Cynics be damned: Paddlesurfers shred the 'Lane

Galen Licht lighting it up at the Lane. Dave Elkinson

Above all else, the Santa Cruz Surf Kayak Festival is classic. Classic in the sense that the break at Steamer Lane is both user-friendly and high performance in nature. Classic in that the cliff band overlooking the venue makes for a natural stadium. Classic in that worldly paddle surfers of all types–board, boat and ski–meet here every March to rip the hell out of one of Earth's best waves.

Airin' out the back. Dave Elkinson

The swell started off big on Friday for the prelims, died out a bit on Saturday, and then opened up for the finals on Sunday where the last paddlers standing took advantage of pulsing, overhead El Nino swell. Local boy Galen Licht won the men's High Performance kayak class, the 22-year-old's first SCSKF title. "I can't believe the surf went from 3-4 feet Sunday morning to 15-feet by the afternoon," he said. "In the finals, I took a gamble sitting outside at Middle Peak, instead of taking the smaller inside waves. It paid off." Licht was able to knock off current World Champion David Speller of Jersey (a British channel island) in the quarterfinals. Rachel Krugman took home the HP women's crown while Idaho's Devon Barker won the women's International Class and finished second to Krugman in the HP.

Photo: Sean Watson

Dynamic Pismo Beach, Calif. ripper Fletcher Burton put on a show Sunday, slashing his way to the Wave Ski Open title, beating five-time World Champion Mathieu Babarit of France in the process (read about Burton in the May issue of Canoe and Kayak).

One of the most inspiring aspects of the Santa Cruz event recently, though, is its evolution. In the newly revived pro plastic class, current Freestyle World Champion Jason Craig dominated with three crisp air screws on three separate waves during the finals. He landed each and maintained the section while the crowd roared from the cliffs. We’re going out on a limb here and calling that a first.

Two-time champ Chuck Patterson, nearly getting shacked.

The standup surfers shredded this traditionally local break with plenty of good-natured grumbling amongst competitors over the helmet requirement. Chuck Patterson repeated as the Surftech SUP Shootout winner. "It's pretty incredible to mix surfing and kayaking at a venue like this," Patterson said. The talented Dana Point, Calif. waterman fended off 16-year-old upstart Zane Schweitzer of Maui. "The last time I surfed Steamers the crowds were crazy," Schweitzer said. "I caught one wave in 45 minutes. This is sick to have it all to ourselves."

The $125 entry fee is worth it when it's just you and three other guys in a heat surfing a ridiculously good spot. "It's definitely one of the best waves in the world," says SCSKF organizer Dennis Judson. It is, of course, the definition of classic. – Joe Carberry

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