Summer was over in the northern hemisphere, autumn rains filled the rivers again, and the stirring winter storms along the PNW coast bring surf and dynamic conditions. The change in season is also marked for me when it’s time to head down to the Hobuck Hoedown Paddle Surf Festival held at the NW tip of the USA, at Hobuck Beach on the Olympic Peninsula.
This event is a friendly competition that encourages beginners to get out amongst it, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t something for the experienced competitive paddler. While we all give the “stoke” and don’t fight for waves, there is some serious skill and talent out there. This event is becoming known as the “leading edge” of competitive sea kayak surfing, with many contestants achieving in sea kayaks what used to be only considered possible in specialized surf kayaks.
Last year (2017) I managed to win the Sea Kayak division, so this year (2018) I had to defend that title, as well as compete for my first time in the HP (High Performance) Surf Kayak and IC (International) Surf Kayak divisions. These were both new kayak disciplines for me, and ones that I am quickly getting addicted to. If you have never surfed a composite surf kayak, imagine merging a surf board and kayak together; it is so maneuverable, so fun, so hard and really addictive.
As usual the event was a hit. The main heats are run on Saturday with semi’s and finals happening on Sunday. The weather was stunning on Saturday, and then the rain moved in, giving us true PNW conditions on Sunday.
In the Sea Kayak division the main hitters I was up against were Costain Leonard, Mike Gill, Spencer Jones, and new “young gun” Seth Putnum. In my first heat I placed third and was feeling like I may have blown my chances completely, especially when in the second heat I broke my paddle as a large wave took me over the falls for a beating. This lead to me surfing with only one half a paddle for most of the heat, until Mike Gill ran down to throw me another one in between waves.
After the second heat, I was certain I was out of the running, especially since newcomer Seth Putnum had been cleaning up, getting first in all his heats. I walked down to see the score board, and to my surprise I had come first in my second heat, despite (or maybe because of) having only half a paddle for most of it. Not only had I landed first in my second heat of the Sea Kayak division, but also in my HP and IC divisions. Now with a third and a first in the Sea Kayak division, I had just enough points to squeeze through to the finals. I was excited I had made it through to the finals in all three of my divisions.
On Saturday night, the event puts on a great dinner with a big campfire for everyone to socialize around before heading off to their tents, sore and tired, to sleep. The finals on Sunday meant a fresh start, anyone could win this.
The Sea Kayak final was murmured to be a battle of the Titans (or Canadians, since all the finalists lived in BC Canada), due to the caliber of all the paddlers; with Costain Leonard, Mike gill, Seth Putnam and I ready to duke it out. But before the Sea Kayak final, I needed to surf my HP final.
I was giving this HP Surf Kayak heat so much focus and having so much fun, that when the horn blew to change heats, I forgot I was in the next one. Sitting in the surf recovering from giving my all, I suddenly realized everyone was paddling out in their sea kayaks, and I should be one of them! I still had to paddle in, switch kayaks and paddle back out again. Ugh!! By the time I got to the beach, ran up dropped the surf kayak and then ran down with the sea kayak and started to get in it, the final heat had already begun. As I wiggled back out into the surf I watched Seth, and then Mike catch a ride each that looked so smooth and in control with some good turns. I was feeling like I was behind the 8 ball again; I would need to surf my ass off to win this one!
I paddled out calmly, catching my breath, and remembered “all you need is two good waves to win, and a third one just in case it is a tied score on the first two.” I still had time for that. The waves were perfect this morning for sea kayak surfing, long and predictable. I decided to surf for fun and get the most out of each wave by getting as many turns in as possible while trying to get big top turns off the lip.
Seth and I were really butting heads on trying to get the best waves; so much so that at one point I had to roll as Seth got caught too deep on a breaker and came thundering towards me in a side-surf. He skimmed straight over my capsized kayak; hoping he had passed I rolled up and started surfing again.
It was an exciting heat, and I loved watching everyone else surf and get great waves. As much as I like to compete, it all comes back to my love of the water and surfing that draws me out here, especially with this group of individuals who are all such solid sea kayak surfers. It is awesome to see where this sport is going. At the end everyone had some great rides. I managed to take the Final, placing 1st, with Seth and Costain Leonard in behind. So for a second year I hold the Sea Kayak Surf Title. I also managed to place 2nd in the IC division and 3rd in the HP division. I look forward to even harder competition next year as everyone gets determined to surf bigger and harder in their sea kayaks, perhaps I will see you there in finals…
The stirring winter storms along the PNW coast bring surf and dynamic conditions."