Words & Photos: Bryon Dorr

The 31st annual Santa Cruz Paddlefest was another one for the record books. The world-class waves at Steamer Lane, in Santa Cruz, Calif., once again attracted some of the best paddle-surfers from around the world, comprising of surf kayaks, waveskis and SUPs. The sold-out surfing competition this year was comprised of competitors from Japan, Tahiti, England, South Africa, Canada and all over the western U.S.

For only the second time in the competition’s storied 31-year history, heats were canceled due to weather. Due to heavy rains, strong onshore wind and a chaotic, messy surf zone, the Friday afternoon surf heats were canceled due to safety concerns and poor conditions. It worked out for the best, however, as competitors made up the lost competition heats on Sunday morning, under much better surfing conditions. All three days of the competition offered up quality waves, with the largest on Saturday at height well overhead. During some high-tide heats, as well as late Sunday during finals, the waves were on the underwhelming side, making difficult to catch good waves and the ocean quieter for longer than competitors might have liked.

Even with the crazy weather on Friday, quality size on Saturday and a novice field of competitors surfing at Indicators, there were only two swims, three damaged kayaks and one broken paddle during the competition. Though it is hard to measure, this year’s competition doled out the least carnage in a long time — credit goes to quality event organizer decision-making and the local lifeguard safety patrol on duty all weekend. Despite the lack of substantial injuries, I can certainly attest to the fact that conditions at the Lane still resulted in plenty of tired and sore competitors.

Besides the amazing waves and good people, the Paddlefest also offers up a highly contested SUP/Surfski/OC-1/Prone distance race, a full vendor village, impressive raffle and silent auction packed with performance paddle-surf craft. Prize highlights included a Werner paddle, Mega surf kayak and Covewater F-One SUP. The competitor's meeting/BBQ at Adventure Sports Unlimited, on Thursday night, provided a great time to catch up with old friends and get stoked on the action-packed weekend ahead. Between the local craft beer at the barbecue, tacos at the Friday night happy hour at Olitas, Hawaiian grub at Ponos during the Saturday night race awards and everything from onsite massages, Power Crunch bars and Coco Libre coconut water in the vendor village, there was something for everyone all weekend long.

The things that keep everyone coming back year after year to this special competition is both the quality of the waves and the tight-knit community of the paddle-surf tribe. It's really hard to go wrong with a guarantee of surfing at least two 19-minute competitions heats, with only three other people, at Steamer Lane. Be sure to sign up early and come join us in 2018 for another amazing year of paddle surfing at the Lane. (See highlights from the SUP competition here.)

2017 Kayak Surf Podiums:

High Performance Open

1 Sean Morley
2 Mathew Hoff
3 Ben Doffe

High Performance Women's

1 Kelly Henry
2 Teresa Rogerson
3 Devon Barker-Hicks

Masters Open

1 Sean Morley
2 Dave Johnston
3 Jim Grossman

International Men's

1 Jim Grossman
2 Zach Boyd
3 Bryon Dorr

International Women's

1 Devon Barker-Hicks
2 Julie Mitravich
3 Jameson Riser

Wave Ski Open

1 Tyler Lausten
2 Ian Macleod
3 Mike Wessels

Kayak Intermediate Men's

1 Buey Grossman
2 Alex Keeton
3 Dusty Trost

Kayak Intermediate Women's

1 Shelly Palmer
2 Jessa Rego
3 Melissa DeMarie

Whitewater Kayak

1 Buey Grossman
2 Rich Thompson
3 Matt Parker

Click HERE for full results.