The 30th Annual Sant Cruz Paddle Festival helped kick off the standup paddling season with some great performances, huge wins, and some huge upsets at the world famous Steamer Lane surf spot.

Under new leadership by long time local Mathew Hoff and with one of the biggest manufacturers in the business, Starboard SUP stepping up to be the main sponsor this year’s Santa Cruz Paddlefest (SCPF) only needed one last ingredient to make it epic, WAVES!  Well “The Lane” delivered on 2 of the 3 days with solid overhead conditions and pumping waves for everyone.

Day one of the competition started with Paddlers positioning uncomfortably close to a 50 ft. tall cliff wall to get the position on the take off because the waves were unusually small between swells.  Once the day was over it was obvious that the level of sup surfing has been accelerating by leaps and bounds as huge speed, massive turns in the pocket, airs, and floaters were the norm for the top paddlers even in the 1-2 ft conditions.

Each paddler got the chance to surf in two twenty minute heats, one on Friday and one on Saturday, giving everyone an ample opportunity to experience the Lane with only 4 other people in the lineup.

On day 2 mother nature delivered with a solid 4-6 foot swell and glassy conditions, but before the competitors could get out in the swell, there would be an epic sup-racing battle down at Cowells Beach with a 5k and 10k beach start and finish race complete with a grueling 300-meter beach run on each of the 2 laps.

After the horn blew, a flurry of boards and paddlers spraying water and froth hit the water in a flat out sprint for the lead.  Slater Trout would take the lead but Gorgio Gomez and Mo Freitas would not let him break away.  The 3 battled it out all the way to the end but after Slater fell Mo got a few board lengths ahead to claim the top while Slater and Giorgio would sprint the beach run. 

The women’s class was an even greater battle between Fiona Wilde and Shea Foudy which ended in an absolutely explosive beach landing on a double up wave which had some of us thinking there could be an injury, but after the foam settled it would be Fiona emerging on her feet with her paddle in hand.

Shea started running up the beach just 2 steps behind Fiona but realized she had dropped her paddle in the epic beach landing/collision and had to double back in order to grab it. This is the rule for SUP racing:  “You must always finish with your paddle in hand.” Following up in 3rd and fourth would be the most favorite local and Covewater paddler Kali’a Alexiou and Jen Fuller.

Every heat had ringers and big names known in the international world of sup surfing and coming from all over like Tahitian Poenaki Raihoa or Hawaiian Mo Freitas and Berm Rodieger, iconic sup ambassador Dave Boehne, Brandon Rambo, Ryan Helm, and even local legends and iconic surf names like John Griffin and Drew Brophy.

On day 3, mother nature kept pumping swell aimed directly at the lane and the athletes could be spotted paddling out at first light to get positioned for a 7:00 am start.  The conditions were powerful and clean which had some athletes in all the wrong places at the wrong times and others in the right places at the right times, but it was one of the most exciting semi-finals and finals we could expect.

In the end, it would come down to the final four in the men’s and women’s with Giorgio Gomez absolutely crushing 2 waves right off the bat, it looked like he couldn’t be stopped despite a seriously hard-charging campaign by Brandon Rambo including 2 solid waves and Mo Freitas with some single huge moves it wouldn’t be enough and Giorgio would take top honors with Brandon, Mo, and Dave Boehne rounding out the top 4.  In the

In the women’s, it was a tight battle between Fiona Wilde, who started strong and looked like the force to be reckoned with, but it was the young paddler and dark horse Annie Reickert who would link 2 epic rides to claim the top spot on the podium in a big upset for the women class.

Fiona would take 2nd, Izzy Gomez 3, and Kali’a Alexiou in 4th.  Hats off to Mathew Hoff and Starboard for putting together a successful SCPF and bringing together an amazing community of warm and smiling paddlers.  Make sure to mark your calendars for next year!