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Yours truly with legendary surfer Jericho Poppler at the 26th annual Moores Cancer Center Legends Surf Contest & Luau. Photo courtesy Karen Isabell
Columns Waterspot

Waterspot: 26 years and counting for UCSD Cancer Center fundraiser, surf contest

My wife’s close friend Peggy Meil was in charge of fundraising for UCSD when she proposed a surfing contest.

That was 26 years ago, and I can still recall sitting at that table with Peggy, Rusty Prisendorfer, Debbie Melville Beacham, Sam Armstrong, Tyler Callaway, Ignacio Felix, Fred Borelli and John Otterson. To anyone whose name I forgot, but was there that evening to hammer out the rules of the first annual Cancer Center fundraiser and surf contest, I apologize. Twenty-six years play tricks on an already slippery brain. Still, I do remember a few things. We decided that surfboards should be over 9 feet in length, that we would invite surfing’s greatest legends and that surfers, who usually pride themselves on their individuality, would be part of a team.

So on an August morning, a few friends, some of whom were famous for their surfing skills, gathered to ride waves and attend a luau catered by Fred Borelli. The party was at the Borelli home overlooking the contest site, the Scripps Pier.

I think Dale Velzy, Carl Ekstrom, Woody Ekstrom, Joyce Hoffman, and Linda Benson were on the maiden voyage.

Over the years, the event grew and legends like Terry “Tubesteak” Tracy, Kathy “Gidget” Zimmerman, Cliff “Kahuna” Robertson, Rabbit Kekai, Dr. Ricky Grigg, John Peck, Mickey Munoz, Margo Godfrey Oberg, Tom Ortner, Peter Townend, Ian Cairns, Gerry Lopez, Ira Opper, Steve Pezman, Jim Kempton, Shaun Tomson, Steve Bigler, Skip Frye, Mike Hynson, Bob “The Greek” Bolan, Sonny Vardman, Hap Jacobs, Bing Copeland, Donald Takayama, Guy Takayama, David Nuuhiwa, Herbie Fletcher, Robert “Wingnut” Weaver, Joel Tudor, Paul Strauch, Bruce Brown, Denny and Kemp Aaberg, John Van Hammersveld, Rob Machado, Fernando Aguerre, Lisa Anderson, Greg Noll, Robert August and Mark Martinson came, saw, conquered, posed for photos, ate and returned home.

This was the 26th and possibly my favorite year. It began Saturday evening at Aguirre Castle, overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Walking through the halls toward the beach, you view what is possibly the greatest private collection of surfboards in existence. Then, walking downstairs, you are greeted by some of those who made those boards famous.

Just as I am each year, I was asked to sign the event posters. Acknowledging that I am light years from being a surf legend, I always bristle at the thought of placing my signature next to those who redefined our sport. But Jericho Poppler can be quite persuasive, and she called me over to a table I had a hard time leaving. There, the Golden Girls glistened beneath the soft lights, and I entered a dream of beautiful people. Candy Woodward, Shannon Aikman, Lisa Tomb and Jericho herself relieved the pain of writer’s cramp, and I realized that royalty has its privileges.

As for the contest itself, there was small surf lit up by the old guard and some of the newer names including Damian Hobgood and Dane Perlee.

I roved the sand in search of the famous to interview when I came across Pipeline legend Rory Russell speaking with Lisa Anderson. Lisa asked me to take a photo of them together, which I gladly did. She then walked away with a beautiful Lightning Bolt Surfboard under her arm as Rory explained, “She approached me and asked what it would take to get one of my boards, and I handed her the one she’s carrying.”

This was one of the countless moments during the 26th annual Moores Cancer Center Luau & Legends Invitational. Reserve me a place in the sand, and I’ll see you next year.

Top: The author with legendary surfer Jericho Poppler at the 26th annual Moores Cancer Center Legends Surf Contest & Luau. Photo courtesy Karen Isabell