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Wetsuits dry on surfboards a train passes during the Gathering of the Tribes surf contest at Church surf break at San Onofre State Park Sunday.
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Surf tribes compete for bragging rights


It's all about the bragging rights.

There was a family-friendly vibe at last weekend's Gathering of the Tribes, but the competition for bragging rights was in full force at the event at Church surf break in San Onofre State Park.

"It's more about the heritage of these events, it's just about a good time and the joy of surfing – that's what it really comes down to," said Newport surfer Todd Messick, owner of surf brand Art in Motion. "Everyone and anyone gets to participate. It's not about the sponsors, it's about the level of surfing."

Hundreds of competitors from 14 clubs came down from along California's coastline – as far north as San Francisco – to compete at the cobble stone beach. There was even a team from the East Coast.

The event was the first of a 10-stop series this year, with surfers from ages 5 to 75. There are various categories, including longboard, shortboard, tandem and stand-up paddle.

Local clubs from Long Beach, Huntington Beach and Doheny State Beach competed, with several Orange County surfers among the stand-outs throughout the two-day event.

Huntington Beach's Gary Sahagen took second place in his division (50 -59), and also came in third place for the president's division, which included all the club presidents riding various boards from stand-up paddles to shortboards. Doheny club president Mark Calkins came in second in that division.

"Right after my final Sunday it started getting windy and a bit of rain came right before the awards ceremony," said Sahagen, who has been competing in the event since it started 21 years ago. "Otherwise, it was beautiful. There were head-high waves on some sets. It was really good shape."

Sahagen said many club members have become friends through the years, and it's all about the camaraderie and catching up with one another.

"Alls it really does is give you bragging rights at the end of the year – but there's a lot of competition involved, people want those bragging rights," Sahagen said.

Doheny Longboard Surfing Association had some good results, with several south county surfers winning their divisions. Stand-outs include: Andy Niedles for junior men's 15-19; San Clemente's Josh Ropazo for age division 30-39; and San Clemente's Rachel Tilly for girls under 14. Dana Point's Steve Newton, who was surfing for Oceanside's club, came in first for mens 20-29.

"It was great, Saturday the waves were just phenomenal," said Calkins, who organized the contest. "There were really good waves, all in all some of the best surf we've had for the event."

The Doheny team finished third, and Calkin's wife Katie won the women's longboard division.

"I'm walking on air. It's the very first coalition contest for the year, so it's nice we kick if off here," Katie said. "It's at the best place down there at Trestles, it's close to everyone's heart. It's just one of those spots you love to go to, and be with all our friends. The spot is just an epic, beautiful place to surf. It's wonderful to win a trophy at that spot."

Contact the writer: lconnelly@ocregister.com

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