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Row, Row, Row for Dear Life: The Kayak Surf Festival is back this weekend.


The 23rd Santa Cruz Kayak Surf Festival heats up with new stand-up paddle and collegiate divisions.

By Michelle Camerlingo

For the last 22 years, the Santa Cruz Kayak Surf Festival has attracted paddle surfers from all over the word. And now a new subcategory of competitive surf enthusiasts will be making the drop on Westside waves this weekend. For the first time, the festival features a Stand-Up Paddle (SUP) category in a nod to the growing popularity of this crossover sport. Competition for the novice/intermediate Stand-Up Paddle Surfing category will be held on Saturday and Sunday at Cowell's Beach or Indicator Point, depending on wave size and conditions.

As usual, the Santa Cruz Kayak Surf Festival is a cosmopolitan affair. "People travel from England, Ireland, South Africa, Brazil, from everywhere to come to Surf City, Santa Cruz," says Dennis Judson, host of the annual festival. "It's hard to beat Steamer Lane." Judson has been a part of running the festival ever since its humble beginnings almost a quarter century ago. The largest surf kayak competition in the world, the event includes the exciting team trials to select U.S. West Surf Kayak Team for the 2009 World Surf Kayaking Championships in Portugal this summer.

Also new this year is the College Team Challenge, which will feature UC-Santa Cruz, Cal State Monterey Bay and other college teams. Competitors will be scored on their top three waves in each 19-minute heat. Judging is done by a panel that will watch each ride from start to finish using a 10-point scale based on wave selection, skill, length of ride and ending moves. At least two heats of surfers will compete in the "elite" category at Steamer Lane taking place on Friday and Saturday, with finals on Sunday.

The competition includes expert categories for men, women and juniors in high-performance kayaks under nine feet, international classic surf kayaks over three meters and waveskis. Surf Tech, one of the event sponsors, has donated two stand-up paddleboards that will be sold through a silent auction at the Contest Festival Tent. The Silent Auction is open to anyone and features great deals on boards, surf kayaks, outdoor gear, wines, restaurant certificates and art glass.The festival will feature display booths with the newest kayaks and gear to peruse and purchase. For spectators, there will be food booths a-plenty, with a sound system blaring music and play-by-play coverage.

Elites registered to compete include Santa Cruz surfer/board shaper Ward Coffey, Surf Tech general manager John Griffith, professional wave-skier Fletcher Burton and professional freestyle kayaker Dan Gavere.

Friday-Sunday, March 20-22, at Steamer Lane. For information visit or call 831.458.3648.

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