The Santa Cruz Body Surfing Association was founded in 1983 by Tom Mader, Julie Davis, and Horst Wolf of Santa Cruz. After competing in the World Bodysurfing Championships in Oceanside during the summer of 1983, Wolf brought the idea home to his crew of bodysurfing friends at Sunny Cove. By the following winter, the SCBSA held the first-ever organized bodysurfing contest in Northern California at 26th Avenue Beach.
Sponsored by the Churchill Swim Fins, the contest had three divisions: no fins (“pure”), fins, and Churchill fins. More than 100 people attended and roughly 50 competed. The fledgling SCBSA soon expanded to include a crew of Sunny Cove bodysurfers and friends – notably, Tom Riley, Hari Merlo, Hank Scott, Jennifer Watson, Robert Hirsh, Kevin Munn, John Callahan, Pat Franco, Dan Young, Smokey Young, Bart Wilson, Dougal and Derek Hutchinson, Bob Kalpin, and many, many others.
The pure stoke of the inaugural event carried over into a second contest in the winter of 1984. The Cold Water Classic, as the contest was dubbed, featured amped winter swell and less-than-tropical water temperatures. That event also highlighted the potentially negative impact of County plans to build a sewer outfall through Sunny Cove. Thanks to the ensuing public and media response, that project was thwarted and SCBSA enrollment grew to more than 100 members.
Throughout most of the 1980s and 1990s, two annual SCBSA contests were regularly held: the California Bodysurfing Championships at 26th Avenue in the summer and the Cold Water Classic at Sunny Cove in winter. Organizers, judges, scorers and award ceremony planners such as Phyllis Wren, Judy Gong, Carla Christensen, Debbie Ladd, Susan Varian and others supported these events. As these hallmark annual contests continued, bodysurfers from across the state and beyond became aware of the many pockets of steep and challenging wave breaks in the Santa Cruz region, the beauty of our local shoreline, and the pure stoke embodied by our home-grown subculture of surfing. Over the years, snow has fallen on the contest, naked men have won heats, a white shark has barged the line-up, and a wave with a roughly 20-foot face was caught by Thorsten Hedgberg, a lifeguard from San Diego, during the epic 1997 El Nino contest.
Over the years, the SCSBA has formed a strong bond with a sister organization to the south, the South Jetty Swells of Ventura. The infamous Fords (Ernie, Carly, Dave, Chris, and Spencer), the first family of California bodysurfing, have competed in SCBSA events since the 1980s (and won the event more times than we care to admit). Other members of the SCBSA family from outside the 831 include Chris Lafferty, John “The Claw” Shearer, Brett and Bart Templeman, Eric Gustafson, and Tim Cunningham.
During the 2000s, SCBSA moved its contest north of Santa Cruz to Laguna Creek Beach to enjoy a consistently sizable, well-shaped break free of other boards in the line-up. In the 2010s, the SCBSA began collaborating with the California State Lifeguards Association to gain new participants and organizational support. Residual funds from contest sign-ups go to an ocean-related organization. In 2016, Brenna Sullivan led a SCBSA campaign to replace the automatic external defibrillator for the lifeguard and fire service of Zihuatanejo, Mexico.
Over the years, SCBSA contests have been sponsored by the generosity and support of local businesses such as O’Neill Surf Shop, Patagonia, Freeline Surf Shop, Play It Again Sports, Blown-out Surf Repair, Aloha Island Grille and others.
Today, the SCBSA remains a loosely affiliated group comprised of friends and fellow bodysurfers that have surfed, traveled, competed and stayed in contact with each other for decades. With the help of Tish Denevan, Brenna Sullivan, Dave and Debbie Ladd, Tom Mader, John Chamberlain, and our State Lifeguards Association partners, our October contest continues to celebrate the arrival of the first northwest swells of the year.
Each contest continues to attract new participants, young and old, from all over northern California. Membership simply requires showing up with fins. Come experience the waves and stoke at our next contest or let us know on Facebook when you’re up for a session in and around town.