Great surfers are great paddlers. This age-old adage rang true at the 6th Annual Surftech Jay Moriarty Memorial Paddleboard Race as professional surfers, swimmers and paddlers alike came to Santa Cruz to test their skills on the rigorous 12-mile course.
The course usually associated with a range of challenges from dense fog to harsh ocean wind and waves turned delightfully calm with sparkling clear skies, light winds and warm water temperatures…at least by Santa Cruz standards. Even Santa Cruz’s temperamental sea lions seemed unusually friendly, barking halfheartedly while fighting for sunbathing space on the mid-race buoy.
Regardless of the relatively pristine conditions, the race was no picnic as locals and visitors put their skills to the test in the frigid, kelp-forested waters of Monterey Bay. Despite local knowledge of everything from kelp bed locations to potential shortcuts, there was no way to keep non-local and 2006 winner Gary Fortune from claiming the title for an impressive fourth year in a row.
Taking a strong lead, he finished with a time of 1:54:38, followed by fellow L.A. County paddler Kyle Powers. Rounding out the top finishers in third place was Joe Beek, one of Santa Cruz’s most recognized paddlers, who just missed slipping under the 2-hour mark with a time of 2:01:35.
Supporting the women’s race this year, sponsor ROXY offered women competitors cash prizes. ROXY’s involvement and the option to make some cash prompted an unprecedented number of female competitors from as far away as Florida to participate in this year’s race.
Even with additional competitors, last year’s winner, Santa Barbara native Jane Cairns, would not be surpassed as she powered ahead of the competition, once again taking the title along with a first place check and finishing with a time of 2:29:53. Following on her heels was 18-year-old Santa Cruz surfer Savannah Shaughnessy who put many winters of surfing heavy Nor Cal conditions to the test and came in second with a time of 2:34:36.
Perhaps more than any other competitor, Savannah truly embodied the spirit of Jay. Relatively inexperienced as a competitive paddler, Savannah is dedicated to riding big waves and proved that her training to surf in harsh conditions crosses over to competitive paddling, emphasizing the sport of paddling as an important component of a true waterman.
Miami Beach lifeguard Cynthia Aguilar, who flew out from the East Coast for the race, finished in third place and was the only female to also compete in the 2-mile race. But the “Jay Race” is not just about the best paddlers testing their mettle. From the men’s and women’s 2-mile sprints to the super grom 6-year-old category, surfers and paddlers of all ages and levels got a chance to paddle out into the bay between and after races.
Standup paddleboards, 12’, 14’ and Unlimited paddleboards and little nipper boards (super small kids’ paddleboards) were strewn across the beach, available to anyone wanting to give them a try. Moms and dads paddled their kids out for the first time, kids dragged their parents out on boards, and wives and husbands got to taste what keeps their significant other out on the water day after day.
With the Santa Cruz Lifeguards carefully monitoring specially laid out courses, the next generation of watermen and water women got some of their first taste of what the ultimate playing field has in store for them.
With the great turnout this year and the resoundingly positive response from participants and spectators alike, look for next year’s event to offer even more excitement. Thanks to the Santa Cruz State lifeguards for their support and efforts during the event as well as the companies and individuals who donated time and expertise to making this the best Jay Race to date.
Photos: courtesy of Sander Nauenberg