Swaggerjack Productions travelled cross-country to beautiful Santa Cruz, California last month to film the 26th annual Kayak Surf Festival aka Paddlefest. We have made the journey to California every spring since 2008 to cover this awesome event and look forward to many more years of excellent surf and even better people!
While covering an event, we are offered a unique perspective as the film crew; we work behind-the-scenes and gain a better understanding of what it takes to pull off such an event. Dennis Judson works harder than most at coordinating the annual Santa Cruz Paddlefest and also has a strong team of volunteers and committee members working to ensure no detail falls between the cracks. There are massive amounts of contestants, sponsors, photographers, spectators, and vendors who all need direction and supervision to ensure the Paddlefest goes off without a hitch.
It was our pleasure to assist by providing visual entertainment for the Friday and Saturday night parties and even getting our turn on the microphone to help announce the event. The role of emcee usually falls to Dennis himself, Mark Pastick, or any other kayak surf veteran who knows the sport and its players. My announcing skills didn’t even compare to the enthusiasm these men relay through the microphone as well as their extensive knowledge of the break, the sport, and the contestants. Not only did spectators learn about the tricks and the boats, but also gained personal insight for the riders.
Even though the Paddlefest has rented this surf spot annually for over a quarter of a century, there are still board surfers who didn’t get the memo. For the most part, they do a decent job staying out of the contest area, but there are stragglers who get yelled at by contest staff and regulators. Even the seagulls snub board surfers on this weekend…
Special thanks to Dennis Judson for granting us the opportunity to spend another year on the cliffs filming such a wonderful event and to Mark Pastick and Jason Kozun for being such amazing west coast family!
After an extended stay in beautiful Santa Cruz, California, it was time for the Swaggerjack crew to pack up and hit the road. We were Colorado-bound to film some alligator fun at the Colorado Gators farm and set up a display for our Gatorfest DVD’s. Gatorfest is an annual alligator wrestling contest/rodeo between amateurs who have learned to wrestle gators at the farm. They run, jump, and swim through the swamp to catch the largest gators as quickly, and safely, as they can. Currently, Gatorfest 2010 is available for sale and is a 30-minute HD video edited to music from local Gainesville, Florida artists. For purchase information, please visit our website, www.SwaggerjackProductions.com . Our goal was to make the 17-hour drive straight from Santa Cruz to the small town of Alamosa, Colorado. Aside from a wrong turn at the famous Four Corners, it was a rather pleasant and uneventful journey.
The majority of our drive took place overnight, but we were able to enjoy some sights before the sun went down. We saw gorgeous mountains, hillsides, and amber fields of grain. We saw the terrain slowly change from bright green lush vegetation to dry, dusty barren fields with sporadic bushes and the occasional small tree.
The sun rose as we drove through the Colorado Rockies and revealed snow-capped peaks surrounding us and mini-waterfalls on the rocks walls beside us from melting snow above. Fortunately for us, Wolf Creek Pass hadn’t seen much snow in the previous week and was fairly free of traffic. Once we made it through, we knew we were in the home stretch. As we got closer to our destination, we recognized a familiar peak, Mt. Blanca, covered in snow, letting us know we had made it.
The Whole Enchilada is a hidden treasure right off of the Pacific Coast Highway in an obscure little town south of Santa Cruz named Moss Landing. Known for its landmark smoke stacks, Moss Landing is a small fishing town that is home to only a few restaurants, a farmer’s market, some antique shops, and some great surfing spots. The Whole Enchilada is more than just a restaurant; its owner also runs the farmer’s market, a small grocery/liquor store, the Snack Shaque (great for a post-surf breakfast of fresh-from-the-boat fish or big-as-your-face pancakes), and a bar attached to the restaurant.
