.UPDATE: Santa Cruz Body Surfing Association’s 37th Annual Championships Moved to Black Beach

The Competition has been moved from Laguna Creek Beach to Black Beach, 180 14th Ave., Santa Cruz. Visit santacruzbodysurfing.org for more info.

For those unfamiliar with the Wedge—located on the southeast end of the Balboa Peninsula in Newport Beach—it’s known for producing waves up to 30 feet high during full-break mode. The unpredictability and tremendous force make experienced surfers feel like they’ve been gobbled up by an enormous washer on spin-cycle, then spit out like a ragdoll. 

Dave Ladd took on the Wedge about 25 years ago when he was in his late 30s. The longtime Santa Cruz resident had been in Newport Beach on business. Ladd didn’t have to worry about breaking an expensive surfboard, as many do when trying to surf the Wedge; he’s a bodysurfer. 

“[The Wedge] is a dangerous wave,” Ladd says. “Crazy takeoff, crazy barrel, crazy crowd, crazy three or four-second ride—I respect all of the regular crew there.”

Ladd, now 64, has a few decades of bodysurfing experience. He won bodysurfing contests in Hawaii’s Sandy Beach and Point Panic, and also placed high in the tournament at the legendary Pipeline.

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“[Ladd] was one of the best [bodysurfers] in the world,” local bodysurfer Ryan Masters says. “He’s won some of the major Hawaiian contests.”

Winning and taming some of the world’s most challenging breaks are notable accomplishments. Still, Ladd’s reflection on his many years of bodysurfing is more about spirituality; it’s more profound than a case full of trophies. 

“There’s something about riding a wave, specifically bodysurfing, that hits you on another level,” Ladd explains. “Perhaps that it’s not easy to learn, or so few people do it or you’re in the mix with dolphins, otters and seals. I can’t pinpoint why the experience is so magical, so necessary for me. Hopefully, I can keep doing it for a long time.”

Ladd isn’t alone in his bodysurfing adoration. Tom Mader, Julie Davis and Horst Wolf formed the Santa Cruz Body Surfing Association (SCBSA) in 1983. It’s one of the world’s oldest cold water bodysurfing organizations. For 25 years, Ladd has been involved with the SCBSA as both a competitor and, more recently, as a judge.  

“The awesome thing about bodysurfing is you’re riding a wave, and it’s just you and your swimfins—for some people, not even swimfins,” Ladd says. “That purity makes it super cool.”

Ladd isn’t participating in this year’s competition, but he’ll be on hand. As he explains, the SCBSA is more of a club than an organization; it’s an excuse for friends to gather and get in the water. 

But Ladd’s competition days aren’t over yet—he plans on contending next year.

The 37th Annual California Bodysurfing Championships will be held Saturday, Oct. 23, 7:30am (check-ins) at Black Beach, Santa Cruz. $50/entry ($75/limited beach entries). For entry forms and more info, visit santacruzbodysurfing.org.


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Adam Joseph
Before Delaware native Adam Joseph was brought on as managing editor for Good Times Santa Cruz in 2021, he spent several years with the Monterey County Weekly as a music writer and calendar editor. In addition to music, the award-winning writer has covered film, people, food, places and everything in between. Adam’s work has appeared in Relix Magazine, 65 Degrees, the Salinas Californian and Gayot. [email protected]
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