Thursday, June 7, 2001
Thousands of miles away in the icy waters of Carmel, contestants at last weekend''s 21st Annual Sunshine Freestyle Surfabout were still honoring the spirit of their ancient brethren.
The Surfabout began in the late ''70s as a way to put a positive spin on the growing rivalry developing between Pacific Grove and Carmel surfers, according to Rob Kreyenhagen, owner of Sunshine Freestyle surfshop. The shop has sponsored the event since its inception. The event has grown into a yearly ritual bringing together the various microtribes that frequent the waters along the Monterey County coastline from Big Sur to Moss Landing. Open only to Monterey County residents, this year''s contest saw more than 100 surfers, bodyboarders, and skimboarders participating.
Many competitors and spectators alike have been coming down to Carmel Beach since the first Surfabout--the only difference is, instead of showing up in smoke-filled VW busses with coolers full of coldies, nowadays they arrive in minivans filled with wide-eyed juniors.
This year a strange thing happened at the Surfabout: There were actual waves.
Traditionally lacking quality waves, the contest was blessed with chest-high to overhead surf for the entire weekend.
"It was flat and foggy on Friday, and I was thinking, ''Oh great, another one of those Fogabouts''," said competitor Zack Friedman. "But the wind came and blew the fog away and churned up some swell, waves and sun--a surfer can''t ask for much more."
In the Dick Cross Memorial Paddle event, for one competitor, there proved to be a little too much swell. The paddle race, in which surfers paddle from Carmel River State Beach through open ocean waters to Carmel Beach, is named after a top local surfer who drowned while surfing huge waves on the North Shore of Hawaii.
Big Sur surfer Christian Cummings is just glad the event won''t have to be be renamed after him.
Cummings, who finished second in the race three years ago, began this year''s race well behind the pack after getting off to a slow start. He had battled back to fifth place as he approached treacherous Carmel Point, when Cummings made an ill-fated decision. In an effort to gain ground (or water) on the leaders, he tried to cut the corner and hug the edge of the point. Just as he was breaking for the clear, a long set of overhead waves began to pour in suddenly from the deep submarine canyon offshore.
"The first wave of the set crashed right on me, ripping the board right out of my hands," said an exhausted Cummings moments after the mishap. "I pop my head out of the water for a breath and there''s another wave right on my head, and then another. All the while I was being pushed in towards the rocks. I was stressing out pretty hard, but I was more stressed about my friend''s board that I borrowed getting smashed on the rocks."
Besides a few urchin spines lodged under his fingernails and a couple of dings in the rail, both Cummings and the board wound up okay.
The paddle is just one of 12 individual events that surfers compete in. In addition, there''s the "All-Around Waterman" title, which is given to the surfer that places the highest in the most individual events. Viktor Klinger, 26, of Carmel took the distance paddle and the Men''s surfing title this year on his way to wresting the title away from five-time defending champion Craig Cox.
But the Surfabout has always been about much more than placings and trophies, and this year was especially sentimental. Unlike areas such as Santa Cruz and Southern California, the surfers of Monterey County are a closely knit group, and when Darren Sorenson, a former men''s and masters'' champion, was paralyzed in a December motorcycle accident, it sent shock waves through the surfing community. Since then, through a number of benefits and raffles, friends have raised more than $50,000 for Darren. It is safe to say that the 21st Annual Surfabout was unofficially dedicated to Darren, and the great blue Pacific even donated some juicy surf to the cause.
The ancient Polynesian kings would be proud.
Top scorers in the All-Around Waterman category were Viktor Klinger (first place), Brian Gorrell, Craig Cox and Ed Guzman (second through fourth places, respectively). First place finishers in other categories included: Jonny Craft (Junior Surfing), Kevin Riddleberger (Menehunes), Brian Gorrell (Open Longboard), Viktor Klinger (Distance Paddle), Bill Lewellyn (Open Skimboard), Dustin Carroll (Open Bodyboard), Robbie Newman (Surftech One-Class), Tafay Lindeman (Women''s Surfing), Viktor Klinger (Men''s Surfing), Jason Salter (Masters'' Surfing), Dru Jensen (Grandmasters'' Surfing) and Mike Curtice (Kahunas).