Stoked to Carry on Local Surf Tradition

By Kathy Ochiai, Special to the Independent

High school surfer Harrison Kirkman competes in the Thalia Street Surfabout contest.

About 100 surfing fans came out on Saturday, May 26 to watch their hometown favorites compete in Laguna Beach’s 11th annual Spring Surfabout at the Thalia Street break.

A nice little wind swell popped up overnight and provided the contestants with 2-4 foot waves. Only Laguna Beach residents are allowed to compete in the tournament, which is sponsored by the retailer Laguna Surf and Sport.

Manager Jason Watson said, “This event is special because it’s one of only two surf competitions in Laguna. Other cities will promote their events and people come from around to surf in them. But Surfabout is something that gives the local kids a time to shine.”

This is the home break for many surfers in the community, one frequented by generations of locals. Surfing kids dream of catching their best wave at Thalia and relishing their 15 minutes of fame.

Kiki Nelson shares the stoke for a homegrown surf contest.

Watson grew up town surfing at the Thalia Street contest. As the years passed, he helped surf buddy Brandy Faber with running the tournament. Faber finally asked Watson to take over the job. So Watson did along with his friend and fellow surfer and artist, Steven Chew. Chew designs the poster for the event.

Surfabout divisions include ones for every level of school, by age, for pros and for girls.

Watson said, “The pro division and the elementary and Thurston divisions are always the highlights. It’s fun to watch the kids and the really good surfers from town going after some great prizes.”

Bobby Gavin won the elementary school division of the contest. This is the second year in a row that the youngster has taken the title.

Professional surfers Hans Hagen, Darren Madrigal and Doug Bunting judged the youngsters in the water as father and surfer Bobby Lockhart observed. All of the men shared that Surfabout brings about a sense of community.

Hagen’s 5-year-old son wants to compete in the event in the future.

Dante Madrigal, left, and Jeremy Shutts carry a triumphant Trey Lockhart.

Hagen said, “This event brings the community together. You see the whole span of generations, which is awesome. It gives every age group something to look forward to and it’s kind of the glue that keeps the community together. The event is just really fun.”

Bunting added, “I grew up here. I’ve been in Laguna since the second grade and this is my home break. I grew up surfing this break. I’ve been in all these events over the years and now I’m just helping out. All the local guys pull together and put on a fun event for everybody. And it’s more about being in the event, not winning or losing. It’s just all about the fun community feel.”

“A lot of us have children now,” said Bunting. “It’s fun to see all these guys who were little kids when I used to be out here and all these guys now have children who surf. It’s really fun to be down here with them all…good times!”

Bobby Lockhart said, “I’m very proud of these kids. They are the next generation of Laguna surfers.”


Surfabout judges, from left, Darren Madrigal, Bobby Lockhart, Doug Bunting and Hans Hagen.

“It’s the homegrown competition and the locals that make this competition special,” said Darren Madrigal, Thurston Middle School’s surf coach. “All of the kids encourage and support each other. Parents like me and Doug and Hans grew up surfing here. Now our kids are surfing in this competition. So it’s a lot of fun watching these new generations of little Laguna surfers.”

Parents and children volunteer to make the event run smoothly. At the end of the day, participants also clean up trash. Prizes are awarded to those who gather the most garbage.

Watson added, “I love the fire that you see from the community, from the anticipation to the outcome of the event. It’s kind of like a big beach day where we sit around and organize the heats. It’s legit on the back end, but casual on the front end. Hopefully, at one point, a kid who is intrigued by the surf industry will take care of the contest. We’re just trying to keep the tradition going. That’s the major thing.”

Division winners are awarded several prizes and, according to Watson, “are very fortunate.”



1. Alisa Cairns   Red

2. Staci Diggins White

3. Marlee Grosher Yellow



1. Bobby Gavin  White

2. Tre Lockhart  Red

3. Colton Gregory  Orange



1.Dante Madrigal  Blue

2. Davis Price  Green

3. Jake Levine  Red



1. Adam Redding Kaufman Yellow

2. Shane Chapman Orange

3. Cameron Depfyffer  White


19-34 Mens

1. Alex Mattingley Green

2. Kris Williams Yellow

3. William Maniaci  Red


35 and up Legends

1. Chad Mitchell  Red

2. Darren Madrigal Green

3. Johnny Monson Orange



1. Hans Hagen Blue

2. Nate Zoller Yellow

3. Erik Nelsen


Photo courtesy of SurfVibe

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