Tick Off 2 Lyme Disease Awareness Contest

Austin Smith Ford

Austin Smith Ford at the Tick Off 2 Lyme Disease Awareness surf contest.

Tick Off 2 Lyme Disease Awareness Contest

Ever since I started surfing at the tender age of seven, I've had my fair share of brutal beatings. I've been drilled into the reef at Backdoor Pipeline, slapped silly at sizable Steamer Lane, and narrowly avoided a two-wave hold down at Mavericks. Despite all the shredded skin, broken boards, and near death experiences, nothing has rocked my world like the unrelenting pain of Lyme disease, which I was diagnosed with in 2011. It has challenged my strength and courage unlike any giant wave or aggressive local ever has.

In terms of comparing my chronic pain and depression, which I have lived with since 2005, to a heavy water surfing experience, getting caught in the rip at Puerto Escondido in Oaxaca, Mexico comes the closest to mind. The wipeout begins with a bang, landing blows of pounding water upon you like a flurry of haymakers from Mike Tyson in his prime, usually followed with a face full of sand.

The worst part of this wave, however, is the relentless riptide. After surfacing is could take you at least fifteen minutes return to shore to retrieve your broken board, all the while swimming furiously as the rip pulls you back out to sea. This washing machine from Hell can trap you in an unrelenting spin cycle that leaves you wishing you never booked that flight to Mexico in the first place.

My experience with Lyme has had startling similarities: painful cycles of flare ups that constricts and inflame my entire body, hopeless feelings of fear and despair, and massive amounts of medications that keep coming one after the next. Lyme disease is an infection transmitted by the bite of ticks carrying the spiral-shaped bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi. The signs and symptoms of Lyme disease vary and usually affect more than one system. The skin, joints and nervous system are affected most often.

It took me six years to get diagnosed with this sinister affliction, and the entire time has felt like a never-ending Puerto punishing. It was this dreadful way of life that prompted me to organize a family focused Lyme Disease awareness/benefit contest last October, which I dubbed the "Tick Off". I called upon local surf shops, artists, and my friends in the surf industry to donate prizes, and began a tradition that I carried on last Saturday at Pleasure Point, the "Tick Off 2", presented by the Jay Moriarity Foundation.

Neal Kerney

Tick Off 2 contest organizer and Lyme Disease fighter Neal Kerney.

48 competitors and their families were greeted by picturesque Indian summer conditions with small, yet rippable knee-to waist high surf. The kind folks at Skate Church set up a pancake breakfast in the morning, and Pleasure Pizza delivered a dozen large pizzas to fuel the hungry competitors.

There were four divisions- Groms (14 and under), Juniors (15-17), Women (All ages), and Pro/Am (18 and up).

In the Grom division, the competition was hot and heavy. The little dudes were duking it out in the water, and running amok on land, even grabbing the microphone to provide some youthful insight on the action. In the end it was young Zach Proctor who took the win, showcasing his smooth style and polished power surfing in the final.

The Juniors division may have lacked numbers due to a High School competition being held the same day in Half Moon Bay, but made up for it with the amount of talent of those who entered. In a seesaw battle in the final it was local whiz kid Nic H'dez taking the win over another rising star, Willem Banks.

The Women's final was also hotly contested with Pleasure Point local Shalene Cruz looking to be the favorite early on. In the end, Cruz was narrowly beaten by another young Point local, Ally Menna, who sliced and diced her home break with an impressive and mature style.

Finally, the Pro-Am final was a stacked field including the likes of Austin Smith-Ford, Jimmy Herrick, and Chris Manns. Taking the win and $150 was the West Side's own, Nick "Parts" Erikson, whose frontside flow proved too strong for his fellow finalists to overcome.

Winning the "Putney and Perry Auto Performance Prize" was frequent flier Austin Smith-Ford, whose frontside air reverse netted him a cool $500 for the single maneuver, decided by a panel of hard working judges.

The Raffle capped off the day, and I was happy to give away thousands of dollars of prizes including Nike shoes, Volcom clothing, Santa Cruz Skateboards, a Buell wetsuit, and the grand prize, a brand new Screwball Industries surfboard.

For myself at the end of the day, seeing all the grinning grommets and proud parents reminded me that no matter how sick or sore I may be, I still have something to give back to the community, and that gives me strength and purpose to continue to fight this awful and often overlooked disease.

In the words of twelve year old Women's competitor and Lyme survivor Willow Kelly, of Monterey, "The contest was awesome! I'm glad that people are noticing that Lyme Disease is a real condition and it can happen to any of us." A portion of the proceeds will go to the Sherriff's Activity League and ILADS, the International Lyme And Associated Diseases society. To donate or purchase T-shirts please contact nealdude85@gmail.com.—Neal Kearney