Surfing at its Best: Katy’s Endless Summer Surf Contest

Katy Fallon of Katy's Cafe with a local grom and my son Daniel on the right.

Katy Fallon of Katy’s Cafe in my hometown of Imperial Beach is one of the nicest and community-minded surfers around. On Sunday she held her second free surf contest for children, Katy’s Endless Summer Surf Contest. More than 75 groms (boys and girls) surfed fun 2-4′ waves at the north end of Imperial Beach. For a while the waves were fun and offshore. Then the tide dropped and a wicked south wind hit. But the conditions were surfable to the end and everyone had a great time. My longtime friend Manny Vargas was the contest Director, with a great crew of hardcore IB surfers acting as judges.

Since the month before I had been immersed in the WiLDCOAST Dempsey Holder Surf Contest and Ocean Festival, this was a great opportunity just to watch my sons and surf and hang out with longtime friends and my family.

Longtime IB surfer Manny Vargas who was the contest director.

I was really proud of both my sons who won wetsuits as prizes for winning and quickly donated them to other kids. This event is all about giving back. And I am thankful that Katy and Manny set the right tone for this gem of an event.

My son Daniel in his first heat when the waves were fun and offshore. Before the south wind and then later a huge strorm hit San Diego.

There is a nice tradition of free events for kids in San Diego. The Dempsey is free to any child who can’t afford to pay. And the Jetty Kids Contest in Mission Beach is the same.

Thankfully there are lots of surfers out there who have remembered that our sport and lifestyle are about giving back and working with the next generation of surfers.

Mahalo to Katy and Manny!!

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A Great Day at the Dempsey

More than 150 surfers participated in the 8th Annual WiLDCOAST Dempsey Holder Ocean Festival and Surf Contest–the largest field ever for the Dempsey. The surf sort of cooperated with 2-4′ south swell peaks. Unfortunately it was a bit windy all day. But the competitors made the most of it.

Surfers from Mexico and Venezuela showed up to participate as well, making this truly an international surfing event thanks to a partnership with United Athletes of the Pacific Ocean (UAPO).

Thanks to all the Dempsey sponsors such as the County of San Diego, REI, Oakley, Billabong, Emerald City, Alan Cuniff, Pacific Realty, Pacifica Companies, URT, Cowabunga and all of the scholarship supporters and everyone who pitched in to make it “the best day ever!”

 

Art and Soul at the Sacred Craft

Upon entering Exhibition Hall at the Del Mar Fairgrounds for the Sacred Craft Consumer Surf Expo I ran into San Diego surfing pioneers, Jack “Woody” Ekstrom of Leucadia and Carl Knox of Carlsbad.

Both are regular attendees at the Sacred Craft that is underway this weekend (and continues from 10am-4pm on Sunday). Expo organizer Scott Bass estimates about 3,500 will attend the two day event.

Carl Knox and Woody Ekstrom

I was a friend of and had written about big wave surfing legend Dempsey Holder, an old surfing buddy of Woody and Carl.

“I surfed with Dempsey back in 1954,” said Knox.

Woody’s brother Carl (the brothers grew up down the street from Windansea in La Jolla), an innovative surfboard designer, was being honored in a “Tribute to the Masters Shape-off.”

Josh Hall and Carl Ekstrom

The developer of the off-kilter asymmetrical surfboard design, Ekstrom selected esteemed shapers such as Matt Biolos, Tim Bessell, Ryan Burch, George Gall, Wayne Rich, and Daniel Thomson to compete for a $1,000 prize by shaping their own asymmetrical surfboard blanks.

The final products will be judged by Rusty Preisendorfer, Stanley Pleskunas, and Carl himself.

“It is like judging art,” said Ekstrom. “These guys are like sculptors.”

I joined Kevin Stuckey of Imperial Beach and his son Kevin Jr. to observe George Gall of Point Loma’s Plus One Surfboards fine-tune his asymmetrical design in the see-through shaping bay complimented by its own mini-grandstand.

George Gall of Plus One Surfboards at the Shape-off

“He’s also my shaper,” said Stuckey.

With over 150 booths representing surfboard shapers, surf artists and blank companies, Sacred Craft is all about the surfboard.

