The Santa Cruz Paddlefest is one of the most favored competitions in the North American paddling circuit for its good stoke, great conditions and barreling competition. This year’s Paddlefest – as ever – did not disappoint.
Here is the recap from Zane Kekoa Schweitzer.
Stoke & history at the Santa Cruz Paddlefest
This year marks the 30th annual Santa Cruz Paddlefest and I always look forward to attending this event in the lively waters of Santa Cruz, CA. The first time I ever competed at this event, I think I was only 16 years old. It was one of the first sup surf competitions I ever won!
“What makes it stand out as different from other comps because the sup community is able to mix in with the Kayak Surf Community”
There’s always something special about coming together for a competition at this spot and this legendary event is recognized worldwide by the Kayak community. This makes it stand out as different from other comps because the sup community is able to mix in with the Kayak Surf Community. In recent years this event is also becoming more recognized in the sup surfing and racing worlds too. As a matter a fact, this event is probably the biggest and most diverse competitive sup surfing event because it includes amateur to expert outside of the APP and ISA World Championships within the USA.
Maybe it’s the epic right-hand point break of Steamers Lane that keeps bringing everyone back, or possibly the camaraderie and competition between the athletes. Either way it’s an event that I’m grateful to take part in once again!
Travel Plans and Preparation for Competition
I arrived to San Francisco from Bend, Oregon after a successful tour of book launches and speaking engagements where I was sharing stories and lessons from my recently published book, “Beneath The Surface”. I was traveling with my girlfriend, Miss Hawaii Filipino, Kim Yap. We barely had plans for accommodation this whole trip in California so we decided to have faith that it would all work out.
A few weeks prior to leaving our home for this trip, my family and I hosted a couple from San Francisco at our surf camp on Maui. They were super hospitable when they found out that Kim and I had arrived, they offered us a place to stay for a few days. Bob and Angel made sure to share their local city with us touring us around and were kind enough to lend boards and a wetsuit to Kim so that she could join me for my training sessions at Ocean Beach. We are off to a good start!
Steamer Lane, Santa Cruz & Zane’s Ohana
After two days in San Francisco, we rented a car and made our way down to Santa Cruz to practice for the competition. When Kim and I arrived to Santa Cruz, the weather was wet and ugly we were catching the beginning of a solid rain storm…. And it was COLD.
“I am comfortable and familiar with surfing in the wind from all my training growing up on Maui”
But, with no wind — there is no waves some might say. So,we hoped for the best despite stopping at Steamer Lane and seeing that it was victory at sea conditions! Whenever it’s messy out for a competition, I get excited, because I am comfortable and familiar with surfing in the wind from all my training growing up on Maui. However, on this day I decided to pass and get some rest for the following days of action with better conditions in the near forecast.
Our next destination was further south in Marina, where we stayed with some friends from Maui, Anne-Marie, Eric Totah and their son Jayden. It was my first time staying the Marina area and I was super impressed by the huge bay and giant sand dunes scattered up and down the beach. It was only 45 minutes away from Steamer Lane and we found beautiful conditions and great waves because the bay and sand dunes were shadowing the wind allowing for some nice clean surf conditions!
Eric Totah is a pro surfer from Maui and his wife Anne-Marie has been a teammate of mine with Starboard for over 10 years. It felt like we were right at home hanging with them and I am super grateful for our network of extended family and friends here in California!
Santa Cruz Paddle Fest: Competition Day
Different from previous years, this year the Santa Cruz Paddlefest is awarding the King and Queen Of The Waves Champion as the Overall Winner from the combined results from the sup surf competition and the 10K sup distance race. This spiced it up a bit for sure and added a whole new performance level for the Overall Champion. The change really pushed racers to surf and surfers to race! I love this!
I didn’t bring a 14’ race board because I was traveling to so many locations on this trip. Flying from Maui to California, or anywhere really, with a 14’ race board can be almost impossible, but at the last minute I decided to race too. So I had to borrow a board at the very last minute! I was super thankful to connect with Pat, the local Starboard dealer in the area of California. He let me borrow a brand new 2017 14’ x 23.5 Sprint to race on!
I normally train and compete on the 14’ x 21” Sprint but this was the best option I had and it ended up working out well. The Sprints are fast!
How much stoke can you fit in one day?