The easiest way to describe The Whole Enchilada is fine Mexican dining. The kitchen uses traditional Mexican recipes and fresh, superb ingredients to prepare a mouth-watering feast. They incorporate the fresh fish brought in daily into these delicious Mexican treats creating unique dishes involving snapper, lobster, and other fresh daily catches. My personal favorite appetizer is the beef flautas. Their shredded beef is marinated and slow-cooked just right so that it is tender, juicy, and flavorful. The kind of flavor that has you debating ordering a second appetizer while you’re still waiting on your entrée. The menu offers every Mexican treat us American diners have come to love, cooked with an authenticity and attention to freshness that can’t be beat. Our table ordered a chimichanga, tacos, fish tacos (with the fresh fish of the day) and beef fajitas. Served with salsa and fresh guacamole, everything was satisfying and scrumptious. There was a silent table as everyone enjoyed their dishes, down to the very last bite of beans and rice.
The Whole Enchilada also offers a family-friendly environment. It is a great place for friends and family to sit back, relax, catch up, and enjoy the pleasant surroundings and food. The walls are colorful and neatly decorated with local art and there is an outdoor seating area to enjoy. No trip is complete without a visit from Ray, the owner. If you’re lucky, he will present you with a lottery ticket and shake your hand, making you his partner in the drawing. Last year, I was fortunate enough to win $10 off of the ticket he gave me! Needless to say he was pleasantly surprised when we returned to give him his $5 share. This year’s ticket was not a winner, but that just gives us one more reason (besides the amazing food) to come back next year!
No trip to Northern California is complete without a good hike through a redwood forest. These trees are stunning, breathtaking, and invigorating for a love of nature. Fortunately for us, there are several redwood choices near Santa Cruz; our traditional favorite has become the Big Basin Redwood Forest State Park. They offer camping, miles of hiking, and gorgeous redwoods hundreds of years in the making.
After paying the small entry fee, we ventured out to explore the trails. There is a main loop that covers many of the forest’s largest trees that is only about half a mile long. This loop features an “animal tree” with growths at the bottom of the trunk resembling animals, many “fairy rings,” where groups of redwoods grow together in a circular shape, and “chimneys,” trees that have survived forest fires but are left with hollowed, chimney-like centers.
There is also a “Mother” and “Father” of the forest, the two trees thought to be the largest. They each have a massive circumference and impressive height. Unfortunately, years ago there was a storm that knocked off a portion of the “Mother’s” top, but she is still large enough to escape the frame of our camera!
After walking through these trails and adoring the picturesque redwoods, I had to get close to one. Below is a size-reference picture to help us remember just how massive these giants are. These trees have survived hundreds of years and are a beautiful piece of American history that deserve to be protected and cared for.
To start, dining at I Love Sushi is nothing short of magical.
For the past 6 years, we have visited Santa Cruz, CA every spring. Early on, we discovered a sushi joint that became a staple part of our visits. This year, however, our sushi joint was not serving sushi. Usually this would cause a great disappointment, but instead, this allowed us to venture out and try something different. This led us to discover I Love Sushi, and we have found a new staple for our visits.
Located at 516 Front Street in downtown Santa Cruz, the restaurant blends in with the side buildings, but caught our eye with a clever name and the promise of good sushi. Walking in, we see a beautifully crafted sushi bar to our right, with the sushi chefs hard at work, and a hostess to our left leading us to the center of the front dining room for our table. Seconds after we took our seats, California Rolls were placed in front of us, and then a spicy-mayo topped mussel, a pre-cut orange, and bowls of Miso soup. Our drink orders were placed, and eel-sauce covered breaded calamari strips were placed in front of us. We had only ordered drinks and had a full spread laid out in front of us. As we looked at each other in silence, wondering if we had discovered sushi heaven, a Japanese man leaned over the table offering sake shots to those who had ordered alcohol, then came back with a full carafe of sake for refills, “on the house!” We learned this man was the owner, and was more than happy to do sake shots or sake bombs with you, always on the house.
Needless to say, we were already impressed and very pleasantly surprised at the new sushi restaurant we had found. Looking around, we see there is another dining room next to the one we were in, and the music we were hearing was coming from one of three karaoke rooms in the back, beyond the bathrooms and kitchen. Three karaoke rooms? That was awesome. From our table, we had a great view of the kitchen. They cleaned the kitchen down and put out fresh lining over the grill multiple times during our visit alone. The kitchen staff values a clean working environment, and their pride shows in their beautifully presented food. Offering traditional sushi and custom rolls as well as hot foods including teriyaki and stir fry, I Love Sushi can please diners from every group.