The economic downturn combined with the threat of mass-manufactured boards in China and Taiwan has made it harder than ever to make a living selling handcrafted surfboards.

But no one makes surfboards expecting to make money.

Coronado’s Dan Mann, was hawking his innovative inCide foam blank with a carbon fiber core.

“I just want to help make surfboards better and better,” said Mann. “We haven’t even scratched the surface of what is possible.”

Dan Mann and his inCide carbon core foam blanks.

“For me, the Sacred Craft is a great event,” said Mann. “It gets users and manufacturers face to face.”

“Handcrafted surfboards are a niche market,”  said Joe Virgilio of Plus One. “Sacred Craft brings the community together.”

For the average surfer, Sacred Craft provides an opportunity to catch a glimpse of surfing legends past and present.

Surfing ambassador and Hall of Famer Rob Machado was on hand watching a glassing demonstration.

Big wave charger Greg Long authographed posters for a long line of admirers. Mickey Munoz, surfing’s version of Forrest Gump, signed copies of his new book, “No Bad Waves,” at the Patagonia Booth.

Big wave charger Greg Long

And 1960s surfing stylist John Peck wandered in while I was leaving.

A very popular part of the expo was the Collective Surfboard and Memorabilia Appraisals, a surfing version of the PBS program “Antique Roadshow.”

I found Dave Lopez and his teenage son Loukas there waiting to have a couple of 1970s era single fins evaluated.

Dave was admiring a 1976 7’8” mint condition Gerry Lopez Lightning Bolt rounded pintail gun that was on exhibition.

Dave and Loukas Lopez

“That is such a nice board,” said Lopez who spent years cutting his teeth on Oahu’s North Shore.

Thomas Meyerhoffer, an innovative and award winning designer originally from Sweden and now based in Half Moon Bay, had his uniquely shaped surfboards on display.

“I make about 1,000 units a year,” said Meyerhoffer of his longboards that have a widepoint further back than traditional surfboards.

“That allows it to feel like a shortboard,” Meyerhoffer said.

The Swedish designer ultimately doesn’t need to make surfboards. “Shaping boards allows me to get to do what I love,” he said.

Super designer Thomas Meyerhoffer and his eclectic surfboard shapes.

Waterman: Dempsey Holder and the Tijuana Sloughs

Dempsey Holder. Photo courtesy of John Elwell.

This is from my Patch.com column of October 5, 2011. This is excerpted from my book, Wild Sea. It originally appeared in Longboard Magazine in the fall of 1993 and helped to inspire the Surhenge Monument at the Imperial Beach Pier.

With the upcoming 8th Annual Dempsey Holder Ocean Festival and Surf Contest (there is still space avaialable so register now!) scheduled for Oct. 16 at the Imperial Beach Pier, I thought it was important to remind readers what a legendary surfer Allen “Dempsey” Holder was.

A California ocean lifeguard and big wave surfer, Dempsey was among the elite club of surfing pioneers that included such men as Don Oakey, Lorrin Harrison, and Pete Peterson who were protype watermen.

I first met Dempsey when I was a kid and got to know him better in 1981, when I became an Imperial Beach lifeguard at the age of seventeen. Retired, Dempsey lived in a huge wooden white house on the beach (appropriately called “The White House”) a couple of doors down from the old Imperial Beach Lifeguard Station at the end of Palm Avenue.

One summer Dempsey cleared out the laundry room and charged me a dollar a day to stay there.

In 1984, I interviewed Dempsey for an oral history project while an undergraduate at UC San Diego. By listening to his stories for hours, I uncovered Dempsey’s remarkable history of athletic prowess and his unique depression-era way of looking at and respecting the ocean.

Surfing a small day at the Sloughs in December 1967. Photo courtesy of Bill Gove.

To gather material on the Sloughs, I spent a summer interviewed surfing pioneers and legends such as Peter Cole, Lorrin Harrison, Flippy Hoffman, Dorian Paskowitz, Ron Drummond, and others who had surfed with Dempsey. I was impressed by their admiration for Dempsey’s surfing skills and ocean prowess. Dempsey, who was a generous and kind man, died in 1997 at the age of 77.