Our first day of competition took place Friday, March 23rd and the weather has cleared up nice for us with sunny skies and some really fun overhead surf. Steamer Lane is such a great wave for stand up paddle surfing and I was super stoked to start off the competition with a win in my first heat. The following day on Saturday was the busiest day of action for most competitors and especially for me.
I was not only competing in the sup surf AND race events this day. I was also hosting one of my non-profit Free InZane Super Groms Kids clinics in the afternoon and then a beach cleanup I organized with the Starboard team and Plastic Tides!
I train a lot and always keep busy, so this was just another exciting InZane day. I finished the 10k race in 5th place and was a bit disappointed with the result, but had the settle with it as I was competing on borrowed equipment. However, with this result, I knew I had to finish as best as possible in the surf event to compensate for my 5th place finish in the race if I still wanted to take the over all Santa Cruz Paddlefest King Of The Waves title! Especially because Mo Freitas, who is always one of my biggest competition for the surf event, ended up getting 2nd place in the 10K race.
However, Slater Trout, who won the race, was disqualified for not following lifeguard regulations by failing to wear a PFD. So Mo ended up winning the race. This meant I had to win the surf event now.
Steamer Lane and the magic that happened there
Next up was the sup surf event that same day. Luckily, we had a few hours to recharge, get some food and swap out our race gear for surf gear. The waves were much cleaner, pulled together and defined since Friday’s sup surf event although it was a bit smaller.
Luckily, my 2018 7’2” x 24” InZane ProModel is very versatile. I am super confident surfing on it in a wide range of conditions from clean 2 foot surf to double overhead surf. I had a really fun heat playing around with the conditions trying my best to meet the judging criteria of speed, power and flow while also showing the judges and crowd some of my signature innovative maneuvers like the Pop shove-it with a body variable, backside reverse and some front side airs on the left!
“My 2018 7’2” x 24” InZane ProModel is very versatile. I am super confident surfing on it in a wide range of conditions”
I had such a fun session during the heat I almost forgot I was in competition and came close to catching my max wave limit of 10 waves within the 20 minute heat!! Another heat win and now I’m onto the next round.
InZane Super Grom clinics: a giant stokefest
But first, it’s time to share some stoke and aloha with the next generation of surfers and get on the beach and water with the Super Groms!!
With the help of Covewater Standup Paddle Surf donating boards and paddles we were able to have a lot of fun for the InZane Super Grom Ocean safety and watersports clinic with 6 juniors taking part in the event. For some of them it was the first time wearing a wetsuit or surfing a sup board!
Water Safety and a Beach Clean Up
After our ocean safety intro and hazard assessment we talked about the health of our beaches and oceans while doing a quick beach cleanup. I always make sure and educate the kids because they are the ones tasked with fixing the mess past generations have done to our planet.
By now, we were all warmed up from walking the beach in our wetsuits and were ready to get on the water! The waves dropped from earlier heats of competition and we were able to somehow get the lineup all to ourselves for 2 hours sharing tandem surf rides, party waves and sharing tips and techniques!
Mahalo nui loa to Olivier at Covewater Standup Paddle Surf for donating your time and equipment to make this InZane Super
Grom clinic possible. Also a big mahalo to my Starboard teammates, Lara Claydon and Kali’a Alexiou who helped with safety and donated their time in-between their competition schedule. Lastly, a big mahalo to Christian and Celine at Plastic Tides for helping to stoked out the kids and donate reusable bags for the beach cleanup!
Santa Cruz Paddlefest Competition: Finals Day
Sunday was the last day of competition and the waves were going off! I was the first heat of the day at 9am and I was stoked for this opportunity to surf the Lane for about 45 minutes with no one out, already in my contest jersey before the competition even started! I felt like I was enjoying my time and having a blast, and this is always when I feel I do my best in competition. So, I felt confident approaching the last day of the Paddlefest!
I ended up scoring the highest heat score total of that first heat of the day and scored probably the best waves and conditions of the whole event in this morning heat! Onto the semi-finals and I won once again, so now it was all coming down to the final.
“I felt like I was enjoying my time and having a blast, and this is always when I feel I do my best in competition”
Unfortunately, Mo Freitas injured his heal, so surprisingly, he ended up not making it through his semifinal along with Josh Riccio. But, this meant that all of my competitors that beat me in the race, were now behind me in the surf!
A Race for the Title: King & Queen of the Lane
I had another little extra bit of confidence approaching this final as I knew I already had a great chance of winning the Overall Title combined between the Race and Surf Finalist result.
