Note: This blog post is the opinion of the author, Sean Morley and is not intended to represent the opinion of the US West Surf Kayak committee.
During the 30th Annual Santa Cruz Paddle Surf Festival in 2016, there was much discussion about the lack of surf kayak competitors in many categories. For example, there were just four Women’s spots in 2016 – there were 22 Women’s spots across 3 categories. In the Men’s High Performance category numbers were down from 36 in 2004 to 24 in 2016. There were 16 competitors in the Elite Plastic Production category in 2004 and just 5 in 2016. Most significantly, there were 50 Novice and Intermediate competitors in 2004 (kayak and waveski). There were 12 in 2016.
There were no SUP competitors at 2004. SUP was introduced to the Santa Cruz event in 2009 and I have heard it said by the organizers of both the Santa Cruz Paddle Surf Festival and the Davenport Paddle Surf Classic that both events NEEDED to embrace SUP to survive due to dwindling numbers of kayak entries and persistently late sign ups. So anyone (like me) that was disappointed at not making the deep cut from 24 to 8 in the Men’s High Performance category at Santa Cruz this year should not blame it on the SUP’s or the organizers. Rather we should look in the mirror and ask ourselves what we are doing to promote the sport we love and sustain it for the long term.
I for one am not willing to accept that it is inevitable that SUP will ‘take over’ our events. I have nothing against SUP surfing – infact I LOVE it and on a small day at Bolinas, there is nothing I would rather do more than share some waves on a SUP with Gina, my wife. I admire and respect the performances of our SUP (and waveski) brethren and they have certainly inspired me to surf harder in my kayak. I am stoked that in the King of the Wave competition at Davenport, us kayakers have competed extremely successfully head to head with some of the best SUP surfers in the region.
I am also reassured by a recent increase in interest and participation if surf kayaking in the Bay Area. The really great news is, several of these ‘newbies’ are women and they have quickly become very accomplished kayak surfers.
We do need more juniors, although there are very positive signs in that category as well with some longtime competitors kids coming of age.
And it is fine with me if not everyone wants to compete. Surf kayaking is NOT all about competition and my personal goal is to help in developing a more social side to our sport. That is why I am spearheading the development of a new US West Surf Kayak website with an emphasis on education and outreach, working with Mat Hof and others on resurrecting the US West Surf Kayak Committee to ensure we have a cohesive plan, and I’m working with Kelly Marie Henry and Bill Vonnegut to create a new event for the calendar. The Bodega Bash (we’re struggling to think of a better name!) is scheduled for September 17 & 18 at a location to be determined near Bodega Bay in Northern California. All types of kayaks and waveskis will be welcomed. More details to follow soon.
Mat Hoff and Chris Bensch have been working to create two surf kayak clubs, one in Northern Oregon and one in Central California. Please get in touch with them through our Facebook Group. The US West Coast Waveski/Surf Kayak Facebook Group page is active and proving to be a good way to collaborate and communicate.
If you are an experienced surf kayaker, please think about what you can do to help develop and promote our sport. Start by contributing content to this website! If you are new to surf kayaking or have yet to try it, let us know how we can help you get started. Other than the waves, the best thing about surf kayaking is the community it has created, especially here on the US West Coast. Yes, we have geographical challenges of distance between us, but let’s work together to develop and promote our sport, reclaim our competitions and put together a winning Team for the Worlds in 2017. The latter is NOT the primary goal and will happen organically if we just work together to grow the sport and have fun!
See you out the back!