THE IRONMAN

Dorian “Doc” Paskowitz: There are two kinds of surfers. There’s the Buzzy Trent type who surf big waves but aren’t really into walking the nose. Then there’s the Phil Edwards types who are blessed with amazing ability. Their surfing is like ballet. Dempsey was a big wave surfer. A big solid guy. Low-key. Not much for bragging.

Dempsey Holder: Back in West Texas where I was raised there were lots of cowboys, but that didn’t mean too much. The thing that was a real compliment was to be a stockman. That’s like a waterman—somebody that can handle themselves in the water. Emergency come along—you can take care of yourself.

Flippy Hoffman: Dempsey was the guru down there.

John Elwell: Around ’47, ’48, we met a guy named Storm Surf Taylor. He said, “Go down there and see Dempsey if you want to start surfing.” Dempsey was known as the guy who takes off on big waves. He’d been down at the Sloughs since 1939.

John Blankenship: Dempsey was just unbelievable. There wasn’t anybody else for sheer guts. He was the ultimate big wave rider. No fancy moves. He caught the biggest waves and went surfing. The closest guy to Dempsey was Gard Chapin, although Gard never tackled waves as big as Dempsey.

Bobby Goldsmith: Dempsey was an iron man. He was fearless and brave and he had the guts. He took off on anything and could push through anything in any kind of surf.

Chuck Quinn: Dempsey rode the biggest waves back further than anybody.

Buddy Hull: He’d take off even if he only had a 20 percent chance of making it. Dempsey would take off on anything, always deeper than he should have.

Jack “Woody” Eckstrom: I remember him saying, “If you make every wave you’re not calling it close enough.”

Dempsey's lifeguard truck at the Sloughs either in the 1940s or early 1950s.


THE SLOUGHS AND FIRST ENCOUNTERS

Dempsey Holder: In the summer of ’37 I went down to the Sloughs and camped with my family. Well, I saw big waves breaking out at outside shorebreak and went bodysurfing. I never did get out to the outside of it. A big set came and I was still inside of it. Well, I sort of made note of that. Boy, you know surf breaking out that far.

Lorrin “Whitey” Harrison: Back in the early ’40s, I surfed the Sloughs when it was huge. It was all you could do to get out. Really big. We were way the hell out there. Canoe Drummond came down.

Ron “Canoe” Drummond: We pulled out and the surf was probably about twenty feet high or so. I looked out about a mile and there where some tremendously big waves were breaking. I asked if anybody wanted to go out there with me, but nobody did. So I went in my canoe and paddled out there.

Jim “Burrhead” Drever: One time about 1947, I was sleeping in my ’39 convertible right on the beach at Windansea, and I heard these guys pounding on the car. I’d heard about the Sloughs and they were going, so I followed them. It was pretty damn big. This was before I went over to the Hawaiian Islands, and I’d never seen waves that big around here.

Peter Cole: I was out there surfing with Chuck Quinn and Dempsey Holder in the ’50s. The surf was about 15 foot, Hawaiian size. Chuck and Dempsey went out and got stuck in the shorebreak, but I managed to paddle out in the rip. I was out riding the smaller waves, when I heard someone yell, “Outside.” I looked out and all I saw was whitewater everywhere. I lost my board and had to swim in.

Chuck Quinn: We were out there surfing on a big day and Pat Curren lost his board. Pat was frustrated and feeling lousy. He didn’t have any money and it wasn’t like today when they break a board and go buy another one. We all looked for Pat’s board, but that board just disappeared.

Dempsey Holder Ocean Festival and Surf Contest

On October 16th, 2011 WiLDCOAST will hold the 8th Annual Dempsey Holder Ocean Festival and Surf Contest in Imperial Beach, California from 7am-3pm at the Imperial Beach Pier. This annual family friendly charity event has become the largest surf contest in south San Diego County with over 120 competitors in ten different divisions and hundreds of spectators as well as music, prizes and other entertainment.

Proceeds from the event support WiLDCOAST’s efforts to protect the most threatened and ecologically important coastal areas and wildlife in Southern California and Mexico.  Since 2,000 WiLDCOAST has helped to conserve over two million acres of beautiful bays, beaches, islands and lagoons.

In 2011, the Dempsey Holder Ocean Festival and Surf Contest will expand internationally. WiLDCOAST is partnering with the United Athletes of the Pacific Ocean (UAPO), a bi-national non-profit organization whose mission is to provide surfing youths in Mexico and the United States opportunities in competitive surfing and cultural exchange.

