The Santa Cruz Epic

Though the athletes need little reminder of the raw conditions that won’t soon be forgotten, we present a few fresh photos and tales from the recent Santa Cruz PaddleFest. “Gnarly," and especially "crazy" are the first words from the mouths of the standup racers and surfers describing the third annual Surftech Shootout and first annual Surf & Sand Duel-athon, presented by SUP magazine, March 18-19 in Santa Cruz, Calif. Despite falling trees, evacuations, and road closures, the contest went on. — Rob Casey

Overhead waves and 25-knot gusts greeted surfers the first day. Elite surfers Michael Roberts, Dan Gavere, Zane Schweitzer, Peter Trow and Sean Poynter put on a ripping show.

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Six-foot shore break prevented many from even getting off the beach for the six-mile Saturday, March 19 Duel-athon.The pack initially lost the buoys in the mayhem of whitecaps, paddling led racers a half-mile off course, requiring them to paddle upwind to get back on track. Gavere explained, "It was windy, gnarly, and mostly whitewater conditions, so I did well." Wade Lawson said, "The launch site was Cowell's, which normally is fine, but under 30-knot, gale-force winds, crazy." Lawson continued, "I couldn't even get past Cowell's. I got one wave and took it in." Santa Barbara, Calif.’s Matt Becker took first place in men's division, Gavere was second, and Anthony Vela took third. Despite dropping a paddle, which was thrown back to her, Honolulu’s Candice Appleby won the women's division, with Anne-Marie Reichman in second place, and Gillian Gibree following in third. Visit Surftech SUP for full results and more photos.

Stormy conditions continued on Day Two of the Shootout. Many took bombs from notoriously large Mid-peak and rode past Indicators below the judging stand. With worse conditions predicted for Sunday, March 2, the scheduled final day of competition, oganizers cancelled the Day Three Shootout events and combined scores from the first two days. Schweitzer scored first, with Gavere in second and Joe Rowan in third. Appleby finished 15th overall, as the top (and only) female competitor. Gavere was named "King of the Beach" for the combined score of his close runner-up finishes in both the Duel-athon and the Shootout.

Here's Schweitzer's notes and his highlight rundown from the epic Santa Cruz weekend win that was:

Highway 1 by Big Sur collapsed in front of us as we were driving. Huge waves day before the event. After a great afternoon, a big bomb set comes through as we were paddling out. I get thrown and my leash breaks. I swim to get my board which has crashed into the rocks—dings and cracks on the rail and the contest starts the next day! Then find out Sion Milosky, my friend from Hawaii drowned at Mavericks.  Super bummed. My board gets beat to hell, I have to surf it with major duct-tape repairs. I decide I have to still compete and I am going to dedicate this event in Sion’s memory. But things are still not going our way. Find out Sean (Poynter) and I are not in the event but on an “alternate list.” All surf shops are full and can’t repair my board in time. Get in the event, thank God! Have to borrow my teammate’s board for the surf event … It’s freezing, raining, and in the Elite Race it even hails … which I have never seen before coming from Maui.

In the Elite Race, Matt Becker, Anthony Vela and I are in the lead really far from the rest of the pack but somehow can’t find the buoy, the jet-ski guys tell us we have to turn around and go outside of the pier to the buoy, so we have to fight the waves, 25-knot winds and cold, and paddle to the right buoy by the pier as the other racers catch up to us in the meantime since they were told where the buoy was before veering off track. We have to fight hard to get our lead back, it's freezing, and I only wore a rash guard and shorts for the Elite Race … did I say I was from Hawaii????

Surf event's crazy, victory at sea, and the waves dropped, but the weather was so crazy they had to call the event twice. But Surftech and the organizers pulled it off. I was stoked to be able to get in the water, ride the waves, and race and compete against some really good guys in the most challenging conditions. Got to see hail, surf, and win—so it was a pretty great weekend.  I’ll be back next year! (Read more on Schweitzer’s ‘Zane’s World‘ blog.)

See highlights from Becker’s Duel-athlon win from Standup Paddle Television:

Check out other video highlights of the Shootout on Ted Eady’s Stand Up Paddle Boarding TV