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Interview: Dennis Judson

den3-s A short interview with Dennis Judson , a.k.a. Mr. Santa Cruz Kayaksurf Festival.

kayak surfThis interview was originally produced for the Portuguese Playak partner site  ''.

den0 Name: Dennis Judson
Age: 65
Occupation: Aquatics
Kayaking experience: 30 years Teaching/Guiding/Surfing
Competition records:

  • '96 Santa Cruz/Hp 3rd
  • '97 Santa Cruz/HP 2nd
  • '98 Rodanthe, North Carolina Nationals/IC Masters 3rd
  • '99 Santa Cruz/IC ACA Team Trials 1st
  • /HP ACA Team Trials 3rd
  • '01 Santa Cruz World Championships/IC Masters 3rd
  • '03 Santa Cruz/IC ACA Team Trials 1st
  • '05 San Simeon/IC ACA Team Trials 4th
  • '05 Costa Rica World Championships/IC Masters 3rd
  • '07 Mundaka, Spanish World Championships/IC Masters 2nd
  • '08 NorCal Davenport/IC 3rd

Favourite surf spot: North Point Davenport Landing, CA


Hi Dennis! First of all, congratulations for the great success of SCKSF. Let's go back to the beginning... 1978, ASU. Tell us how this project was born...
You realize when we started our business, Adventure Sports Unlimited, the main focus was kayaking, SCUBA Diving and Cross Country Skiing. In all these sports we perceived ourselves as pretty agro. In kayaking this meant whitewater-, not sea-, kayaking. Now we did trips to the river but we were on the ocean - the river was at least 3 hours away for anything that could be perceived as beginning. So our whitewater training ground was the surf. We needed to promote our kayaking idea of adventure to the world so what better method than creating a gathering of whitewater folk to display their skills in moving waves-the Santa Cruz Kayak Surf Festival was born. We called this thing a Festival, although it was run like a contest, in that we had events for novice and expert kayakers alike greased with town parties every night to maximize contestant mingling. Our premise was that this thing should foster learning and growth in the process of sliding over waves in paddle powered vehicles. Little did we know what we started.

Dennis in one of the first SCKSF

Now, after all these years, you have THE best known kayaksurf festival worldwide. Did you ever think you would reach this point?
Well, no. We were quite happy surfing Dancers, Super Sports and Sabers. Then those English started messing with designs - Malcolm came out with a Saber copy in glass called a Jester. The design race was on. I remember the breakfast meeting with Merv Larson saying he could make a kayak like a wave ski - the American answer. Now everyone has their own design and manufacturer.

Dennis speaking in SCKSF 2009 - 3rd person on his right is Rick Starr / President of WSKA

I suppose that, like with all events, you had some of them that were special?
If you like surf kayaking and the way it is disseminated throughout the planet through gatherings called World Championships, you can't help but praise Alvaro Gonzales of Costa Rica. We had an international event at Santa Cruz, inviting the British Isles to come and surf. We had a heck of a fight on rules-you know the British. Low and behold Costa Rica sent a team, essentially the kayaking bunch from Rios Tropicales. At a final dinner in which I believe everyone would have just let this international thing go, Costa Rica raised their hand to run the next World Championship in 1995. Everyone looked at each other and a light dawned-surfing in warm seas! World competitions were born. This Costa Rican World Surf Kayaking Championships set the stage for all events. Alvaro Gonzales, "Toca", is a consummate Host. Through this event he gave us Costa Rica. He entertained the world to his country. The World Event was simply a vehicle for a bunch of international surf kayakers to convene in tropical Costa Rica. Toca maintained that everyone should "Party", and we did. It was my most remembered event and brought everyone to realize the really Olympic spirit this type of gathering can foster.

Dennis surfing in Steamer Lane - check his broken paddle!

Did you start the idea as a non-competitive event?
The plot was always a contest. But one of my original partners in this endeavor, Matty Kinsella, believed that as in the Olympics beginnings we should smoke a cigar and have a shot of cognac before every event. In many of the early world championships, Scotch whiskey was definitely a lubricant. The main reason we called this event a festival is really to promote camaraderie and learning. A quote from Ed of Murky Waters is that this contest ” was the perfect mix of competition and warmth. It has the feeling of a family reunion, with members of the family that you look forward to being with.” You can see the results.

