The Jay Race

The annual Surftech Jay Moriarity Memorial Paddleboard Race (“The Jay Race”) was created to honor Jay Moriarty, who died in a diving accident in June 2001, the day before his 23rd birthday.

Moriarity, known for his singular longboarding style and full-steam approach at Mavericks, had already become a local legend by then. As one of the youngest riders to ever attempt Mavericks’ massive waves, he fittingly took one of the biggest wipeouts ever witnessed there. As surfer lore recalls, he surfaced from the violent 25-foot spin cycle already searching for a replacement board for the one he had just broken.

Needless to say, Moriarity went right back in the lineup and straight into the annals of surfing legends.

To train for big waves, Moriarity logged countless miles paddleboarding in Monterey Bay. The Jay Race pays tribute to Moriarity’s passion for boarding, and his connections to the ocean and the local community.

Now in its seventh year, the Jay Race, shoving off from New Brighton State Beach in Capitola on June 21, features a rigorous 12-mile paddle straight into the heart of the bay. It has become a focal point for the burgeoning paddleboarding and stand-up paddleboarding scene in Northern California. The race also gives athletes the opportunity to give back to the local community. Last year, through race entry fees and raffle donations, more than $5,000 was raised to support local Junior Lifeguard programs.

Dominating paddler Gary Fortune of Southern California, who’s won the event the last four years, is expected to return to defend his title this year. It may be a little tougher, as the largest field ever is expected, including an array of world-class paddlers looking to swipe his title.

ASJ sat down with two key athletes and supporters of the Jay Race – Ramona d’Viola, one of the founders, and Joe Beek, a perennial top finisher who’s now the event’s director – to discuss the draw of paddleboarding and Moriarity’s legacy to the sport.

Ramona d’Viola

  • Age: 49
  • Hometown: Berkeley
  • Current Residence: San Diego
  • Lifestyle: Jacked up on coffee
  • Occupation: Photographer, journalist and some-time snake charmer

After an overlong stint working in high-tech, Ramona d’Viola had neither struck it rich in stocks nor produced a globe-shaking patent. After giving up on the get-rich-quick dream, she turned to photography and adventure writing to pay the bills. But it’s her passion for paddleboarding that continues to keep her out of the office.

ASJ: How did you get into paddleboarding?

I was looking for yet another way to be in the ocean and keep fit. My first paddle was on a giant 18-foot blade board, tippy as a bowling ball. I fell off a dozen times, but when I got the hang of it, I fell in love with the glide. I bought a paddleboard the next day.

ASJ: What is your paddleboarding highlight?

Crossing the Monterey Bay with my friend Tom Tillman. We sang songs and cracked jokes for eight hours. I have a bond with him that cannot be described.

ASJ: Do you have a paddleboarding goal?

Only to encourage more women to enter the sport. I’m stoked to see Roxy sponsor and support women in all areas of ocean-oriented competition, and particularly the Jay Race.

ASJ: Why do you think paddleboarding has become so popular, even among non-surfers?

I think it allows people to enjoy the ocean in a less intimidating environment. No surf? No problem! You can hop on your paddleboard and go for a paddle, or cruise around the kelp beds, or have a relay race to the buoy with your friends. It’s just another way to play in the water.

ASJ: What motivated you to start the Santa Cruz Paddleboarding Union?

The moment I tried paddleboarding, I was hooked. Before long, I’d rallied some old paddlers from their roosts and recruited some fresh blood. Soon, we had a paddleboard posse. That’s how the ‘union’ got started.

ASJ: You also started the Jay Race. Who was Jay Moriarity in your eyes?

Jay was a surfing prodigy who died too young. He was my neighbor, an acquaintance who always had a warm hello. But he was larger than life as a surfer. The thing you hear most often about him, aside from his big-wave prowess, is what a nice guy he was. The consummate waterman, you’d see Jay out in the bay on his paddleboard when the surf was puny. Along with other founding members of the SCPU, we created the Jay Race as a way to honor a fellow paddler and remind ourselves to “live like Jay.”

ASJ: Why do you think the Jay Race has become so popular?

