The Cold Water Classic at Streamer Lane in Santa Cruz, CA brings the surf community together for the 36th time this year. The surfing competition began earlier this week and is battling unusual weather conditions.

“This year we’ve got very variable weather conditions, we’re going to have some crazy rain, some crazy winds, we’re going to have little windows to run, and today we got blessed, we literally got a whole day of running off,” said John Hunter of O’Neill Wetsuits, the official sponsor of the event. The Cold Water Classic is a unique competition because of the temperature of the water and the cliffs surrounding the beach at Steamer Lane. However, weather is not a typical issue for the surfers. California is experiencing what is expected to be a wet winter for the second year in a row, kicking off with rain storms across Southern California on Wednesday. So far, the competition has been able to run smoothly, and if the weather permits, the Cold Water Classic will continue through Sunday, November 19.

For Santa Cruz natives, competing in the Cold Water Classic is a rite of passage. The low temperatures, massive waves, and towering cliffs create a challenging and special experience. “A lot of the time, people who don’t know anything about surfing are thinking warm water, sun, sand, and this is rocky bluffs and reef break,” explained Scott Ragatz, who was born and raised in Santa Cruz. “It’s a different corner of surfing that’s good for people to see.”

“Having this gladiator-like arena for surfers to just go to battle and the cold waves and a lot of big energy waves, it creates an awesome atmosphere,” commented Shaun Burns, another Santa Cruz native known in the surfing community as Burnsy. He is not worried about the weather at all, adding, “Rain or shine, the city of Santa Cruz is going to be out here rooting on the local contingency, as well as just looking at the world-class surfers surfing at their local spot.” Burns is helping run the event, as well as competing. 

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Sixteen-year-old local Adam Bartlett, nicknamed Tadpole, stole the show on the opening day of competition leading the trial times and advancing through three heats. Bartlett is following in the footsteps of his father, Osh Bartlett, a world-class surfer raised in Santa Cruz whose nickname is Frog. “I live a couple of blocks away, just bike here and surf here every day. It feels good to know that I know this wave as good as anybody and just a really good confidence builder,” said Bartlett. Other leading times were posted by Burns, Newport Beach’s Dylan Hord, Barbados’ Jacob Burke, and local Sam Coffey.

The Cold Water Classic is North America’s longest-running surf competition. Since its inception in 1987, the event has been held at Steamer Lane, which offers one of the best spectator views in the world. Surfers from across the country and around the world flock to Santa Cruz to compete against locals who are more familiar with the terrain. Live streams of the event can be viewed on the World Surfing League’s website.