Imperial Beach, California The symbol of this ...

Image via Wikipedia

Generous Dempsey sponsors include Billabong, County of San Diego, Pacific Realty, REI, Emerald City the Boarding Source, Oakley, Southwest Airlines, URT, Ocean Minded, The Surfer’s Journal, Pacifica Companies, Alan Cunniff Construction, APS Marine Services and Equipment, Firewire, Matuse, and PAWA. Additionally Cowabunga and Katy’s Café will be providing support and treats for the contestants. Jay Novak of Novak Surf Designs and Brett Bender of Natural Selection Surfboards have shaped boards especially for the junior winners.

Community residents can also sponsor a child for the Dempsey. This helps to provide scholarships for local needy children to participate. Over the past eight years hundreds of children have participated in the Dempsey thanks to the support of community supporters and sponsors.

Registration is still open but filling up fast. The event once again includes the popular menehune division in which every child receives a medal. This year surfers such as Kyle Knox, Sean Malabanan, Keith McCloskey, Sean Fowler, Josh Johnson, and Terry Gillard among others are expected to compete. Heats will be carried out on the south and north sides of the Imperial Beach pier providing maximum shredding and viewing opportunities.

Registration for the Dempsey can be done at http://www.wildcoast.net or email dempsey@wildcoast.net or call 619.423.8665 ext. 200 for more information. For information on sponsoring a child contact Lenise Andrade at 619.423.8665 ext. 201 or via dempsey@wildcoast.net

WiLDCOAST is an international conservation team that conserves coastal and marine ecosystems and wildlife. www.wildcoast.net

A Real Surfer

East County surfer riding a wave to the top

(Note–Vito is a great kid–and I’ve had the pleasure surfing with him and his brother. He competes in the Dempsey Holder Surf Contest and I’ve surfed with him in IB with my groms and at La Jolla Shores–this is from the San Diego Union-Tribune)

By Michael Gehlken

Thursday, March 3, 2011 at 9:58 a.m.

Standout Granite Hills High surfer Vito Roccoforte at Moonlight Beach in Encinitas.  

Robby TuttleStandout Granite Hills High surfer Vito Roccoforte at Moonlight Beach in Encinitas

EL CAJON — Vito Roccoforte carries a photo album with him at all times, a series of snapshots stored in a place no wave could ever wash away.

The pictures are arranged in order of personal significance, and there is one image Roccoforte cherishes above the rest.

Roccoforte, a senior at Granite Hills High, is a surfing purist whose most prized memories of the sport are as perfectly pristine as the water he rides.

He has been humbled by accolades and exposure — last month, the 17-year-old Lakeside resident was spotlighted in Sports Illustrated’s “Faces in the Crowd” section, reserved for the country’s top amateur athletes — but none of those honors can overtake the love of surfing with good company as Roccoforte’s true source of passion in the sport.

“I always have a whole bunch of pictures in my head of super perfect days,” Roccoforte said. “In one, I just dropped in, and I watched the whole wave pitch over me, and then I could see just my buddies down the barrel looking at me. Just the picture of that on a nice glassy day. The water is clear. Friends. Sunshine. Just looking down the wave.”

This season, Roccoforte has been looking at success.

In October, Roccoforte earned a trophy, new surfboard and clothes for winning the junior men’s division at the Wildcoast Dempsey Holder Ocean Festival and Surf Contest in Imperial Beach. Currently, he is ranked first in the longboard and third in shortboard in the Division IV Scholastic Sports Series.

This prolific wave seems to have risen so high so early for Roccoforte, who began surfing on his 15th birthday.

Granite Hills coach Robby Tuttle said if anyone can handle the ride, it is Roccoforte, whom he calls “the most talented and accomplished surfer” in the surf program’s nine-year history.

At the end of last season, Tuttle and surfing assistants Tim Wright and Dave Sands gave Roccoforte the ultimate honor with the first-annual Keith Michael Memorial Award.

Michael, a popular, energetic teacher on campus, started the surf club. Months after an inspiring 2007 graduation speech, he lost his battle to melanoma.

