After over two decades of organizing the Santa Cruz Kayak Surf Festival, Dennis Judson still speaks with unbridled enthusiasm of what he considers the world's greatest get-together of big wave paddlers. "Surf kayakers are such a neat group of people," says Judson, whose Adventure Sports Unlimited is hosting the 24th annual festival March 26-28, at Santa Cruz's infamous Steamer Lane break. "It's sort of like a reunion. It seems like no one comes here to win or lose, they come to hang out, paddle great waves and see the newest moves."

The 2010 festival promises more of the same. Judson has assembled a world-class field of paddlers from around the world, including reigning men's HP world champion David Speller of the UK, France's Mathieu Barbarit, the 2009 world waveski champion, and paddlers from Australia, New Zealand and South America. New for 2010 is a production plastic class that will make the event more accessible to whitewater kayakers—to whom Judson attributes much of the development of the sport of kayak surfing in North America. "A lot of the best surf kayakers have come from whitewater," says Judson. "You just can't leave those guys out." Two standup paddleboard categories (elite and novice/intermediate) round out the competition.

For Vince Shay, a surf kayaker and videographer from California's Central Coast, the Santa Cruz festival is a chance to have Steamer Lane, one of the world's best breaks, to himself—if only for just one "magical" moment. "It's insanely good when it's on," says Shay. "The festival is really like a mini world championships."

Along with streaming Shay's and other videographers' "best of the day" footage, Judson says live video will be streaming on the event's Facebook page. For more information, visit –Conor Mihell

Greatest show on Earth? You be the judge but the conditions in 2008 make a pretty good case.