In Europe, we have some events only for waveski and others, for kayaksurf only. In Portugal, for example, we join both categories in our national circuit. What did you think about this?
In competitions like ours we view it as a promotional for paddle powered surfing. So we include wave skiing, SUP, and kayak surfing. We even embrace all the types of kayak surfing - IC, HP, Plastic Production. We run two contests at the same time; one for beginners and one for experts. We can do this at Steamer Lane as it provides two distinct sites of various surf magnitudes. But time and money is a factor in World Championships so categories and designs need to be dropped to accommodate an objective.

SCKSF is known for having loads of classes and categories. How many are there right now?
At the "B" Site we have Novice and Intermediate classes in Plastic Production, Sit-on-top, SUP, IC & HP. At the expert "A" Site we embrace IC, HP in men's, women's and Junior's, Elite SUP, Plastic Production and wave ski.

Dennis surfing last edition of SCKSF / Stormick Photography

After all these years, how do you see the evolution of our sport?
I'm amazed of the prowess of the manufacturers that provide us with the vehicles we have to play with. My hats off to Malcolm of Mega, Ed of Murky Waters and Paul of PS Composites. You know Luis, when we have these world events in different places on the planet we find that we didn't create kayak surfing there; they already surf kayaked in their own designs. What these events really are, are a melding of ideas in techniques and designs. Everyone grows. Modern kayak surfing is best displayed by skilled wave magicians like Chris Harvey, David Speller, Daren Bason, Edu, Sean Morley, Vince Shay, Dave Johnson and Rusty Sage. Like surf boards, the vehicles will get lighter and lighter. Which means we will become more airborne. Unlike surfboards, we are attached to our vehicle and can better do funny moves in the air and under the water. But what I really appreciate of the vehicle is its power-you can paddle out in a 20 plus day, and surf it with light precision - boardies can hardly get out.

Some people still continue to defend surfkayaks against waveskis and vice-versa. How do you see this discussion?
Wave skis certainly have their place-very much like a "Fish" design in a shore break. They love aerials. But as you can see from our last worlds so do the modern surf kayak. You know for a while, Southern California tried to resolve the question of which was better in a funny challenge called "King of the Waves" in which wave skis were pitted against surf kayaks-surf kayaks always won. The reason wasn't that surf kayaks were better, they could catch more waves. Power! And for me this is no mute argument-I love these fast and light guns called IC Boats, that can go out on giant days, and lightly play when you are the only one out. What a privilege to surf alone on normally a jam packed break.

Dennis Judson / Steamer Lane

This year, March - 24th Edition. Can you say us a little bit of the program?
We will have an expanded Novice & Intermediate area with SUP and a renewed Plastic Production categories. We would like to bring more skilled white water folk into the fold. In this we will have free surf kayaking seminars before the event to get everyone up to speed. We are even accepting volunteers to act as scribes for the expert judges at the "A" Site so that beginners can learn what the judges are looking for. If you are interested in this wonderful learning experience sign-up with our Volunteer Coordinator, Heidi McGough at (hmcgough AT ). If you look at white water these days, aerials and aerial flips are the rage. Their vehicles are getting flatter and edgier. Really for surf kayaking, the white water person is our draw. So we are challenging them to come out and play with a faster vehicle. At the "A" Site we will stoke these fires with a Plastic Production Challenge. We'll see what Jackson Kayaks does with this. We will also expand or College Challenge series-a team college competition.

Dennis Judson / California 2007

You missed the Worlds in Portugal... when can we expect you here?
With any luck I'll be on the West Coast Team in the 2011 World Championships hosted by the east coast. I mean, who else can they choose to surf the Grand Masters event at 67.

Closing remarks?
Kayak surfing is an amazing gig-I'm always overwhelmed by the designs that are available for us 200 surfers from around the world. I've met some of the craziest, nicest people on the planet through this sport who love the edges of this watery sphere. I bow to the philosophy of sliding down water mountains in gossamer paddle powered vehicles.

Thanks Dennis. It was a pleasure and, sincerely, congratulations for your great work. Keep riding!

Interview - Luis Pedro Abreu
Photos - Steve Childs / Stormick Photography and personal archive of DJ
Video - Teaktart



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