Now, this was not your typical surf contest. The Jesus Fish Fest at Crystal Pier in Pacific Beach, Calif. November 10th was not a competitive grind meant only for the sponsored, home-schooled super grom that competes in a different surf contest every weekend. This was an outside-the-box, fun, community surf contest where all competitors surf on a level playing field. And how exactly do you create a level playing field for a judged contest? By putting every competitor on the exact same shape: identical 5’7″ twinnies. Each fish is shaped specifically for the competition and only waxed up and surfed for the first time on the morning of that contest. The eight fish, which were all sponsored by local churches in the San Diego area, were shaped by California shaping legend Hank Warner. Each board is one of Warner’s retro “Starfish” model.
Riding a board that surfers are unfamiliar with and have never ridden before puts them all in unfamiliar territory. Especially considering that everyone in the contest, from sponsored ripper groms to 6’5″ dudes and 50-year-old legends in the Masters Division alike were riding the exact same thing. However, the versatility of Warner’s fish, which compacts a lot of volume into a small space without sacrificing the maneuverability, allowed for some top-notch surfing throughout the day in all divisions.
The conditions cooperated on contest day with small but clean waves and light winds. Another foot of swell would have been ideal for the contest field but nobody was complaining about the fun surf that day. The Open Men’s Divisions, which featured 56 competitors from across San Diego County, was edged out by Carlsbad surfer Cheyne Jobbins. Cheyne landed a solid frontside air on a two-foot onshore section during the final to take home top honors. It was one of three airs done throughout the day on the twin-fins, showing that high-performance surfing was possible on the retro shape. The Open Men were ripping all day long and the other standouts in the final were Josh Denham (Ocean Beach), Shaun Donovan (Pacific Beach), and Mitchel Mccullough (La Jolla), who finished second through fourth respectively.
In the Women’s Division another North County shredder, Hanna Van Veen from Encinitas, took the win over Carly Wilson, Hannah Yates, and Hana Pruzansky.
La Jolla super-grom Raphael Castro finished first in the Grom division. Getting back on the tail of the 5’7 fish he was able to throw a few turns to impress the judges and get the scores needed to take the win over Stefano Graciano (Pacific Beach), Micah Leapley (Oceanside) and Carsten Castaneda (Carlsbad).
In the Masters, aka the Jedi Division, the contest organizers gave the old-timers the option to ride on the 5’7 Fish or to bring a bigger board of their own to surf during their heats. In the first-round, half of the Masters rode the fishes and half of them rode their own boards. As if they were blessed, the four that chose Warner’s fish exclusively advanced to the Final. Patrick Giles ended up winning the final over Matt Donovan, Bruce Fearon, and William Walter. And it wasn’t the only win for the Giles family as Patrick’s seven-year-old son, Logan, went home with one of the boards.
While the competition in the water was fierce, an overwhelming amount of stoke and a strong sense of community are what made the day so special. Everybody was hooting one another into waves and high-fiving on the beach after their heats. Spencer Lillywhite and some stoked groms were dishing out entertaining and semi-valuable random facts on the PA system. And at the end of it all, every surfer, whether they came in first place or lost their first heat, had the same chance to go home with one of the boards. Each of the eight fish surfboards featured a unique scripture verse on its bottom. It was amazing to see who was chosen to go home with each board and uplifting for all who were present. Concluding its third year, the Jesus Fish Fest has now spread twenty custom Hank Warner shapes to lucky surfers across San Diego county lineups.
Editor’s Note: The Inertia is non-denominational and has no religious leanings. The opinions of contributors are their own.