Archive for May, 2008

Santa Cruz Surf Kayak Festival

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The Santa Cruz Surfkayak festival is generally recognized as the top annual surfkayak event (its one of only 2 3* events in the Worldcup qualifying series, along with Mundaka). Ive been lucky enough to head over these the last couple of years, generally co-ordinated with cunningly scheduled business trips and Caroline and I have got to know quite a few friends most kayak events, its often as much party as it is paddling. In previous years; Ive managed to avoid coming last in the expert mens HP division, swimming, or drowning (which were my original goals when I started entering). Although, Ive come to realize there is no shame in swimming, far better boaters than I have been known to. We got in early morning the Wednesday before the competition from Hawaii and headed straight down from SFO to Steamers Lane at Santa Cruz. As I hit the beach at Cowells I was met by one of the US Easts top boaters, Eric Miller, who told me hed got hit by a big wave and busted his ribs - he hadnt actually caught a wave when he got taken over the falls, and wouldnt paddle again or compete. It kind of set the tone for the next 5 days. Following a brief session early Wednesday, which saw some of the worlds best surf kayakers (including our own Robyn, who was sat in the thick of things at transitions) out at double-overhead Middlepeak, it was a bunch of free-surfs and parties with the numerous friends weve made out there over the years. As everyone gathered leading up to the Friday morning heats, it was obviously a really strong field again with champions from across the world; England, Ireland, Channel Islands, Japan, Canada, in addition to the top guys from across the USA. I just realized, I mentioned a bunch of spots at Steamer Lane without explaining what Im talking about. Basically, the Lane consists of a bunch of breaks - ranging from the beginners spot of Cowells just off the beach at the Boardwalk through to 3rd Reef which breaks up to 25 feet half a mile out to sea from the cliffs and way over a mile from the beach - the swell was such during the competition that 3rd reef and middlepeak were breaking, with the best waves carrying through into Indicators where the wave doubles in speed and gets real steep. The first 2 days consist of the qualifying rounds to reach the quarterfinals of the mens expert High performance (under 9ft boats only) division and the semifinals of each of the other divisions. I was entered in mens HP and IC expert divisions. With 2 second places in the my first two HP heats, I sneaked through to the last 16 - through to the Sunday for the first time! The surf was pretty large with 12-15 feet faces and clean conditions and I managed to beat some really good, big wave specialists. My wave selection was pretty good and I was really pleased with how it went. Robyn also qualified through to the HP Ladies Final in her first Santa Cruz, although the entrants were reduced massively this year - probably due to the size of the waves. Some video from the first 2 days is here . I appear 3 times in the video - at 01:36 (little ride), 02:15 (whupping), and 03:33 (narrowly avoiding a massive beating from a monster closeout). The Sunday morning broke with the swell having jumped from 12ft to 19ft overnight on the Monterey bouy, and we reached the Lane early to find the high tide pushing screaming barrels very close to the cliffs, not great and I was up second against World Champion Rusty Sage and last years 3rd placed competitor Andrew Nolan, so I reckoned that was it for me - at least an honorable place in the last 16! The heat was awesome, with stonking steep 12-15ft drops and throwing barrels near the cliff. For once, I surfed out of my skin in a contest - getting a 62 score (which turned out to be the 3rd highest of the last 16) and made it through to the semis with a second to Rusty!

