The ego can be a funny thing. Especially when it's inflated. Coming from southern California, surfing the epic breaks in the area, I figured I was ready to take on the top dogs in the surf kayaking world at the 23rd Annual Santa Cruz Surf Kayak Festival last weekend.

Let's just say my balloon got popped. Opening rounds of one of the country's most efficiently run paddling competitions saw small surf Friday and Saturday. "It'll happen. It'll happen," event organizer Dennis Judson says confidently as I'm snooping around the judge's booth trying to get up-to-speed on all things scoring before the contest.

The swell is rather pathetic and only an out-of-the-box thinking Judson has the instincts to know that better surf awaits.

With around 130 participants in disciplines ranging from International Class kayak (think long boarding) to Wave Ski (sit-on-top surfboards) to High Performance (shorter boats for more advanced maneuvers like cutbacks and aerials), the Festival attracts people from all over the world including Brazil, Portugal and Great Britain. "Kayak surfing is super-popular in other parts of the world," says the sport's best American ambassador, Rusty Sage. "And events like this help it grow more here."

Unbelievable venues like this don't hurt either. Steamer's Lane lines up perfectly, with gorgeous waves breaking into a beautiful cliff face. It's the heart of Santa Cruz surfing and home to a hardcore surfing community, hosting another famous event, the Coldwater Classic, every October for board surfers.