“It’s really the character award, but it’s a little more meaningful because Keith was such a unique, helping soul, so we thought we’d give that first one away, and it was pretty unanimous,” Tuttle said. “We’ve never seen one like him, or at least I haven’t in my seven years here.

“He’s always smiling, and he’s always the first person to offer someone help or to offer a wave. He always says, ‘Hey Coach, do you want that one?’ Vito will always offer, which is just rare … Just the sharing. You can’t beat that.”

Roccoforte has immersed himself in the sport in hopes of picking up a sponsor and earning a career in the industry. He estimates he has watched well more than 100 surfing videos with his father and younger brother, Michael, also a member of the surf team. He is a sales associate at Hanger 94, a surf shop in La Mesa, with co-workers who are “like family.”

He has considered one day returning to Granite Hills as a teacher and assisting with the surf club.

“I guess that saying, ‘Only a surfer knows the feeling,’ is true because (surfing) makes you keep wanting to go back out there,” Roccoforte said. “I keep doing it only because it’s fun … Whenever I hang out with my friends, it’s always fun.”

Shark Attack at the Tijuana Sloughs

Dempsey Holder. Photo: Ramos

An excerpt from my book Wild Sea: Eco-Wars and Surf Stories from the Coast of the Californias.

For those of you who think that it is difficult to surf in our modern wetsuits, with leashes and lightweight boards, just remember that Dempsey and his hardcore crew of IB, Nado and La Jolla locals were surfing the Sloughs back in the 1940s and 50s on redwood surfboards with no wetsuits.

Dempsey Holder: We had an El Niño kind of condition during the summer of 1950. The water was really warm and there was a south swell — southern hemisphere swell. Made for some beautiful surfing.

Dr. Cark Hubbs, Scripps Institution of Oceanography: An unusual number of sharks have appeared in our waters as a result of prolonged southern winds.

Dempsey Holder: Bob Campbell, Jim Lathers, Dave Hafferly and I went down to the Sloughs. Bob and Dave were bodysurfing. Jim had an air mat he wanted to try out there and I took out my surfboard. I was the first one out. The other guys were real slow in coming out. They were at least fifty yards behind me.

All of a sudden I heard Bob Campbell holler something. Then Jim Lather hollered “Shark!” Bob hollered “Shark!”

He had a real frightened tone in his voice. I was sitting there on my board thinking that he had come out here for the first time in deep water.

He saw a porpoise go by and just panicked. “Boy,” I thought, “He’s going to be embarrassed. He really hollered.” Jim hollered at me again. It was a shark. I went over there but I didn’t see the shark. There was blood in the water and Bob grabbed Jim’s air mat.

San Diego Union—October 9, 1950: A man-eating shark tore a chunk out of the thigh of a 31-year-old swimmer off Imperial Beach yesterday morning in what may be the first shark attack ever reported in local waters.

Dempsey Holder: I put the board right underneath him and took him in. Got bit. I’m sure he pulled his legs up. He had marks on his hands. He said it got him twice. Jim Lather saw it. He said it looked like two fins and then it rolled over. We didn’t take long. Everybody was on shore. I took him on my board. He was bleeding from his legs. We took him to see Doc Hayes. He had a little office in the VFW. Bob looked kind of weak. He had that gray look. That shark must have taken a chunk of his leg the size of a small steak.

Wild Sea Excerpt: Waterman-Tales of the Tijuana Sloughs

This is an excerpt from my new book, Wild Sea: Eco-Wars and Surf Stories from the Coast of the Californias.

A small day at the Sloughs. Photo: Bill Gove

Beginning in the 1940s, when north swells closed out the coast, surfers from all over Southern California made the journey to a remote and desolate beach within spitting distance of the Mexican border. Before the Malibu, San Onofre, and Windansea gangs began to surf Makaha and the North Shore, they experienced the thrill and fear of big waves at the Tijuana Sloughs, just north of the U.S.-Mexico border in Imperial Beach.

Surfers interested in riding big waves would get a phone call late at night: “Surf’s up.” The next day, they would show up at the county lifeguard station at the end of Palm Avenue in Imperial Beach. Dempsey Holder, a tall and wiry lifeguard raised in the plains of West Texas, and the acknowledged “Dean of the Sloughs,” would greet them with a big smile. For Dempsey, the phone calls meant the difference between surfing alone and surfing in the company of the greatest watermen on the coast.