Nestled neatly on the corner of Soquel and Ocean avenues in beautiful Surf City, Santa Cruz, California is an unassuming Italian restaurant, right on the end of a small outdoor shopping plaza. We can see an open patio with powerful heaters and signs proudly welcoming canines to join their masters. The blue and red “open” light was beckoning us to come in a give it a try. We had found Caffe Lucio, a true Italian treat featuring made-from-scratch meals using local organic farms and wild fish. This Lucina Italiana goes beyond just serving amazing, mouth-watering food; they also host a family-style party atmosphere with a one of a kind chef staff and a proud, welcoming owner, Lucio himself.
Before getting our first peek at the menu, we noticed it was happy hour. Peroni on draft, in tall, frosted glasses and a rich chocolate martini were our first round, and it was hard to change the order. The caffe has a full bar and very talented bartenders, who mixed up an Italian margarita between martinis.
For appetizers, we tried the Carpaccio, Gamberi alla Lucio, and fresh Mussels. We were also surprised with a simply delicious treat from Lucio himself; whole, marinated imported-from-Italy green olives. I personally am not an olive fan, but these were so flavorful, not over-salted, and a perfect start to our meal. The Carpaccio is razor-thin slices of filet mignon that have been drizzled with olive oil and capers, served with a half-lemon to squeeze over the meat. This was unique, tasty, and some of the most tender meat you’ll ever try. The Gamberi alla Lucio are very large sautéed prosciutto wrapped prawns served in a lemon-white wine-butter sauce. This sauce will have you asking for more bread to sop it all up- the perfect blend of citrus with butter and a most carefully selected wine. The Mussels were also served in their own butter-wine sauce and were cooked to perfection. They were tender, flavorful, fresh and juicy.
Caffe Lucio offers a wide variety of Italian favorites and authentic pasta dishes, featuring their own house-recipe sauces taking you strait to an Italian café overlooking a cobblestone street. They also have nightly specials, of which we could not resist the lobster and ricotta filled pasta sacks in a creamy tomato sauce. This sauce in itself leaves you craving spoon-fulls of its creamy, rich tomato flavor blended seamlessly with just the right seasonings. After cleaning his plate, our editor boasted “this is the best lasagna I’ve ever had!” The use of local, organic ingredients and carefully developed recipes truly shines through just how amazing their food is. We also had their spinach and ricotta filled manicotti with the house red sauce; al dente tubular noodles stuffed with succulent ricotta cheese and fresh, organic spinach. We were in heaven.
As we drifted further into our own food Utopias, Lucio was zipping around getting the party going for the night. The lazers were fired up, the fog machine started to spew fog, the music was bouncing and Lucio was entertaining a young bambino assisting her doll into a high chair. “I love the bambinos!” he exclaimed to us, shortly after his interaction with a very happy young girl. Caffe Lucio is proud of its family-style atmosphere and happily welcomes children, even featuring simpler items on the menu to suit even the pickiest eaters.
The time of magic had arrived: dessert. There were several tempting options, but we settled on the Tiramisu and a rich chocolate cake made with Nutella. They did not disappoint. The table was silent as we all savored the spectacular treats placed before us. Everything down to the plump, perfectly ripe strawberry was wonderful. The tiramisu was creamy, with a pleasing texture and spot-on blend of brandy and coffee. The cake was everything one could dream for from a nutella-infused chocolate cake from the kitchen of such amazing chefs.
Ah, the chefs. Now at any given moment during your dining experience, they will be up to something. With an assortment of hats, sunglasses, and great attitudes, they periodically make a little noise and entertain the diners. Whether they’re showing off their skills, making jokes, or dancing, the chefs are a unique addition to the usual dinner night out. They cook with an open kitchen and seem to enjoy the closeness with their diners.
