For the first time in its 16-year history, this past weekend’s Cosmic Creek Surf Festival at Salt Creek Beach included a bodysurfing session. In the water was renowned North Shore bodysurfer Mark Cunningham, who was easy to see with his thick, white hair. Unfortunately, Kane Wilcox, the first to execute a front somersault in a wave during competition didn’t make it, but definitely check out that move. DaFin, the outrageously colorful swim fins that have decidedly replaced blue-and-yellow Churchill’s as fin of choice on OC beaches, sponsored the demo. And Cunningham used his to catch wave after wave with effortless grace.
Joining Cunningham was a crowd of all genders and ages quite stoked to meet the legendary waterman, including several young men clad in identically marked Speedos. One said he’s from Irvine, but the Wedgies Bodysurfing Club have no favorite break, they “just like to have fun.”
Each year’s fest attempts to be a throwback to the kind of freewheeling, 1970s surf fun that leads to effortless innovation, at least that’s how organizers envision it for the three board divisions: Locals; Creators & Innovators, who rode boards they’d shaped themselves inspired by ’70s designs; and Pros, which was won on Sunday afternoon by soul surfer supreme Rob Machado.
To jumpstart the randomness of it all, all Pros and Locals met at water’s edge before their heats to draw lots from Beach Marshal Ralphie to determine who got to pick which vintage board to ride from an assortment made in the ’70s and ’80s, including single- and twin-fin options. The Locals included separate competitions starting with under-14-year-old groms all the way to a 55-and-up group, so multigenerational surfers competed and even more generations shouted encouragement from under beach umbrellas.
Shapers for the Creators & Innovators competition hail from San Clemente to Ventura, including Britt Merrick of Channel Islands, Dan Bohne of Infinity Surfboards, Jason Bennett of Chemistry Surfboards—who ultimately won that category—Tim Stamps, Cole Simler, Mike Walters, and tons more. Tents on the sand were set up so people could demo boards shaped by Danny Hess, Haydenshapes, Donald Brink and Jeff McCallum.
Onshore, the festival atmosphere was fed by vendors of every stripe: Shwack for food, Stumptown for coffee, and in an effort to be plastic-free, Mizu let you refill your water bottles. Aliso Viejo-based VISSLA teamed up with Hoffman California Fabrics, who have been curating artists in making luxe prints since 1924, to create a Liquid Rollers line of ’70s surf garb tinged with psychedelia, and the artwork was on display. Hoffman began designing for surfwear decades ago, with production in their factory in Bali, and are world famous for batiks used by quilters and home sewers alike. Their warehouse in Mission Viejo has shelves and shelves of fabrics reaching sky high—at least that’s how I remember it when I went there in the ’70s with my brother’s girlfriend who made quilts she sold at the Sawdust Festival.
Great times were had by all!
Lisa Black proofreads the dead-tree edition of the Weekly and writes about the arts and South County beaches. Her OC roots go back to the Cuckoo’s Nest but she left to create original theater on four continents, then returned to bodysurf small waves.