On the Sunday, mens expert HP runs three sets of heats; Quarter (first thing), Semi-Final (late morning), and Finals (mid afternoon). The next trick for me was to escape the madness up on the cliff and get my head around being in the last 8, so Caroline and I disappeared onto the steps leading down to Indicators to quietly sit and calm down. As we sat there, the heaviness of the surf sunk in as elite competitor after elite competitor swam back in with varying remnants of their kit in tow or being towed back by their fellow competitors - we spent the next hour helping people up the steps and hearing various stories of carnage. As my heat got nearer I headed back up onto the cliff to grab my vest and get readywhere I ran into Kenny King and Dick Wold (2 of the absolute legends in the sport) looking at the scores, when they saw me they both approached me to congratulate me and shake my hand - a special moment, among many at this competition. Changed, said goodbye to Caroline, and got the shuttle down to Cowells and paddled out for my semi. As I made my way out there, it became obvious that the swell was still growing - but the sun was out and the offshore wind was making for classic conditions. As I got to the waiting area outside the lineup, I found Rusty and Dave Johnson waiting for my heat. The greeting I received (a combination of encouragement, support, and a little surprise) was another special moment - which got even better as I saw Robyn paddling out for the ladies final which was taking place after our semi-final. Here we were near the climax of the Santa Cruz festival, in front of a huge crowd, out in the lineup in incredible conditions, among the best in the world with another member of Martlet waiting for our heats! Throughout my heat, I could hear Robyn shouting encouragement from the waiting area, which was nice. Eventually the first semi-final finished and the horn went to signify the commencement of our 15 minutes. Rusty and Dave went paddling in deep, leaving Jared Licht and myself sitting outside waiting for the larger waves to swing in wide. The heat itself is a blur, although I wished I had followed the others deep to take more waves - in the event I got 3 rides, the least in the heat and only one that really matched my earlier performances.

As the clock wound down to 5 minutes, a huge set loomed on the horizon with only Jared and myself in position. We paddled like crazy to take priority and then something horrible happened; Jared was inside of me, but too deep, and as I got to the shoulder in perfect position the super-thick lip pitched straight onto him from over 15ft in the air. I was transfixed and not about to take off, making a bad situation worse, as he turned turtle to take the impact on his carbon kevlar hull. The force of the impact destroyed him; his hull and paddle were snapped in two and he required 30 stitches in his face - despite being upside down on impact. I didnt take another wave, and was really relieved when I saw him being carried off by the rescue team on the jetski. I got back to the cliff drained, and glad to hear Jared looked OK, although hed gone to hospital. I also found Id placed 3rd which ended my competition and placed me joint 5th overall! Pretty relieved and happy to be able to watch the final from the cliff. Robyn competed well in her final in really heavy conditions, and came fourth overall - although she was disappointed, its a pretty awesome achievement given it was her first Santa Cruz only one year after really taking up the sport!

Happy that I was in one piece, Caroline joined me to watch the final from atop the cliff. The final was basically a whos who of the best male surfkayakers in the World; Chris Harvey from Guernsey, Matt Radis, Dave Johnson (in his 7th heat and 3rd final of the day!) and Rusty Sage from West Coast of US. It turned out to be one of the best heats ever seen, with each boater trying a slightly different tactic to take the final.

For most of the final, it looked to me like Radis was taking it. Superb old school surfing, beautiful style, with big end moves. And then Harvey pulled out something special - sitting really deep over by the cliffs, he pulled into a walling monster that presented him with a ramp to bust and land a huge air.

A roar went up from the cliffs and a perfect score of 30 was posted to take the title. No matter what the rest of the competitors did, they couldnt find a similar wave to repeat this move and the title was his.

Weve been going to the Santa Cruz competition for 4 years now, and every year we have a great time with increasingly close friends. The competition is superb, waves generally great, people are friendly, and the partying is top. Im not sure there is another sport in the world where a relative newcomer can show up and compete against the best, and be openly welcomed and helped to improve. While competition isnt for everyone, myself included, the Santa Cruz surfkayak festival is an amazing experience.

Links:- Results Santa Cruz surf kayak festival website Surfzone All pictures by Caroline Woolward

Record numbers at this years open day

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Originally uploaded by m.kayak

The scorching hot weather brought out the masses to Brighton today for
a record attendance at our festival open day.

Over 160 people came to try kayaking and all seemed to enjoy
themselves.There was an excellent turn out at the club with members
doing everything from looking after people on the water to booking
them in. Many thanks to all members who made this day a great success,
the BBQ later was also a feature which I am sure will be continued.

Martlet kayak club quadrathlon

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Just a month to go to get some practice in for the famous MKC

See Andy for more details now!

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