the Santa Cruz Paddlefest (SCPF), and there is more than enough paddle sport cross-pollination inspiration for all.
The Santa Cruz Kayak Surf Festival is what it was called back in 1999, when it was responsible for my moving to Santa Cruz right after graduate school (Cold Massachusetts winter, find festival blurb during internet surf, spring break in Santa Cruz, the rest history). Not that you really need to know this. But a little background, because the event advertising actually worked, and it’s my story. Now 30 years into its evolution, the Fest is here to stay. Surfers malign our paddle presence as we take over world class Steamer Lane for a long weekend during some peak March wave time. And if you think about it, in such a tight surfing real estate market like you have in Surf City Santa Cruz, we are so lucky to have this annual opportunity to showcase our sport(s) at such a sought-after surf destination.
As a collegiate rower first, then a raft guide and whitewater kayaker, I came to paddle surfing from rivers in warm southern mountains. Like so many participants at the Santa Cruz Paddlefest, it’s just natural to have a paddle in hand (or an oar as it were. Do you know the technical difference?). When the ancestors reincarnated SUP surfing for the mainstream, in part through images inserted by Laird Hamilton and Dave Kalama, in my mind the concept of the Ultimate Waterman and the Ultimate Waterwoman was cinched. I was seeing up on the big screen, the place where river meets the ocean, recreationally speaking. It just touched a nerve.
Probably I was simply stoked to see a paddle in a surf movie, as a freshwater kayaker freshly transplanted 2600 miles away from home into Santa Cruz, such a crux of massively flexing (and territorial) surf boarders. But it was more than that. My tool of choice, the paddle, was bejeweling the extremities of famous big wave surfers. Paddling and Surfing were getting married, and all of a sudden I was an adopted child with a brighter future. Whether surfing standing waves in a river, or surfing ocean waves that travel and finish at the shore, I was with others in a current of hybridization of all of our badass water sports. We could now surf a fuller palette of human hydro-athletic expression. I’m saying: Rad, yippee! Paddles and waves!
To me, the Ultimate Waterperson reads, interprets, and rides water on the entire planet, as it flows from source to sea, attempting to master all possible crafts. The Ultimate, squared, Waterperson, is one who really gets the need, and works in big or small ways, for understanding what is at stake in stewarding and protecting flows from source to sea. I am on a plastic diet. Join me? I really admire Rivers for Change, for its mission of promoting source to sea literacy. One flower of their efforts is the California 100, a one day, 100 mile ultramarathon paddle race from Redding to Chico down the Sacramento River this June. Why not race, Laird and Dave, and tackle the challenge of negotiating current moving downstream?!
But I digress. Here we are about to celebrate 30 years of celebrating paddle surfing, at the birthplace of kayak surfing- Steamer Lane! The festival came into being well after kayak wave sliding began in the ’50s or earlier, as a response to the sport’s big boom in the mid-70s. In 2016, entries sold out so quickly, though the women’s surf kayak and waveski entries are still anemic, because I dunno. This year, prone paddleboard and outrigger canoe categories are on the docket for the SCPF Paddleboard Race on Saturday. As usual, there is a whitewater kayak category, and it is fun to watch them twerk the whitewater, a totally different expression than the traditional rule of surfing shoulders and faces.
SUP Surfing will be, like, Major. Waveski will be Happenin’ at the Fest. World titled, second-generation everything shaper Ian Macleod- MACSKI– is contributing a waveski to the silent auction this year! Waveskis differ in that you sit on top of them and use a double-bladed paddle. And of course, we will have our original gangster category of Surf Kayak, yet that category is broken down further into High Performance (HP) for crafts under roughly 9′ long, and International Class (IC) for those longer. There are subtle and not so subtle differences in the species of paddle craft that will not be elaborated on here. Suffice it to say that paddle surfing is just so diverse. We could (literally) wax on about it for days, so that is what we will do at the 30th Annual Santa Cruz Paddlefest next week!
Finally, a quick shout out to the folks we’ll see from the California Women’s Watersports Collective! Their mission is to bring women ON!