Santa Cruz PaddleFest 2014: The Local Torch Bearer

Interview and photos by Bryon Dorr

Athlete Stats: Mathew Hoff
Age: 25
Sponsors: Werner Paddles, Kokatat Watersports Wear, Gath Sports, Kayak Connection
Website: http://mathewhoff.wordpress.com/
2014 Santa Cruz Results: IC 3rd, HP 7th
Previous Santa Cruz Rankings: 2013 IC 2nd, HP 7th and 2012 IC 3rd, HP 2nd

How did you get into surf kayaking?
Mathew Hoff: I first got into surf kayaking through a guiding job in Monterey. Part of the initial training they do is how to land and launch closed decked doubles and singles through the surf. Needless to say some accidental surfing occurred during that training and I was hooked. I bought a Necky Gliss to learn on, and after the summer was over I got hooked up with a demo boat from Sean Morely. I’ve been smitten ever since.

You’ve shown incredible talent and skills in HP and IC surf kayaking. Are you into any other paddle sports?
My life revolves around the water and a paddle at this point. I mainly surf an HP boat with the IC boat coming out when I am in the mood. I also have a Tyler Lausten Waveski that I have been learning on for a while now. Interestingly enough I got the ski with the idea of it improving my boating. I have not put serious thought into converting over to the ski entirely. A few years back I picked up a surfski to train on. Surfskis are long (19 foot+) boats with an incredibly skinny beam, mine is 17 inches I believe. This year I am planning on attending the California 100. At the moment we have a team of four from Kayak Connection training to do it in a tandem. I have also played around considerably with SUPs. I cannot board-surf for the life of me, but I feel at home with a paddle in my hands and that gets me on waves. I’m not terribly good, but it’s good fun. I spend more time touring on a SUP and ‘getting a workout’ than surfing one. Really, I do all these other paddlesports besides surf kayaking to cross train for surf kayaking.

How many years have you been coming to the Santa Cruz Paddlefest and how does it compare to other surf kayaking competitions that you’ve attended?
I have been coming to Santa Cruz since 2009. This event is rather special to me. The community is spaced out just enough that it is a mission to see most of them and because of that you really only get to see them during the contest. The vibe is super friendly and I am often close to late to my heats because I am catching up with everyone. Other contests don’t quite have that same feeling for me since they are smaller or more localized. As for a venue, I can’t say enough about the wave. No mater the conditions it will just about always have something for us to work with, and with the last few years being absolutely epic! I will say that I am always exhausted after Santa Cruz. Steamer Lane is a long wave and paddling these short boats for that distance in a competitive environment takes serious endurance.

Give us a behind the scenes look at your spectacular skirt implosion in HP semi-finals?
Well, it was maybe about 10 minutes into the heat and I was looking for a wave at the slot. It is typically steeper and has a bit more of a lip to go after for some dynamic moves. It is a bit more commitment since it pushes you closest to the cliff and the rocks. I was a bit inside paddling out and barely made it over a wave that had gone a bit wide of the slot and saw my wave next in the set. I felt like I was lined up right for it and took a steep drop, trimmed to take a high line right in the pocket and that is what I saw the lip starting to feather. In my head I don’t think I thought about it, I just saw it and went for it. A quick bottom turn and I went for the lip. My bottom turn was a bit low and I didn’t have enough speed to do what I was committed for so I was late to the lip. I hit it and couldn’t get above it, so it swatted me down as I was trying to rotate for a PanAm. I didn’t get enough rotation and landed upside down off a seven-foot lip. My skirt instantly imploded and I felt the water in the boat as I got tossed a bit. Luckily it didn’t take me all the way into the cliff but I knew they were close to me. I rolled up, saw another wall of whitewater, pulled my belt and bailed. I didn’t grab my boat or paddle and figured that the water patrol or current would bring it away from the rock eventually. I had to duck three more waves before Edu paddled up, after catching a long ride, and gave me a quick tow to the kelp (deep safe water). He and Ibon then went and saved my boat and paddle from the cliffs. The jet-ski was about five minutes late to all this but was able to help me get back in my boat with about two minutes left in the heat. Which ended up being plenty of time for me to fight the wind from the judges stand and make my way to first peak. I decided to take off on a steep wave and discover that the foot foam that was no longer in my boat was rather helpful. I didn’t make the drop but I was content with my attempt of finishing the heat. I really have to thank Edu and Ibon for grabbing my boat and getting me to safety. Amazing sportsmanship from incredible competitors!

While surf kayaking is an uber-niche sport, it is still growing and attracting youth in a few areas of the world. What do you see as the future of the sport and in particular the future of the sport in America?
I would like to see many programs develop. Currently, we are still a bit disorganized. As a country we need paddle surf clubs that will create small local events. Ideally these clubs will draw new younger members and make the sport more accessible for the youth. If we are out there as a club we will be able to educate the surfing community about our sport and hopefully start to relieve tensions. The hope is that the clubs would feed into the larger competition circuit. If we are able to link all of the US events together and establish a real circuit we will be able to start to really push the level of competition that the US team will bring to the World Championship scene.

What motivates you to continue to make efforts to grow the sport? What are you currently working on in this regard?
My motivation really comes from the amount of joy I get from paddlesports. Anyone that knows me can tell you that I am enjoying myself if I have a paddle in my hand and I would really like to share that with as many people as I can. Currently I am working on a couple of things that helps with this. One of which is my true source of employment at Kayak Connection. I do tours for all sorts of people and educate them about the environment we go paddling in as well as help them develop their skills as kayakers and progress to harder water to paddle on. I am also volunteering my time to teach at the UCSC Kayak Club. A lot of the work I do there is just fun and games, but that is the kicker right there. If the people that I am kayaking with are having a good time, they are more likely to continue the sport! A majority of my efforts go into just educating people about kayak surfing. It isn’t on a conscious regard, but every time I am out in the water I do my very best to have good etiquette and show the surfers out there that we can really surf!

Any final words about the world of Mathew Hoff, the future of paddle surfing events or the Santa Cruz Paddlefest?
I am looking forward to helping Dave Grigsby take over the Santa Cruz Paddlefest next year for Dennis Judson. It is an event that means a lot to the community and I will do everything I can to keep it running!

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