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Kavorkian amusement

One of Laguna’s most popular surf competitions is about to ride into town, but it’s about as far from “official,” “sanctioned” or “professional” as can be conceived: Heady beverages flow, and the costumes are as ridiculous as the stunts.

Yes, costumes.

In order to win the title of Kavorkian King at the 13th annual Kavorkian 5000 surf and costume competition, to be around noon Sept. 2, surfers must come up with the zaniest ensemble and/or inflict the most pain on themselves, as a sacrifice to appease the surf gods in hopes of better surf for the next year. A group of Kavorkian “elders” determines the winner.

The one-of-a-kind contest will be preceded by a new film festival Thursday at South Coast Cinema.


Pro surfers, skimboarders, professional photographers and professional layabouts had made so many films of past Kavorkians that a film festival became a no-brainer, said one of the original organizers, pro surfer and entrepreneur Steven “Sli Dawg” Chew.

The first place film festival winner will earn $1,000, with three other places also receiving cash awards. All runners-up will receive official “Kavorkian 5000” barf bags.

An after party will be at Ocean Avenue Brewery, featuring music by Nick Hernandez of Common Sense and his side band, the Bandits.

Chew said the surf contest idea came about when he and his group of friends were sitting around at the end of a summer. The surf was small, and the group was philosophical.


A friend had told them about a similar event at Gravels, a break near Salt Creek Beach, that eventually was shut down.

“So we said, ‘Let’s have our own little surf costume contest,’” Chew said.

The event was staged minus the farm animals that reputedly were part of the scene in the prior Dana Point events.

The Laguna surfers used the term “Kavork” to illustrate what could happen if one enjoys the “golden nectar of the gods” too much, Chew said.

The intentionally misspelled reference to assisted-suicide proponent Dr. Kevorkian — aka “Dr. Death” — resonated in the surfers’ minds, and it later became the name of the competition.

Their early attempts were small, but progressively grew as more people became involved. Colleagues and friends in the surf industry spread the word.

“Now it’s turned into a full-on family affair,” Chew said, laughing. “At first, it was just some surf guys drinking beer on the weekend in funny costumes.”

Willem Vanderveen, 8 at the time, won in 2005 for his eclectic get up: he collected bits of costume along the shore that had been lost by participants, and put them all together into his own masterpiece of zany couture.


Winning the Kavorkian is a dubious honor: The winner gets to buy a keg for their “subjects,” and be king until the next contest.

(In Willem’s case, he wasn’t required to procure the customary celebratory keg.)

Viking-style and other manly battle garb is common — as is drag, ironically. Surfer Te Leone arrived in his skivvies, a cowboy hat, snow skis and ski boots, and paddled out as-is, Chew said.

“It is what it is,” Chew said. “You never know what’ll happen — there’s a wild card thrown into the whole deal.”

Chew and other pro surfers and skimboarders like Mike Carter serve as announcers at the annual contest, which starts with a meet up at Adolfo’s Mexican Food, situated close to the beach entrance the surfers use.

“Adolfo’s very tolerant of us,” Chew said; the restaurant’s namesake has even been known to join in the revelry himself.

“As soon as the police show up, that’s when it’s time to parade down the stairs,” Chew said. “By the time we parade down Anita [Street] stairs, everybody on the beach is watching and waving at us. That’s another one of the cool Laguna aspects.”

The steps have been the site of a Kavorkian-winning exploit by one surfer, who attempted to slide down their railing on a surfboard; he landed squarely on his tailbone, and proceeded to thump it on every stair during his descent.


“He won the contest for that event without even getting in the ocean,” Chew said.

Another stair-scaling mishap had someone fall directly into the cactus below.

A favorite winner in Chew’s memory was Bootsie, a surfer who arrived covered in stuffed animals. The top of his head was shaved, but the sides stuck straight out, like a demonic clown.

In true Kavorkian fashion, Bootsie paddled out, surfed and wiped out with all of his plush friends attached.

Afterward, he joined a group of fellow Kavorkians who proceed en masse to the Sandpiper where, still in costume, they recount their exploits to other bar-goers.

Bootsie then shook it on the dance floor, still covered in sandy, soggy stuffed animals.

“The good times just keep on rolling,” Chew said.

For more information on the contest and festival, visit