The Santa Cruz Paddle Festival has long been the kickoff to the paddle event season. Twenty-five years later, the vibe is pretty much the same but the party has gotten a whole lot bigger.
One thing that has certainly changed, says organizer Dennis Judson, is boat design. In the quarter century that kayak and waveski surfers have met in Santa Cruz to compete at the epic Steamer Lane, the construction of their crafts have been tweaked to perform better in high performance surf. "Realizing that this event has changed how kayaks approach water is pretty special," Judson says. "Kayaks morphed from plastic symmetrical whitewater vehicles when the festival started, to planning hulled, channeled and finned, carbon fiber shells with hard edges that fly today. [I think] whitewater boats have embraced these concepts."
This year, along with the kayak and waveski contests that feature the best paddle surfers from around the world and acts as a yearly world championship of sorts, the third annual Surftech Shootout will go off too, as the country's finest standup surfers duel it out at the Lane. In addition, the Surftech Surf and Sand Duel-Athalon Presented by SUP magazine will add racing to this prestigious event. Competing kayakers and standup surfers can enter the standup race where their surf placings will be combined with their race finish to determine the King and Queen of the Beach. The race is on Saturday and starts at Cowells Beach in front of the Dream Inn and has both a novice (2.7 mile course) and elite (6.2 mile course) division.
Saturday night, March 19, Canoe and Kayak magazine is hosting a bash at the Coconut Grove to celebrate Dennis Judson and his 25 years of organizing this fantastic contest. The party includes the race awards before iconic whitewater kayaker, rapper and filmmaker Rush Sturges opens up on the mic for Santa Cruz's Ribsy's Nickel, a local favorite. Sunday is the finals for all surf events.