Aliso Creek Canyon is an amazing little gem. Buried in the heart of Orange County. It's easily overlooked as you head south out of Laguna Beach and swoop down PCH. The beach pulls your eyes westward, but turn east into the canyon and all of a sudden, the world changes. A little nine-hole golf course threads its way between the narrow Aliso Creek and the tall canyon walls. Deer, bunnies, foxes and rattlesnakes roam freely. Red-tailed hawks enjoy the warm updrafts and plentiful furry snacks. Most of all, it's quiet and serene.
This was the setting for the 2018 Waterman's Ball, hosted by the Surf Industry Manufacturers Association (SIMA). Cocktails were served on the fairway of the first tee. The silent auction was spread out where most golfers layup and take their second shot. But this evening, golf spikes were swapped for flip-flops and collared shirts traded for aloha prints.
The sunset hour was occupied with the who's who of the surfing industry clinking glasses, catching up and sharing stories. Pat O'Connell and Robert "Wingnut" Weavers, stars of The Endless Summer II, laughed about old times. Big-wave icons Reef McIntosh and Ian Walsh got caught up on the latest gossip. Current world-title contender Lakey Peterson took time away from her duties at the U.S. Open up the road in Huntington Beach. Even Kelly Slater, the GOAT, rolled in, while Tom Curren was fashionably late.
This year's program honored Dirk and Natasha Ziff as Waterman and Waterwoman of the Year. The billionaire couple has been the cornerstone of the reinvention of professional surfing and the World Surf League. Preferring to stay out of the spotlight as much as possible, their acceptance speech offered a rare public glimpse into their motivations for moving pro surfing in a new and exciting direction.
"Everyone here understands the power of surfing as a sport, a lifestyle, a sanctuary, an escape and a purpose," said Natasha. "Personally, since becoming a surfer, I have experienced the depths of frustration, felt some of the worst FOMO [Fear of Missing Out] known to a human over missing swells, and more joy and elation than I thought I would ever feel.
"I believe in surfing: in the sport, the lifestyle, and the feeling it gives to those in the water. And to those watching Filipe Toledo landing two massive alley oops on one wave or watching Steph Gilmore dance through a barrel at Snapper or watching Rodrigo Koxa take off at Nazare."
At the same time the future of pro surfing was being honored, so was its past, as Wayne "Rabbit" Bartholomew was given the Lifetime Achievement Award. A pivotal player in the birth of the world tour in the late '70s and early '80s, he later became the CEO of the ASP during the "Dream Tour" era.
Introduced by Bob Hurley, who was wearing a T-shirt with Rabbit's likeness on it, Bartholemew talked about the early days of the tour and the goals yet to be reached.
Rounding out the tributes, Doug and Kris Tompkins were honored as Environmentalists of the Year. Kris is the former CEO of Patagonia, while Doug, who passed away in a tragic kayaking accident in 2015, was the founder of The North Face and co-founder of Esprit.
"The places we surf or climb or hike help teach us to be caring and connected human beings," said Kris. "Most important, they are our habitat —the home to other creatures with whom we share the planet. But they also help us learn how to be good and respectful neighbors in the community of life. Every one of us has the obligation to work, with whatever tools we have, to expand and defend the wild world."
One of the big reasons for the annual festivities is to raise money for the SIMA Environmental Fund Grant. This year the funds raised from the silent and live auction will be dispersed between 15 different ocean-related charities, including the 5 Gyres Institute, Save the Waves, Surfrider Foundation and Wildcoast.
By the time the party was breaking up, the stars were twinkling over-head and the cool Pacific air had the temperature just right. By all accounts, it was an amazing night in the canyon.
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