Sunday, March 31, 2013

Make it Look Fun

The rumors are true.  Last week, I competed in my first kayak surf contest.  I have a hard time saying competed because for me surfing isn't about competition.  Most surfers never surf in a competition and many loath the idea.  The Santa Cruz Kayak Surf Festival is the only competition that Jeff participates in.  He does it for the opportunity to surf the typically overcrowded Steamer's Lane with only 3 others.  His family lives in the area and so it is a special chance for them to see him surf.

My reasons for signing up were basically the same.  We both agreed that I didn't have the experience yet to surf in the Open Division at Steamer's Lane so the Cowell's Classic would be a fun, friendly event for me.  My goal was to catch some nice waves, surf them well, and have fun.

The weekend of the event, the waves at Cowell's were small (2-3 feet) and very slow so I decided to use my Mini Mako Surf Kayak.  The Mini Mako is fast but I was nervous about using it because I haven't surfed it in months and don't have good control of it.  (My Mini Mako doesn't have fins and tends to slide and spin on the wave rather than carve.  I know that I need to edge it harder but haven't mastered edging it and keep sliding).

At the pre-event meeting when the judges explained the event and scoring criteria, one phrase stuck in my mind - "Make it look fun."  My anxiety over the boat and the event evaporated.  The sun was shining and there were waves to be surfed.

There were 15 of us competing in the kayak division of the Cowell's Classic so we were divided into 4 different heats.  Of the 15 competitors, there were probably 15 different makes of kayaks in the event including classic whitewater kayaks, hp surf kayaks, waveskis and sit on top surf kayaks.  It was fun to see a mix of craft as well as a mix of men and women and ages.

In Saturday's heats, the waves were small and slow but spilling.  There were long lulls in the set waves making everyone nervous about not getting waves.  Some of the participants waited for the longer rides of set waves while others surfed the smaller, shorter but more consistent waves on the inside. 

I was in the final kayak heat of the day with 2 others.  When the horn blew for us to surf, it was like someone turned the faucet on.  The lines of waves kept rolling in.  The 3 of us cheered each other on and took turns as we frantically tried to make the most of the waves fearing a long lull.  But less than 10 minutes into our 20 minute heat, each of us had caught several nice long rides.  We settled down and started being more choosey about our waves.

Competition pushes one to do a bit more than they normally do.  I was inspired by watching surf kayak legend Kenny King pull off 360 spins in his Mini Mako.  The waves that I was surfing were soft and forgiving so I started playing with the spin of my boat and trying to make it spin a 360 on the wave.  I didn't pull one off but was having fun messing about with it at the end of my rides.

When the 3 of us got off the water, we were elated and giving each other big hugs.  We all agreed that it was one of the funnest surf sessions ever and were so stoked to share it with each other.

Sunday morning, we checked the results and heats for the next day.  The swell was looking a little bit bigger and I was eager to get back out there.  When I saw the results from the previous day, my stomach knotted up.  I won my heat and had scored really well.  I got really nervous.  Butterflies started fluttering in my stomach as the anticipation of surfing has turned to anxiety over performance. 

As I paddled out for my heat, I was excited to see the waves a little bit bigger than the previous day and more frequent.  They were still super friendly - spilling slowly down 3-4 foot green faces.  My heat began with a nice set.  I paddled on to my wave, started to skid, and promptly caught my edge and wiped out.  I rolled up and frustratedly dug my blades in and paddled back out.  As I charged back out, I focused on my forward stroke - anchor and rotate, anchor and rotate, anchor and rotate.  The rhythm of powering my boat felt good.  I started to relax.

More waves came and I caught a few nice rides making turns as the waves spilled toward shore.  I still had moments of  skidding out of control which I tried to combat with digging in my edge.  This often slowed me down too much so I decided to continue with the previous days efforts of continuing the spin to flat spin my boat in a 360 on the wave.  And to my disbelief, I pulled one off.

Game-over - I didn't care if I got any more points - I was happy.  It was a sunny, warm day with just a breath of wind, fun friendly waves, and I was out surfing and having fun.  It seemed that most of the participants felt this way.  We enjoyed each others company on and off the water and on the water, many of us accomplished "firsts" - first rolls in the surf, first cut-backs, first time surfing a surf boat, first time kayak surfing in 30 years, first 360 on a wave.

A huge thanks and congrats to Dennis Judson and his team that organized the 27th Santa Cruz Paddlefest.  It was an excellent event with a great spirit of paddle surfing.  The efforts to "Occupy Cowell's" for the novice/intermediate event must have been considerable but was successful.  I hope that they will continue to offer the Cowell's option again.  I will definitely rally paddlers and encourage our students to participate.

And where do I go from here?  Watching the open division was inspiring but humbling.  I am a perfectionist and am continuing to develop my kayak surfing skills.  I surfed Jeff's Valley Rush for the first time this week and foresee an HP Surf Kayak in my future.  I don't know if I will compete again because I like to push myself from within and surf on my own terms.  However, I have to admit that I would really like the opportunity to kayak surf Steamer's Lane.

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