Steamer Lane is a jaw-dropping gorgeous point break in Santa Cruz, California. And like every such epic surf spot in Cali, it’s usually dominated by the local prone (lay-down) surfers. But for one weekend every year, for the past 26 years, a small miracle has happened here: It’s been taken over by kayak surfers—and this year, standup paddlers too.

“I don’t know how they do it exactly,” says Chris Bensch of Portland, Ore., and organizer of the Pacific City Surf Off, who’s made the trek south to the Santa Cruz Paddle Fest (formerly known as the Santa Cruz Surf Kayak Festival) the past four years in a row. “But it’s a great opportunity to kayak surf one of the best breaks in the world with the some of the best kayak surfers out there. Even if conditions aren’t ideal, I just love coming to this event.”

As event director Dennis Judson points out, this year’s Paddle Fest, which consisted of surf kayaking, waveski, and standup paddling categories, including a three-mile and a 6.2-mile SUP race, “was pretty fun to watch. It was pumping out there.”

“Conditions were pretty epic,” Galen Licht, winner of the past two Paddle Fests, agrees. “There were 10- to 15-foot sets coming through. I definitely got some beatings out there. It was raining and windy on Friday and Saturday too, so it was pretty hard to paddle out. You could really only get three waves in each of your heats anyway, so you couldn’t really afford to screw one up.” And when people did, lifeguards were ready with a jet ski to pull people and their gear out of the impact zone.

Next year, Judson plans to have a B-site located around the point, with smaller waves to better accommodate beginner and intermediate surfers. “I think it’s important we start fostering new people into this sport,” he says. “That way we can keep doing this.” — Dave Costello

26th Annual Santa Cruz Paddle Fest Final Results:

High Performance Men’s
1st – Darren Bason
2nd – Mathew Hoff
3rd – Eric Connor
4th – Dave Johnston

High Performance Women’s
1st – Kate Duncan
2nd – Devon Barker
3rd – Roberta Borsari
4th – Julie Mitravich

Masters Open
1st – Ken King
2nd – Dennis Judson
3rd – Ed King
4th – Dave Johnston

International, Men’s
1st – Stefano Bellotti
2nd – Jim Grossman
3rd – Mathew Hoff
4th – Darren Bason

International, Women’s
1st – Devon Barker
2nd – Kristie Koski
3rd – Julie Mitravich

Wave Ski Open
1st – Ken King
2nd – Tyler Lausten
3rd – Ed King
4th – Jason Kozun

Standup Paddle Surfing Shootout
1st – Matt Becker
2nd – John Griffith
3rd – Anthony Vela
4th – Avery Dinauer