Photos by Stormick Photography

The legendary Dennis Judson is hard to miss. The flamboyant Santa Cruz, Calif.-local—who can often be seen sporting a bright Speedo beneath his sprayskirt—has cemented himself in surf kayaking lore for eternity thanks to his organization of the Santa Cruz Paddle Fest, this his 25th year. Here, the mastermind behind the show talks locals, boat design and rivalries. –JC

My shop, Adventure Sports Unlimited was a cooperative of a bunch of experts in outdoor sports: runners, whitewater kayakers, hang gliders divers, etc. The whitewater people went to the rivers and I went a few times but I was a diver and surfer. But we started taking these boats out to ride them in the surf, Dancers, Mirages, man they were slow.

That’s where we got the idea to advertise ASU through a contest, with boats. So we did a surf contest at Pleasure Point in March and we’ve done it every year since 1985…

So paddlers in England, Ireland and Wales were surfing too and we were able to network and invite them to what became an international event. It kind of started a friendly rivalry.

We found a boat form Perception, a plastic squirt boat called the Saber. We’d run them over with a car to make the ends flatter and melt the front and bend them up to create rocker and they were a decent surf boat. We beat the heck out of those guys that first year.

But then Malcolm Pearcy, with Mega, made a glass Saber called a Jester. It was still really long but lighter, down in the 25-pound range. It was far superior to ours. Now the boats have progressed so much you can’t win an event without doing aerials.

We had to move the event from Pleasure to the Lane because parking was a mess and the locals were going crazy. Just too many people.

At Pleasure Point we had a group called the Pleasure Point Night Fighters controlling the lineup for us. They were the controlling group. We had to sort of pay em off.

Breaking into the Lane [to hold a contest there] was interesting. They don’t want anybody there. They don’t want themselves. There’s a certain amount of pissiness. In the permit, the city has no responsibility for the Lane and the battles out there. The surfers were really grumpy but most of these whitewater guys drop 80-foot waterfalls. You gonna hurt em? I don’t think so. They’d pick on the juniors and women, yell at them and say they’re gonna kill them. It was impossible to run the contest.

So we had meetings with the city, sitting down with all of the surfers. One of them was Brenda Scott-Rogers, a prominent member of the surfing community. She says, “They were never able to do a Pipeline contest until they hired the locals to control the lineup.”

So around 2005, we hired Vince Collier, a hardcore Lane local. That pretty much took care of things and everybody decided that we were only there for three days and they’re just gonna allow it.

The only other worry, I guess, is if it gets big, 15-20-foot swell. People dislocate hips and shoulders and we have to go save them.

This whole contest has got me into a realm of very funny people I wouldn’t have met any other way. People who surf kayak are in a funny, strange vehicle and they love it and they’re talented at it. They come to Santa Cruz from all over the world and pay to surf in the contest for no prize money. They just want to surf and be with people that surf around the world. It’s a family gathering now.

Don’t miss the Santa Cruz Paddlefest March 17-20th