Early morning sun reaches down towards a fortress of pallets, hand painted in bright hues, staring down from the sand towards a parking lot off the 101. Under those pallets are stacked surfboards in shapes and sizes ranging from lunch tray imitators to truck-sized hunks of foam and fiberglass. An unconventional collection, with few of the kinds of high-performance thrusters you’d find lining the walls of your local surf shop. Hell, half the surfboards aren’t even symmetrical. This is no place for symmetry. This ain’t your normal surf contest.
Welcome to Thunderdome.
This is the second annual Self Shape Surf Contest from the fine folks over at Shaper Studios. Normal surf contests are about reducing a field of competitors down to the best of the lot, on that given day, in those given waves. This contest ostensibly does the same thing, but it’s much more of a celebration of surfing and surfers. There is no nationalist rhetoric tainting the vibe in the air, which hangs heavy with food truck aromas and banter between folks that are genuinely still friends outside of the construct of some webcast.
And surfboards! The buffet of beauties lined up on the sand emblazoned in an entire palette of colors, resin tints and swirls, board lams and foam stains, these craft are the real stars of this contest. Every single contestant is paddling out on a board he or she labored to create, covered themselves in sweat and foam dust and resin to give birth to. They’re not riding a collection of boards cranked out for them by some shaper, disposable when the contest is over. Bonzers, fish, single fins, the boards are eclectic and so is the surfing.
The surfing runs the gamut from the less-than-stellar (yours truly) to the biggest hacks and the most stylish nose riding. There are neophytes and world champions paddling shoulder to shoulder. There are airs and big turns and floaters, so many sublime floaters across the crumbly lips of Seaside Reef. The author’s skull is nearly cleaved in two by a giant man on a single fin.
The folks from Vissla are kind enough to help support this shindig, and they sent a few of their team down. Make no mistake, alternative craft and alternative surfing are not code words, cliched distractions like when your midwestern relatives refer to something as interesting. You can punt a mini simmons. You can punt a single fin. And Cam Richards and Lucas Dirkse did both, respectively.
Surf contests that measure of the ability of a given surfer on a given day are a foolish endeavor, guaranteed to generate nothing but debate and bad feelings. Surf contests as a celebration of big rail turns and fins flying and toes firmly planted on the nose at a rock reef break with a only a few like-minded individuals in the lineup with you are the finest of contests, because they are not contests at all. They are celebrations! They are exquisite outbursts of radness!
You have 360 days or so to get your hands dirty shaping a board and have the chance to surf amongst some of the finest humans around on a board you made yourself. I hear the after party ain't half bad either.