For many reasons: The popularity of paddleboarding has grown enormously, and it’s a tough race! The water’s cold, the currents are wicked, and the kelp can kick your butt in the home stretch. Paddlers love a gnarly course and winning the Jay carries some caché.

ASJ: Any recent adventures?

Last summer I had the honor of escorting Tom Duryea on his 3rd Molokai Channel crossing. It’s a little tradition we have now. The day after the race I set sail from Honolulu on the return leg of the Trans Pac sailing race aboard Holua, a Santa Cruz 70’. I learned how to catch swells with a 70’ racing sled, and can assure you, it’s pretty damn fun.

Joe Beek

  • Age: 48
  • Hometown: Santa Cruz
  • Current Residence: Santa Cruz
  • Family: Married for 24 years to wife Shelley, father to daughters Erin, 11, and Abbie, 9
  • Lifestyle: Surfing and serving the greater good
  • Occupation: Management consultant and executive. Presently working for Island Conservation, a non-profit specializing in preventing extinctions on islands.

Joe Beek has been immersed in ocean culture for most of his life. By the age of 10, he had started sailing dinghies, bodysurfing and paddleboarding. As a teenager, he worked as an ocean lifeguard and played Division 1 water polo in college. These days, surfing and paddleboarding are the foundation of his waterman lifestyle, a lifestyle he shares with his family.

Over the past few years, Beek has begun to dedicate more of his time to bettering the planet by managing a rebuilding project in New Orleans, serving as an advocate in the dependency system, working in the non-profit sector, and coaching high school water polo.

Although he’s been a perennial top finisher in the Jay Race, this year he plans to lead the charge from the beach as event director.

ASJ: How did you get into paddle boarding?

I paddled a little when I was a lifeguard in the ‘70s, then got back into it when my friend Phil Curtiss demanded that we participate in the first Jay Race.

ASJ: What initially motivated you to participate in paddle boarding events? How do you stay inspired for future events?

My initial motivation was just kind of a lark. The first event I did was the inaugural Jay Race, and I won the stock division, so I was hooked.

As I participated in more events, I discovered that I could actually do pretty well. The combination of surfing, the terrible swimming stroke you develop as a water polo player, and a latent competitive streak work pretty well together.

My goal now is to do the Molokai race when I’m 50. I’m motivated not to let anybody who is even older than I beat me. The younger guys just get faster, or maybe I get slower.

ASJ: Is there any sport or activity in particular that you like to use for cross training?

If I had my choice, I’d use surfing, but it kind of tapers off in the spring. I swim laps and ride my bike mostly in the spring and summer. When the water temp gets tolerable, ocean swims are the choice.

ASJ: You’ve placed in the top three for all but one Jay Race. What’s your secret?

The last two years I’ve been lucky. I used an old sailboat racing tactic – when you’re behind, go the other way from the people ahead of you, since you’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain – and it paid off. I can’t count on pure athleticism anymore, so I have to be wily.

Joe Bark (a Southern California-based paddleboard maker) has been really supportive for me and for the Jay. Last time I did the Catalina, I was unemployed and my family was really supportive of letting me do a lot of training. Lately, I’m in maintenance mode. Believe it or not, but there is some technique to paddling fast, and I hope I can leverage that for a little longer.

ASJ: What is your favorite part of participating in the Jay Race?

Everything about the Jay is really fun. Since this is the biggest event in Northern California, everybody goes all out. I get to see a lot of friends, and people can come do whatever they want; challenge the 12-mile course, or cruise the two-mile with their kids, or just to enjoy the ocean.

ASJ: Any advice for first timers?

Do it. There is plenty of support on the water so nobody has to feel like they’re alone.

My 11-year-old daughter did the two-mile last year, and we just cruised, paddling one armed when we felt like it, talking about the shaved ice we’d get at the end. A great excuse to get out and be on the water in June.

ASJ: Do you have any personal goals for this year’s Jay Race and/or other paddling board events?

I’m going to stay on the beach and run the event this year. My goal is to continue to make it enjoyable for everybody. I’m pacing myself so that I can keep coming back for a lot of years to come.