On Saturday September 27th, fifty-six San Diego surfers of various ages, abilities, and backgrounds, gathered together at Avalanche Jetty in Ocean Beach for the inaugural Jesus Fish Fest. In this unique, outside-the-box, community contest, the playing field was leveled with all of the competitors surfing on identical 5’7 fishes during their heats. The four boards, shaped by legendary San Diego shaper Hank Warner, each represented one of the four Gospels that tell the story of Jesus’ life. Each board was sponsored by a local church in the San Diego area and was only waxed up and surfed for the first time on the morning of the contest. At the conclusion of the contest a lucky drawing was held to give away the boards to four lucky surfers, regardless of whether they won the contest or lost their first heat.
After nearly three weeks of minimal swell in the San Diego area, the contest went off in 3-4ft pumping surf at Avalanche Jetty. The competitors, many of whom had never ridden a fish before, were out of their element but absolutely ripping the bag out of the punchy lefthanders coming off the jetty. It was quite a sight to see surfers, ranging from 6 foot 7 inch Encinitas local Nikolas Harth all the way down to sub five-foot tall groms that were knee paddling the fishes out to the lineup. Despite the huge range in size and abilities of the surfers, the fishes were surfed exceptionally well and some massive scores were dropped throughout the contest.
Shaper Hank Warner stopped by the contest and was thoroughly impressed with how the competitors were riding his signature “Starfish” model. This board features a pulled in tail with two pointed-wings at the top of the tail block making for five points of contact with the wave, hence the “Starfish” name. Just like the contest, the boards were unique and got surfers outside the comfort zone of their standard high performance shortboards.
The Jesus Fish Fest featured three divisions: Groms, Girls, and Men’s Open. In the Grom division the young surfers showed some serious versatility riding the fishes and were pleasantly surprised with how well they were able to get them around on their turns. The Grom division final was narrowly edged out by La Jolla grom Rafael Casto who took down Jacob Kelly, Shane Tuschen, and Cole Hurst. In the Girls division, close friends Molly Tuschen and Jordyn Kelly took first and second place respectively over Rebecca Meuller and Elizabeth Cullum. The Open Men’s division was hotly contested and there was some phenomenal surfing happening throughout the event. Ultimately it was Florida-boy Kevin O’Leary who took the win in a final where the waves absolutely turned on. Colombian Simon Salazar took second place with Kort Gibson and Alex Reynolds finishing third and fourth.
Each of the four Jesus fishes featured a scripture from the Gospels on the bottom of the board. The verse from Mark 4:41 really seemed fitting for the day: “They were amazed and asked each other, Who is this? Even the winds and waves obey him.” With the cheers of excitement coming from the beautiful community of surfers on the beach, the 3-4ft waves pulsing through with gentle winds, and the overwhelming amount of stoke from all that were a part of the event, the entire Jesus Fish Festival seemed to be divinely orchestrated in way that was tangible and real.
All who were a part of the event were blessed by it and arguably none more so than the four lucky drawing winners who left the award ceremony at NewBreak Church in Ocean Beach with brand new 5’7 fishes. A lot of thought and prayer went in to this event, and seeing who ultimately walked home with the boards was an incredible blessing.
The Matthew fish was won by La Jolla grom Warren Zamudio who was encouraged a few weeks earlier at a church camp to begin reading the Bible more and to start with the Gospel of Matthew. He listened to the advice, reading a chapter each week and left off at Chapter 10 just before the contest. Now Warren can read the scripture Matthew 11:28-30 off the bottom of his surfboard.
The Mark Fish was won by Austin Pardi from Encinitas who was absolutely shredding on the fishes the entire day and nearly decided to leave before the award ceremony. He’s sure glad he didn’t.
The Luke Fish was won by Connor O’Donoghue from Ocean Beach who nearly didn’t get into the contest and was the very last competitor to register.
The name drawn for the John Fish was La Jolla grom, Matthew Perrault, who was not present to win the board. Earlier in the day, Matty said he was willing to give up to his lucky draw chance to win a board so that someone else could be blessed by it. That someone else was Alec Humphries who postponed his road trip to Canada in order to enter the contest and have a chance at one of the boards. Looks like it was a good decision, Alec.
The Jesus Fish Fest was put on by Surf Church San Diego which is a community of surf-stoked friends who desire to share faith, joy, barrels, and life together. For more info check out Surf Church San Diego on Instagram or contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Fish boards were all sponsored by the following local San Diego churches: Matthew: North Coast Calvary Church; Mark: St. Paul’s Pacific Beach; Luke: NewBreak OB; John: La Jolla Christian Fellowship.
Other sponsors include: Bird’s Surf Shed, David Robinson Design, Cobian Sandals, Stance Socks, Rip Curl Pacific Beach