Appeasing the Surf Gods

Tori Rogers and William Venderveen Kavork. Photo by Kate Vanderveen

Gabe Sullivan spoke with Steven "Sli Dawg" Chew about Labor Day's 12th annual Kavorkian 5000. Equal parts surf contest/costume party/smash-up derby/circus/cage fight, the spectacle unfolds in Laguna Beach.

Where did the Kavorkian 5000 come from?

One of the elder statesmen at Brooks Street reef, Eric Diamond, told us about how they used to have a contest at Gravels [Salt Creek] that got a little out of hand before the county sheriff shut it down. Diamond and his crew were hardcore partiers, and back then when you were partying too hard, you were going to "Kavork."

What's it for? 

The whole thing with the Kavorkian 5000 is that we drink the golden nectar of the surf gods to appease them so that they will bestow good waves upon us. The harder we hurt ourselves, the bigger the waves will be the next summer and for the rest of the year.

What's the dress code?

Anything goes. People make costumes out of garbage, found objects from alleys and passed-out bums. You'll see lots of gladiator/warrior/battle outfits, along with the most sizzling crossdress getups you've ever seen.

Is this invite only?

No. The whole Kavorkian attitude is come one, come all. We do not discriminate. Every age group, every gender, farm animals—bring it on. The law and the lifeguards have been very understanding; they just look the other way. It's a family affair these days, with parents and moms and dads and kids and friends who all come down because they want to see the end-of-summer antics.

Explain the judging criteria.

Instead of multiple heats, it's just one giant heat. Maybe 40 or 50 people out there, and it's just complete mayhem. It's usually hard to tell who the actual winner is at the end of the day; the discussion goes on long after the sun goes down. But there is a pretty tight-knit Kavorkian council that ultimately decides who wins, even if they take a few days. The criteria is whoever inflicts the most pain on himself, makes the biggest fool of himself, drinks the most golden nectar of the surf gods and gets the biggest response from the crowd.

What do you win? 

You have to buy the keg for the party that night. So if you win, you lose, but by losing you win because you are the reigning Kavorkian King. It will teach you to laugh at yourself a little harder and not take life so seriously in an all-too-serious world.

Who are notable past Kavorkian winners?

Mike Carter won as the Tooth Fairy one year and as Zorro the Gay Blade another. Te Leone won as a hybrid Marlboro Man/ski bum with his cowboy hat, skivvies, ski boots and skis. I won a couple years ago. We had a young winner last year, 8-year-old Willem Vanderveen. He was a late entry—put his costume together by grabbing pieces of other contestants' costumes that were floating up in the shore break.

Was his the scariest costume ever?

No, that was Boozo the Clown—this bro named Bootsie. Actually shaved his head and had his hair flying off the sides like Bozo and made a costume out of stuffed animals. That was really good.

Is the event important for racking up World Qualifying Series surf contest circuit points?

It's pretty much the polar opposite of any pro surfing event. We're the bastard stepchildren of the competitive surfing world.

What's your typical recovery time after the Kavorkian?

It's at least three or four days, a week if I get stitches. It's not something you mess around with even though you are completely messing around. It's a contest of vices and contradictions.

12th Annual Kavorkian 5000, Adolfo's Mexican Cantina and Thalia Street Beach, Thalia St. & Pacific Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach. Sun., 3 p.m. Free; A Kavorkian 5000 art retrospective can be seen at Ocean Avenue Brewery, 237 Ocean Ave., Laguna Beach, (949) 497-3381; Through Sept. 30.

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