“From start to finish I felt in rhythm with the waves and in sync with my equipment”
Poenaiki Raioha from Tahiti was also in the final and is one of my favorite sup surfers out there. In 2016 I was in second place overall for the Standup World Tour and in contention for the World Champion title with Caio Vaz. As I recall, all I had to do was finish in 3rd or better at the last competition in the final at Huntington Beach. But Poenaiki was on fire and beat me in my head to head, and I lost the World Champion title with me having to settle for 2nd overall. So I was really ready to surf against Poenaiki again at this event and hopefully have a different result.
Every time I am out in the water or in competition with guys like Mo and Poenaiki and others that push the limits, I’m really grateful. There are also the local standouts that blow me away with their talent, and it reminds me everyone is on their game.
Finals: An intimate look at Zane’s head space
In this final heat, I did all I could to prepare myself for a fun and comfortable heat, including timing the waves and sets, meditating and stretching, prepping my equipment and making sure to be the right head space. From start to finish I felt in rhythm with the waves and in sync with my equipment catching a lot of fun rides and making sure to be in position when the sets came.
“I landed a backside throw tail reverse, a pop-shove-it body variable and a front side air mixed in with smooth turns and round house wraps”
After putting 3 or 4 nice scores on the board, I decided to pick it up a notch, because I knew this is what I had to do if I wanted to beat Poenaiki’s smooth front side attack at Steamers Lane. My following 3 waves I landed a backside throw tail reverse, a pop-shove-it body variable and a front side air mixed in with smooth turns and round house wraps. When the horn blew Poenaiki and I shook hands out in the water while getting tangled up in the kelp beds and paddled in to wait patiently for the award ceremony following in a few hours.
Honoring a local waterman
In-between the finish of the competition and the award ceremony, we shared respect for a local waterman influential in the Santa Cruz Paddlefest that had recently passed. The Paddle out was for uncle Dennis, a local waterman from the Santa Cruz area and a great man. I had the pleasure to meet him at the previous year’s events and always looked forward to chatting with him about diving, fishing and surfing around Santa Cruz and the California Coast. It was a very special memorial with competitors and friends of Dennis and his ‘ohana. Everyone shared a story that captured his spirit and energy. We all passed around a bottle of champagne while sitting on our surfboards, kayaks, and stand up paddle boards in a circle out in the Channel of Steamers Lane.. A sea otter popped up just beside us within an arm’s reach, casually floating on its back with its feet crossed while munching some kelp.
Some of his friends laughed and shared that it would be just perfect for a reincarnation of Dennis.. Rest in paradise uncle Dennis!
Closing Ceremony: King & Queen of the Lane
So it all came down to the wire at the closing ceremony on the top of Steamer Lane point with all the competitors of all the different water sports and divisions waiting eagerly to hear the individual results and the Grand Overall title! As the names start to drop, with every name that wasn’t mine there was weight lifted off my shoulders.
And then I heard, “and in second place…. Poenaiki Raioha!”
That’s the moment my butterflies in my stomach turned to an overwhelming sense of gratitude and joy! I felt super humbled for all the kind support and words of encouragement from my friends, competitors and supporters. There is no better feeling in
competition when the others around you approve with the judge’s praise and I want to extend a big mahalo for all who was apart of my success here and this win!
Congratulations also go out to Izzi Gomez who won the women’s sup surf finals, and my Starboard team mate Fiona Wylde who finished in 2nd, and to Mo Freitas and Jade Howson for winning the 10K Distance races.
Finally, the Overall Champions were announced as “King and Queen of the Lane”. Congratulations to Candice Appleby who was crowned the Overall Women’s Champion and I was crowned King of the Lane with the Overall Men’s win as well.
Mahalo to all my California hosts, Christian and Celine, Anne-Marie and Eric, and Bob and Angel. A big congratulations and Mahalo to the organizers of this amazing event which is always a pleaser from all levels of experience! And thank you to Starboard for making the best Eco Friendly boards on the planet, and a company I am proud to be a part of for the last 10 years.
Until next time, aloha a hui hou!
See you on the water.
And if you want to keep up to date with all my adventures on the water please follow along on www.zaneschweitzer.com and subscribe to my blog at https://conta.cc/2pyBhGI .
— Zane Kekoa Schweitzer