Dempsey's Sloughmobile Photo: John Elwell

Boards were quickly loaded into Dempsey’s Sloughmobile, a stripped down ’27 Chevy prototype dune buggy that contained a rack for boards and a seat for Dempsey. Everyone else hung on for dear life as they made their way through the sand dunes and nervously eyed the whitewater that hid winter waves that never closed out. The bigger the swell, the farther out it broke. Surfers not uncommonly found themselves wondering what the hell they were doing a mile from shore, scanning the horizon for the next set, praying they wouldn’t be caught inside, lose their boards, and have to swim in.

If you liked big waves and were a real waterman, you would paddle out with Dempsey. No one held it against you if you stayed on shore. Some guys surfed big waves, others didn’t. It was that simple.

Bill Hadji: When the winter storms came in, well, people know what it was like down there. The first thing they talked about was, “Let’s go down to the Sloughs.”

Mickey Muñoz: It’s some of the biggest waves on the coast. The outside surf break is pretty awesome.

Peter Cole:   The Sloughs had the biggest waves of any place in Southern California. It doesn’t have the jack-up of a place like Todos Santos or the North Shore, but it’s comparable to the outer reef breaks in Hawaii. It’s really an impressive wave.

Richard Abrams:   Way outside where eelgrass and kelp won’t grow, its just big boulders. It’s all in one pattern and it focuses the wave. The whole thing is just bending around and hitting cobbles that are way the hell out there. When you get inside, there are smaller cobbles with some bigger cobble, and some eelgrass. That whole river valley contributed to that break. All those cobbles

Dempsey Holder in Imperial Beach. Photo courtesy John Elwell.

Dempsey Holder:   I had told the guys up north about the surf down here. They were asking about it. One day I stopped at Dana Point on my way back from L.A. with a load of balsa wood to make surfboards. It was the biggest surf they had here in six years. They wanted me to compare it, and I told them, “Well, the backside of the waves were bigger than that, bigger than the frontsides.”

Underwater Parks and the Tijuana Sloughs

Surfing the Sloughs 1967. Photo: Bill Gove

Underwater Parks Approved for Southern California Coast

Back in 1980 when I was 16 I sat in front of bulldozers and was beat up by thugs  to stop them from damming up the Tijuana river mouth and build a marina in the Tijuana Estuary.

But we won and 30 years later I surf the offshore reefs of the now Federally protected Estuary that are an MPA with my sons –and you can see waves breaking on cobble reefs that are now protected.

Serge Dedina and his son Israel surfing the Tijuana Sloughs, now protected as a Marine Protected Area.

It was only until the MPA process that this amazing reef—home to our resident pod of bottlenose dolphins and probably the most important leopard shark spawning site in So Cal– were officially recognized as a real ecosystem.

More recently we stopped a $75 million Army corps dredging project that would have destroyed the reef—and used its nomination as an MPA to justify our efforts.

Doing the right thing for the Ocean is always the right thing!!!

———————————————
Public News Service


Underwater Parks Created for Southern California

December 16, 2010
SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – The southern California coastline is getting some underwater protection. The state Fish and Game Commission voted late Wednesday to approve a network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) that will stretch from Santa Barbara to the Mexican border.

Marcela Gutierrez with Wildcoast says a variety of groups and the public have been working for two years on plans to create the underwater parks.

“This is a trailblazing effort. It’s one of the first of its kind in the world. The whole conservation community is watching, and it’s great for our coastal oceans going forward.”

Gutierrez says the MPAs ultimately will become fish nurseries that will benefit fishermen.

“They basically spill over, and then you have this phenomenon, which we’ve had already in the Channel Islands. People are already fishing the line because they know these are the areas where fish are more abundant.”

The compromise plan approved by the Fish and Game Commission will protect sea life and habitats at biodiversity hot spots, Gutierrez says, while leaving nearly 90 percent of the coast open for fishing.

Gutierrez points out that a healthy ocean and the recreational uses it supports are a major economic engine for California. According to a recent study, more than 90 percent of coastal recreation in southern California is non-consumptive, and the area generates $22 billion in revenue and more than 350,000 jobs each year.

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