A couple weeks of June-gloomy weather and flat surf magically ended on the second weekend of July, just in time for a paddleboard race remembering on of Santa Cruz' favorite sons. On Saturday at New Brighton Beach, the Fourth Annual Jay Moriarity Memorial Paddle Race attracted 120 paddlers of all ages, shapes and sizes to New Brighton Beach. They were there to paddle their guts out to remember Jay Moriarity, the Santa Cruz surfer/paddler/waterman who dared to conquer Mavericks at 16 years old, and was on his way to greater things when he tragically drowned in the Maldives at the age of 23.
Jay was a paddling fool who crossed the Monterey Bay with a group, but also spent a lot of time chugging the miles alone. During the course of the day, there were a lot of stories about Jay, including the time he was shadowed by a 17-foot White Shark while paddling from Pleasure Point to New Brighton, and was forced to scamper up the Capitola Pier to get in the clear.
This year's long course went in the opposite direction, starting at New Brighton Beach then hugging the coast past Opal Cliffs and Pleasure Point to a mark at the Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf for a turn out to the Mile Buoy, then a straight shot back to New Brighton.
Yes, that is a long-distance paddle of 12.5 miles but there were 45 competitors in four classes who were game: Unlimited paddled boards as long as 18 feet. The Stock class paddled boards up to 12 feet. The 14 class paddled 14-footers and there was a Woman's class. There was a strong local contingent that included surfers Ken Collins, Joe Beek, Ryan Augustine and Tanner Beckett, competing with paddlers from all up and down the California coast who were game to have a go.
They left the beach at 7:45 escorted by boats and PWC, and some of them left a trench as they knee-paddled and prone-paddled their high-tech paddleboards from east to west: "Local longboarder Tanner Beckett gave the top three a real challenge," said event organizer Gunnar Roll. "He helped set the pace and maintained an early lead but got passed up by the first, second and third-place finishers."
Conditions were "challenging" according to Roll: "On the way out there was one to two-foot front and side wind chop with cold spots. Coming back, the downswell leg had surfable, short-period wind chop, with hot and glassy conditions in the last two miles to the finish."
Gary Fortune is a lifeguard from Malibu who paddled an 18-foot Joe Bark as if he had a White Shark on his ass the whole way. He finished way ahead of everyone else, setting a course record of 1:52:59. That equates to paddling over six miles per hour for almost two hours – like getting caught inside for 112 minutes.
The second and third finishers in the long course were also southers – Tony Hotchkis and Bud Donato – with Tanner Beckett coming in fifth.
From 10:00 to noon the long course finishers sprinted for the beach and ran through the flags to cheers from the crowd. Kim Moriarity was on the beach, keeping things organized, talking to everyone, remembering Jay: "The energy is so positive," Kim said. "You feel the warmth of the sun? That's Jay, smiling down on all this."
They ran the short course next, a 2.2 mile sprint down the beach toward Moss Landing and back. Transplanted La Jolla boy Colin Brown won the short course paddling an 18-footer, while 50-year-old Tom Powers was hot on his heels in second:
"Everyone was cheering for Tom, but I was the other bald guy," Brown said as he dragged his board up the beach.
"Not bad for a 50-year-old, huh?" Powers grinned, as Skindog heckled him off in the distance.
After the short course, there were even shorter events for the young, up and coming waterboys and watergirls.
There was a healthy lunch, cold drinks and lots of cookies donated by Pleasure Point's Nell Newman. The Jay Moriarity Memorial Paddle Race raised a couple thousand dollars for the Jay Moriarity Memorial Foundation, with the bulk of the money donated to Junior Lifeguard scholarships for local kids.