Swaggerjack would like to thank the crew at Caffe Lucio and Lucio himself, for some amazing dinners and wonderful hospitality! It’s not often that you can visit a new restaurant thousands of miles from your home and feel like a regular that comes twice a week. If you are ever driving through or visiting Santa Cruz, put this treat on your must-do list. The only real challenge is only going once…
Saturday morning greeted us with lighter skies and teases of sunshine. It was definitely shaping up to be a better day than Friday. The waves had more of a smooth, glassy surface and the winds were a bit more forgiving, at least in the earlier part of the day. This was the contestants’ last chance to score points in order to make it to Sunday’s finals. The high performance heats put on a great show, dropping in on massive waves and showing excellent control. When the stand-up paddleboarders had their turn, they didn’t disappoint. They braved the growing ocean, thrusting their boards over the incoming surf and scoping out the best spots to wait for the next set.
Even though these great competitors make it look incredibly easy and graceful to pull the stunts and tricks they do in the waves, there are times that they remind us they are human.
Through the day, we experienced sparse moments of sunshine and somewhat of a break from the rain. Low tide brought in slightly smaller waves, but that never stops kayakers or stand-up paddleboards from doing what they do best!
Directly below is Mark Pastick, a veteran kayak surfer, wave-ski surfer, and SUP-er. He has competed in the Santa Cruz Paddlefest for many years and never disappoints. You can always easily spot him by his bright red helmet with a happy blue star. Today is his birthday, so happy birthday, Mark! Thanks for everything!
Between all of the talented kayak riders and SUP riders, it was an entertaining day for all. We saw many close calls between the riders and each other as well as between the riders and the cliffs! As the horns signifying the end of the last heat blasted, remaining competitors headed back to their barracks for a warm shower and a little rest before the planned party at the Cocoanut Grove. We were treated to a “Cajun bluegrass” style band and the winners of the SUP race were announced. Shortly after the heat results and next-day schedules were posted, many rushed home for some much-needed sleep, as tomorrow was the finals; their chance to win it!
Nature greeted the Santa Cruz Paddlefest 2012 with high seas, dark skies, and chilling rain. Everyone attending the event was wet, including the spectators. Kayakers are known to not let an obstacle defeat them, and they owned the churning seas. Steamer’s Lane was doing its best to provide a good break given the conditions, and the competitors were still able to pull of some eye-catching cutbacks, awesome 360′s, and even the occasional backwards ride. 2012 was starting off dark and messy, but with such a great group of competitors, they were able to pull it together and raise the bar for competition.
The weather started to show improvement through the day and produced some clean, fun waves. Swaggerjack was there through the cold and the rain , filming and taking pictures the whole time. We were working as team non-stop through the day, but one man, Dennis Judson, ran full-speed the whole event supervising the entire event. He served as an announcer, coordinator, problem-solving extraordinaire, and as if that wasn’t enough, he also competed in the event!
Kayakers weren’t the only ones braving the turbulent ocean; Stand-Up Paddleboarders also had their turn taming the waves. SUP-ers have been a great addition to the Festival and are the future of the sport. They perform similar, yet very different stunts on their boards and have a different style of riding the lane. At the end of the last heat, the day concluded and everyone hoped for better weather the next day.
The Swaggerjack crew head out early on Saturday, March 10th for the Golden State, California. Along our way we encountered 15″+ of rain through Louisiana, terrible traffic jams due to accidents in Texas, and shockingly cold weather through New Mexico and Louisiana, but we made it safely on the 13th.
We came across some pretty cool Americana along the way…
The sun was setting as we crossed through New Mexico’s desert and the closer we got to Arizona, the more beautiful reds and oranges started to appear.
Soon into California, we saw fields and fields of beautiful Joshua Trees. You could really understand why Dr. Seuss was so inspired by them! Also, the mountains started to lose their reds and instead, show their browns and greens.
It was a long trip, but we had one day of rest before the first filming event for the Santa Cruz Paddlefest, the Thursday night BBQ and registration party. So naturally, we spent the day resting and reacquainting ourselves with the awesome town of Santa Cruz, California.