Santa Cruz Paddle Festival 2012 Friday/Saturday

Santa Cruz 2012

Photo by Rob Avery

Saturday’s Unreal Conditions

The Santa Cruz Paddle Fest 2012 was quite a roller coaster of emotions for me. Two weeks ago I was looking at the forecast and I saw something horrible. South wind 25kts Friday through Sunday and 12′ swell with a 14 second period. Instantly I thought, ‘not another year like last year!’ Of course this forecast changed daily and so did my mood (sorry Danielle), for the next two weeks.  I really did not know what to expect by the Wednesday before.

I got up quite early Thursday morning and drove up to the Lane, the best surfing spot in Santa Cruz, CA. I paddled out with my fellow Valley Pilots junior, Jeffery Steehler, and Bryon Dorr. This was the real test for the Lane. What was I to expect for the next three days? When we got to the point, it was small and bumpy with barely anyone on the water. The conditions weren’t perfect but the fact that  we had the waves to ourselves made me happy. With just a handful of us I could really unleash and fully express my surfing style. Thursday’s wave quality wasn’t the worst that I had surfed at the lane and I definitely got some sweet rides. When it is small like that you really get to know the spots that the wave breaks at. A lot of times it looks like Middles is going to break, or heck even just Main peak, but instead it will just roll through without breaking. Being in just that right spot definitely gives you an advantage to get on a sweet wave. That morning’s surf session gave me an idea of what to expect. I would need to be patient and make sure to not take waves coming in from a couple of directions. They were breaking but then rapidly turning into mush and never really reforming. My guess is that there was a lot of sand built up from the San Lorenzo flowing that week. I was expecting some incredibly fun rides throughout the competition, as long as the wind cooperated.

One of the things I really like about this contest is the size of the venue. You get all sorts of people from around the world that you end up really only seeing at contests. It’s great to catch up with them at boat check-in night. I had three boats that I was checking in and probably spent at least an hour getting them stickered, just so I could chat with the people in line. It’s interesting  to see the different boats, especially the older boats from before I started surfing. It’s funny listening to people like Buck Johnson who ramble on about ‘Oh I remember that boat! Didn’t so and so win with it in xxxx year?’


For the first time that I can remember I did not have a heat in the morning. This was totally weird for me; I was used to getting up at the crack of dawn and being on the water in the first couple of heats. As much as I enjoyed sleeping in, I was a bit disappointed that I wasn’t early. I knew that the wind was supposed to pick up at some point and that the conditions were going to deteriorate throughout the day. My heats were all in the afternoon…

My very first heat was in IC. I only had three people in the heat so there was plenty of room in the lineup. I always get horrible butterflies for my first heat. This competition was the result of the last 6 months of hard work and I really wanted it to pay off. I felt like  I had a horrible heat. I was sliding out and barely able to do anything of value on the wave. The scores showed it too. I barely squeaked by tying for last and only getting 2nd because I had a higher wave  score than the other surfer.

I then had to wait until the 2nd to last heat of the day to surf HP. I really didn’t know what boat I was going to be surfing until about an hour before. I was holding out to see if conditions would clean up, but they hadn’t by the time I had to get ready. I had two choices for HP boat, Random Revolution or Valley Rush MK2. Since conditions were looking to be quite messy the fuller rails and higher volume of the Rush was going to the safer choice for me. I wasn’t going to have to worry about tripping a rail with whitewater takeoffs and it was going to be loads easier getting over foam piles if I got caught inside.

Putting in at Low tide

I spent quite a long time caught in the inside during that heat. I remember taking a wave at the slot and going big, landing it and then being stuck for quite a long set. Prior to the contest I spent a couple of days with Dave the Wave at the lane. I feel like in those sloppy conditions that limited time with Dave was well spent. I was definitely in the right spot for a couple of sets and it really paid off. I was also super deep for some of the sets and got worked hard because of it. He did tell me that I would have to be willing to take a beating if I was going to go deep. After the heat was over, I did not regret my boat choice the Mk2 did the job I needed it to. 1st place in a tough heat is something I will never complain about.


I slept like a rock Friday night. Rain and wind went unnoticed until morning. When I went out to put the boats on the car there was not a wisp of wind. STOKED. My heats didn’t start until midday. Anyone who surfed Saturday can tell you that was some of the best surf they have ever been in. Tall glassy waves. No crowd. Saturday is why people come to this contest. With the waves being so CLEAN and lasting the whole day, I could not believe my luck. Even by the time I got out there at noon the surf was still shaping up and only getting better.

I felt like my HP heat went quite well. I was fluid in the water and did not spend too much time caught inside. I definitely went big once or twice. I came incredibly close to landing a Pan-Am but very shortly tripped on the rail so I don’t know if it was counted. I think this heat is really where the local knowledge shined. The other guys in the heat had surfed the Lane before, but were running too far outside when the sets were rolling through. The waves weren’t quite breaking on the outside yet and by squeaking just a little bit closer in I was able to drop into incredible waves that I won’t forget soon. I was feeling real confident after that heat ended.

I was going to need the confidence for my IC heat that day. There were only three people in it, but I was with Dan Crandall and Dennis Judson, two very experienced surfers. These two guys know the Lane better than I do. Heck, they have probably been surfing the Lane longer than I’ve been alive. I remembered thinking, while I was caught on the inside, that a young pup like me really shouldn’t be tired yet and proceeded to power my way out through the surf. I came out of that heat not knowing what to expect. I had been surfing against two seasoned paddlers and had seen them on some sweet waves. I was nervous to hear the results. With, my 2nd place the day before I knew that if I got another I would be out.


The organizers of the contest waited as long as they could to let us know the results of the day. It added great suspense, but really played with my emotions. The venue that we had the party at was real nice. The band wasn’t bad, the atmosphere was great, and the people, as always, were quite entertaining. I talked to quite a few people who were reminiscing on the day’s events, mainly about wipeouts. We were all going deep and really pushing the limits and definitely a few of us paid for it. I know I had some of the most high speed crashes of my career at this contest. Big waves, steep drops, and the wrong body trim led to me getting thrashed a couple of times.

Trying to duck under

Dennis  and the ladies from Team Bensch finally announced the day’s results and I had made it through to the semi-finals! I took 1st in my IC heat. The three of us were only separated by a 3 point spread. It was an incredibly close heat. I had a 1st and a 2nd and wound up in 5th for the IC semi-finals. For Hp, I took another 1stplace, so I had two first place heats but I had not been scoring as well as the others and that put me in 4th for the semis. I was happy with both placements but I knew my next heats would not be easy. I was going to be grouped with better scoring contestants and I was going to need to work hard to move on.

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