In the predawn gloom, an armada of longboards sat in the sand of Windansea beach, bristling like war ships with poles, tackle, and gear. Their noses facing west they lined the sand; bait buckets lashed to their decks, waiting silently to go to sea. Two men finished the last of their preparations by attaching glow sticks to their packs, and then slid their boards into the jet-black, oil slick Pacific. They mounted their rigs in the shore break and began steadily stroking for deep water. Before long, the night's shroud had completely hidden them from view and they were gone, looking for fish on the dark ocean.
The main event of the 17th Annual Windansea Boardfishing Tournament ended at high noon on Sunday July 17th, but it began long before the sun had even hinted at climbing over the horizon. Competitors were allowed to hit the water as early as 4 a.m. in search of prey out amongst the kelp beds that surround La Jolla's shores, paddling as far out as 4-5 miles in the pitch dark.
Boardfishing, a sport that combines surfing, paddleboarding, and open ocean fishing, has been around in La Jolla since the 60's, but only in the last two decades has it begun to enjoy the popularity seen on Sunday. Bill Decker, a man widely regarded as the grandfather of the sport remembers, "Back in the 60's it was just me and Skip Frye that were doing it." Today, at age 56 Decker was the oldest of nearly 170 contestants who partook in the event.
The Annual Windansea Boardfishing Tournament began 17 years ago "as just another excuse to have a keg party," says organizer and host Allen Repashy, "but now it's turned into a really nice family gathering." Repashy, a La Jolla native began boardfishing as a way of killing time between sets. "We used to paddle out at Little Point and fish just while we were waiting for waves," he recalls, "and then when a set would come in we would ditch our poles and surf for a while. But soon we were going out into the kelp and past it, catching real fish, big fish! It became a passion really…and today is all about combining two passions."
Big fish may be an understatement. Past years have steadily seen catches over the 20lb mark being hauled to the beach with the record for largest fish caught during competition going to Andy Sturtevant who won the event in 1996 with a 34lb halibut. But some guys have caught stuff outside of the competition that make that massive fish seem like a tadpole. In 1998, Scott Cherry landed a 9 foot, 140lb thresher shark from his board after a 45 minute fight that at times dragged him and his rig through the water at an estimated 10 knots. Afterwards he described it as the fish of a lifetime.
While no records were broken, or sharks hauled in, this year's tournament did see its fair share of big fish brought to the beach. Gary Bruntsch, 48, of Pacific Beach took 3rd with a doormat Halibut that weighed in at 14lbs, and for an hour or so he was thought to be a shoe in for the win. Later, after he officially was told he had placed 3rd Bruntsch was still ecstatic, proudly stating that he only has been boardfishing for a few months, and that Sunday was his first time competing in the tournament.
Bill Faxton, 45, of Point Loma, who has been competing for the past 15 years, made it in next. As Faxton powered up out of the shore break, organizer/host Repashy was quick to run in and help out. After the two successfully hauled Faxton's board and his hulking 16lb Yellowtail up onto the beach, Repashy thumped Faxton on the back and with a smile commented, "Every year this guy comes back with something!" While posing for pictures Faxton thanked Allen for putting on the event a proclaimed this moment "the highlight of my year!"
While Faxton's Yellowtail was the largest on the beach at around 10:30 am, rumors had already begun to circulate that another competitor had landed something even bigger. Upon hearing this news one spectator looked out to sea and prophetically mumbled "its probably one of the OB guys." Apparently there is a bit of a rivalry when it comes to boardfishing in San Diego with the La Jolla and Ocean Beach participants good-naturedly squaring off each year for rights to claim the best fisherman in town. Jim Crest from Ocean Beach put it simply. "We've out fished the northerners everyday since day one. We all get along and it's all fun, but there is definitely a little bit of a cross-town rivalry."
This year Ocean Beach earned the right to brag as 19 year old Brian Adams brought in a whopping 27lb White sea bass to take 1st place overall. Adams, an OB native, has been boardfishing since he was 14 and caught this year's monster just outside of the kelp beds. Adams fought the fish for over half an hour before he finally reeled in and gaffed the exhausted bass. For his efforts he was awarded a $1000 gift certificate towards a custom-made boardfishing rig and an assortment of other smaller prizes. Faxton took 2nd with Bruntsch clenching 3rd and they also walked away flush with prizes.
After this year’s top dogs made it to the beach, the main event essentially came to a close. Competitors however, continued to trickle in. With an inconsistent south swell building out in the water, negotiating the shore break and the outside reefs had been tricky all morning, and as noon approached, the conditions continued to exacerbate the exhausted fisherman. More than one contestant was pounded by a sneaker set out on the reef, or was caught unawares by an evil double up shore breaker as they struggled to extract themselves and their massive boards from the sea.