Photos By: Bryon Dorr & Sarah Blessington of Exploring Elements

Video By: Jason Self & Chris Smith

A new era for the Santa Cruz Paddle Fest, the largest and oldest continuously held surf kayak competition in the world, has begun. After 28 years of running the contest, Dennis Judson and the crew at Adventure Sports Unlimited passed on the torch last year to Mathew Hoff and Dave Grigsby at Kayak Connection. The new team put together an incredibly successful 29th annual event this year, by all measures.

Paddle surfers from around the globe, hailing from as far as Brazil, Australia, the UK and Alaska, gathered this weekend at Santa Cruz, Calif.’s infamous Steamer Lane surf break. This year’s judging system was slightly updated with only two scoring waves, instead of the three-wave system of the past. This truncated format forced paddlers to focus on quality wave selection for the most dynamic moves possible. Some of the young guns of paddle surfing stepped up with aggressive carves, slashes and airs to earn top spots on the podiums of all this year’s classes. As usual, top international paddlers grabbed key podium spots from the Americans. But the locals still managed to hold their own, claiming gold in nearly all classes. (Read about the SUP side of the competition here).

Conditions rewarded both local and foreign competitors as size progressively improved throughout the weekend, breaking a bleak (extremely flat) lead-up week to the competition that resulted in scant practice opportunities. While wave size for the competition never got as big as past years when Steamer Lane shines, consistent sets still offered steep drops and long rides. With wind only kicking up to impact the last few heats of finals, competitors enjoyed hot, sunny days.

As competitors and spectators alike finished the spectacular weekend of action at this sold-out festival, I couldn’t help but think how the new organizers stepped up and worked hard to carry on a world-class event, while also making improvements to showcase the top talent—and hopefully foster new participants in the sport. Next year’s 30th annual gathering promises to display even more impressive, international paddle surfing while continuing to carry on the long heritage of this truly special paddlesports event. We hope to see you there!

RESUTS (Full results HERE):

High Performance Men's: 1. Rusty Sage, 2-Liam Thierens, 3-Mathew Hoff
High Performance Women's: 1-Rachel Ward, 2-Devon Barker, 3-Roberta Borsari
Masters Open: 1-Matt Radis, 2-Dave Johnston, 3-Sean Morley
International Open: 1-Mat Hoff, 2-James Hawker, 3-Bryon Dorr
Waveski Open: 1-Tyler Lausten, 2-Ian Macleod, 3-Fletcher Burton
Production Plastic Open: 1-Luke Borserio, 2-Elliot Barlas, 3-Devon Barker
Kayak Intermediate Open: 1-Jack George, 2-Kevin Tulley, 3-Shelly Palmer
SUP Shootout Men's: 1-Brennan Rose, 2-Dave Boehne, 3-Tucker Ingalls
SUP Surfing Shootout Women's: 1-Izzi Gomez, 2-Candice Appleby, 3-Fiona Wylde
SUP Intermediate Open: 1-Jay Gomez, 2-Haakon Hoyer-Nielsen, 3-Brody Welt


Read Dorr’s three-paddler profile series from last year’s Santa Cruz Paddle Fest.