Santa Cruz PaddleFest 2014: The Local Female Phenom
By Bryon Dorr from Exploring Elements
Athlete Stats: Kate Duncan
SCPF 2014 Results: 1st Womens HP, 4th Open Waveski
Previous SCPF Rankings: 1st Womens HP (2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2011, 2012, 2013)
Bryon Dorr: How many years does Santa Cruz PaddleFest 2014 make for you competiing and how does it compare to other surf competitions you’ve been to?
Kate Duncan: I have been coming to this competition for about 12 years, and it was the first comp I ever attended. I entered in the novice category when I first started kayaking (which at that time was held at Cowels/Indicators) and I could barely roll. I think I even swam in one of my heats. The next year I entered intermediate and placed third, and since then I’ve been in the expert category! It is the “biggest” surf kayak comp in the US, so that makes it one of my favorites, because it means that everyone I want to see is there, and over the years I feel more and more close to the community. You also can’t beat surfing overhead waves at the lane with only three other people! On a big day the waves can be so long it’s a challenge just to get your three waves! I love that!
This year you managed to injure your arm in practice the day before the comp. Can you tell us a little about what happened and how you pushed through the pain to get the results you did in the comp?
Well how I hurt it is a little embarrassing, I took a big left from middle peak towards the slot and my paddle got caught in a surfers leash who was trying to turtle the white-wash. So the paddle was ripped out of my hands and I found myself still surfing without it, and then proceeded to get pummeled but the next 2 (really big) sets while trying to recover my paddle and get myself and my waveski into the little cove. It was high tide so I didn’t want the waveski to hit the cliffs, so I was holding on to it tightly with that right arm, and I think somewhere in the process of ducking all the waves my arm was getting pulled and hit. I’m not really sure exactly what happened. When I got out of the water it hurt a lot, but it was the beginning of my session and I hadn’t really caught anything good, so I waited 5 mins or so till I could move the arm, and paddled back out to catch some good ones. I had an awesome session, but by the time I came in I could barely use the arm and it began to swell up and bruise quickly. By the next morning it was purple from my shoulder to my elbow and was difficult to bend. Luckily it worked well in a bent/paddle holding position, so with lots of ice, ibuprofen and arnica I made it through Friday’s heats! Saturday felt a little better, though the bruise was now black and extended down my forearm and into my wrist. On Sunday I was so amped up about making it into the waveski final, that I didn’t think much about it! Throughout the comp, I never noticed any pain while I was on a wave, only on the paddle back out (which I took a little slower than normal) and of course when my heat was over. I was surprised when the whole comp was over how much it really hurt. It aches all night through the night and feels like it might burst by the mornings! While I am sure it’s just a deep bruise, its still actually aching one week later!
You’ve shown mad skills by any measure in both HP surf kayak and wave ski. Do you paddle other watercraft or surf waves in other ways? How did you get started in paddling?
Haha, thanks Bryon! I actually regular surf now more than I kayak, but it definitely wasn’t always that way. Surf kayaking in plastic boats around SF county was how I started, thanks to my ex husband Demany Smith who taught me the ropes. He always had a really positive attitude and made me think that Ocean Beach beat downs was a perfectly acceptable way to learn to surf, and I didn’t know any better so I just went with it!! We would surf kayak in the evenings after work and then take off the rivers on the weekends to do whitewater. I eventually went to the worlds in Costa Rica in 2005 and that’s when I really fell in love with it, got my own glass boat and just kept surfing, mostly around Santa Cruz (Davenport was always my favorite). About 3 years ago, Tyler Lausten got me on a waveski, which I now love even more than my kayak, and he also shaped me my first surfboard. So now I mostly surf my waveski and shortboard around Santa Cruz County, depending on the conditions, and I feel strongly that any way I am in the water just makes me a better surfer! It doesn’t mater what craft I’m on, they all crossover. I sometimes even get on a SUP, which I love, but I’m definitely still a beginner! I think it is safe to say that I just love being in the waves and any way I can do that is fine by me! My all time favorite is to take my shortboard out until I am tired, then come into the beach and switch to my waveski!
How do you compare the surf kayak world to the world of whitewater?
I think it is hard to compare, as they feel different to me. Sure, you are paddling in each, but the element you are in is so different that I don’t feel like they are the same sport! That being said, I have spent many years of my life being predominantly on the river, and about four years ago, I lived in my Tacoma and just paddled around California! I spent most of the summer up at Cherry Creek camped out with my dog Bobo paddling with a new group every day. That’s how the river life is–easy!! The river is a beautiful, warm and friend filled place and I really love that. You can’t paddle a river alone! Most of my boating groups over the years have become my closest friends. Unfortunately the world of surfing is not always so friendly, but I try to take a happy, smiley attitude to the surf zone and it seems to work (most of the time). In any case, time on the water crosses over to each sport to increase paddle strength and fitness!
While surf kayaking is an uber-niche sport it is growing and attracting youth in other parts of the world. What do you see as the future of the sport and in particular the future of the sport in America?
Surf Kayaking is small here, and I think it is because we don’t have many juniors taking it up. In parts of Europe (particularly France) there are huge numbers of kids learning the sport. I feel like the way to get people into the sport is to create fun events, like comps or expression sessions, where we can bring kids along and have them join in. Last year the World Committee discussed all juniors being able to enter comps for free, to make it easy and inciting for them to come. At the Worlds in Australia this July it was so exciting to watch Saba and Buey Grossman compete and have fun! Newness brings excitement and growth, and that is how we can grow the sport! Once a person tries it out and realizes how much fun it is, how could they not keep coming out??
Any final words about the world of Kate Duncan, the future of paddle-surfing events or the Santa Cruz Paddle Fest?
I feel extremely grateful that I came across this “niche” sport so long ago, as it has truly shaped my life in wonderful ways! The Santa Cruz Paddle Fest is a big part of my year and I hope to compete in many many more of them!
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