By Matt Skenazy
Mysto Moves? The Eskimo Loop? A flying tail squirt?
Confused? Get a lesson down at Steamer Lane during the 22nd annual Santa Cruz Kayak Surf Festival (SCKSF).
The SCKSF is the largest surf kayak competition in the world. It features expert categories for men, women and juniors in high-performance kayaks under nine feet, but novice and intermediate surf kayakers can also showcase their skills. Heats for expert surf kayakers are on Friday and Saturday, with finals on Sunday.
Steamer Lane is one of the best venues in the world for any type of surf contest. The amphitheater-like setting of the surrounding cliffs provides front-row seats for spectators, photographers and professional surf judges.
“It’s hard to find anywhere in the world that is better than Steamer’s,” event director Dennis Judson said. “It’s a really great wave with a lot of energy, and it will pump all day long no matter what tide it is.”
Last year the Pacific served up glassy 8- to 12-foot waves that were perfect for the contest, and Judson is keeping his fingers crossed for the same this year.
The competition also features local talent, including Rusty Sage, the 2007 World Champion and two-time winner of the Santa Cruz Festival; Buck Johnson, the 2007 Masters Champion; and Dave “The Wave” Johnston, the 2006 World Cup Champion. While being at home provides an advantage, it also comes with its drawbacks.
“I do feel pressure to take advantage of my home turf,” Johnston said. “That is what people expect.”
“Air” Chris Harvey, who hails from Britain but has spent time kayaking in California, is the reigning champion of the 2007 SCKSF. He edged out Johnston last year in the most contested class, World Cup Men’s Expert, in an epic final.
“There’s a good rivalry between the guys and gals here on the West Coast and the lads and lasses from Great Britain,” Johnston said.
Johnston, a UCSC alumnus, is a mentor to Galen Licht, second-year UCSC student and founder of the UCSC Kayak Club.
“When I’m healthy we paddle every week at Davenport or the Lane,” Licht said.
At the young age of 20, Licht has already competed in the SCKSF five times. For the second straight year, however, he will be sidelined by a recurring shoulder injury.
“It’s excruciatingly painful to miss out on this contest,” Licht said. “I’m still part of the contest, but not being able to compete against my friends from all over the world is really hard.”
Licht, one of the contest organizers, will run a shuttle service sponsored by the UCSC Kayak Club.
The contest is coming off the energy from the 2007 World Surf Kayak Championships held in Mundaka, Spain in October. Seventeen countries were represented, many of which will have representation at the SCKSF, such as Costa Rica, Japan and Northern Ireland. Kayakers are ready to win, but also just hoping for the best.
“I’ve been at it so long that I know some things are out of my control,” Johnston said. “I’ll just be focused and do the best I can to put myself in a good position.”
_Check out the contest at Steamer Lane from March 14 through 16._