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Santa Cruz Wharf to Wharf Paddle
July 24, 2004

By Todd Walsh

Soft, grey early summer mornings in Santa Cruz are not new to me. As a teenager, my good friend Brett would come by my house and wake me up to charge an incoming macking summer swell. Stumbling out the door with a beer buzz from the previous night, I'd climb into his VW and we'd hit the Point, sometimes, paddling out in darkness. We'd surf a few good overhead plus waves on our somewhat inexperienced legs, once in awhile get caught inside, but generally be stoked as hell as the sun would start to come up and burn off the summer fog.

Fast forward 18 years, and I'm up early again on a warm summer morning. This time, no morning beer buzz (or even hangover for that matter), but with coffee and my iPod in hand, and a 14' board on the roof (not a 6'2" thruster) and head out the door, bound for a 5-mile paddleboard race. With no south swell in sight, paddling in the ocean in July makes perfect sense.

I competed in the 11th Annual Wharf to Wharf Paddleboard Race at the end of July and loved every minute of it. What a super event! A couple weeks before the race, looking at the event flier, I searched for an entry fee and address to mail my check. In small print it stated the race was free and late entries would be accepted up until 7:46 A.M. on race day. An organized event with no entry fee? Virtually unheard of in 2004. Good on ya Tom and gang for putting this thing together. It was organized, fun, and low key as it comes. As one famous Santa Cruz race promoter used to say, "No big heads and no whiners!" That rang true at the Wharf to Wharf.

I pulled up a the Santa Cruz wharf close to 7:30., unloaded my 14' Richmond, signed in (number 14) and then ditched my truck on a side street and cruised down to the beach in bare feet, board shorts and a rash guard. After a ceremonial photo by the wharf, the race commenced. I was a bit tentative -- I'd not paddled much this summer, but had been swimming 2 times / week, lifting a bit, and paddling and surfing sporadically. At 5 miles, I figured this would be a perfect race distance. My biggest concern was, "How will I get back to the Wharf after I finish in Capitola?"

Heading out into the glassy, calm waters, off Main beach, I'm surprised at how nice the water feels. (I'd later learn it was a balmy 64 degrees.) No wetsuit needed on this day. As we headed for Pleasure Point in the distance, I watched Buell and Gunnar and Jarret Winter stroke their unlimited craft (18' boards) into an early lead. These would be the guys to beat.

I myself pulled away from many of the other 30 or so paddlers, but was in about 7th place as I reached the end of Main Beach. I stayed on the heels of Phil Curtis as I knew he was on a 14' board and would be setting a good pace. As I approached the harbor, a guy on an unlimitied Bark stroked up alongside me and we exchanged pleasantries. Found out he was from Santa Ana and had road tripped up to Santa Cruz for the race with a couple buddies. I realized I was working a little harder than him and he soon cruised ahead. Past the Harbor, Phil started to gap me pretty well, and David King, on, an unlimited, started to pull away as well. As we approached 26th Ave. there were a few big fields of kelp. I watched the paddlers 300 yards ahead of me; some went right, some went left. I chose to go left and negotiated my way around the kelp without too much trouble.

One starts at the Santa Cruz Wharf and beelines it for Soquel Pt. (better known as Pleasure Pt.) then heads to Capitola.

Rounding the Point, a pack of surfers sat waiting for a small set. I stayed about 10 feet outside of them, knowing that I could sprint out to the horizon if a freak set rolled in. At this point a good sized seal surfaced alongside my right. He would continue with me pretty much until the end of the race. I have to admit, I had fleeting thoughts that the good sized critter might have a screw loose and attempt to take a couple fingers my fingers off, but those thoughts disipated quickly and I enjoyed his company. If nothing else, he was a nice distraction as I was starting to tire a bit as I headed in towards the Hook.

From the Hook one can easily make out the Capitola pier, the finish for this race. Around this time, I also spied a few other paddlers inside of me, and what looked to be about 200 yards behind me. For the final mile or so I decided to bare down, not wanting to lose any more spots in the final mile. I figured the paddlers coming up on me would have to really put down the hammer to catch and then pass me. It's almost always better to be ahead of someone with such little distance left. I started to work pretty hard this final mile -- counting each stroke up to 10, then repeating for a couple minutes at a time. I also continued to get up to my knees every couple few minutes. I maintained my position in the race, and as I rounded the pier, the seal that had followed me made one more leap, then disappeared for good. Coming in to shore, I ditched my board and ran up the beach to cross a line in the sand with two pieces of driftwood on either end. The other paddlers and 15 onlookers cheered and I felt real good. The trailing paddlers came in within a seconds. For the next 20 minutes we stood around watching and cheering the other paddlers as they finished up as a tractor groomed the empty, grey beach. A few women completed the race, a few youngsters and even 1 or 2 paddlers on longboards made it to the finish line.

After the last paddlers came in, a group of us decided to paddle back to the Wharf to round out the day. Danny (visiting from Long Beach) assured the skeptical, we'd be cruising back at an easy pace. I'd had a Clif Bar while on the beach and felt the I could easily make the paddle back. The route back was a cruise and was as fun as the race down. We took our time, talked story and took in the views. I watched a clean chest high wave roll through the Hook as we made our way back up the coast. During the hour and a half paddle back I got to know a few of the other paddlers as we chatted about how much each of us were training, what races we'd done or had planned to do, and how we manage to sneak in training with work commitments, families and other interests.

Santa Cruz Wharf to Wharf 2004 race results (PDF)

Photos are from Jay Moriarty Memorial Paddle Board Race, 2004
Photo courtesy of Howard "Boots" McGhee

Todd has been padde boarding a few years and has been surfing for 18 years. An open water swimmer, he has "escaped from Alcatraz" more than a dozen times and has competed in open water swim and traithlons throughout California. He currently paddles and works in the San Francisco Bay Area. Questions or comments?

Golden-Coast Productions, 2004