Skimboarding might be surfing’s little brother in Santa Cruz, but it’s given me family across the world

The author and Lucas Gomes skim in Rio de Janeiro in 2022.

Santa Cruz’s skimboarding community “might be relatively small,” writes Evan Quarnstrom, “but our small town plays an outsized role in the history and culture of the sport.” Quarnstrom grew up skimboarding in Santa Cruz and he’s used his passion and skill to meet fellow skimmers across the world. He explains how, and offers a primer on why skimming is harder than surfing.

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I knew practically no one when I arrived in Rio de Janeiro in November 2021. I was alone, starting a six-month travel adventure and adapting to a new culture and language.

I had never been to Brazil, but within days, I found a ready Brazilian “family” waiting to integrate me because of my Santa Cruz roots. We grew up on opposite sides of the world, had no friends in common and didn’t speak the same language. I couldn’t even recognize half the food on their dinner plates. But we shared one thing: love for a small, obscure sport that I grew up with in Santa Cruz.


My initial guide into this world was Brazilian skimboarder Lucas Gomes, someone I knew of only by name and videos. In 2009, I huddled around Harbor High School computers with friends in the photography room and watched videos of Lucas and his crew skimboarding the waves of Rio.

Lucas and his friends gained international skimboarding notoriety for how they advanced the sport in Brazil. They were known as the “Brazil kids” and their free-spirited lifestyle in Rio resonated with me. Just like Lucas, I had a core group of skimboarding friends in Santa Cruz. Every day after school we would hop on our bikes and meet at Sunny Cove, Seabright Beach or 26th Avenue to skim, laugh and goof around until darkness forced us home.

The author's Santa Cruz skim crew in 2009.
The author’s Santa Cruz skim crew in 2009.
(Via Evan Quarnstrom)

Back then, I had no idea Lucas would become a close friend, and a gateway into Brazil.

When I arrived in Brazil, I contacted Lucas and he kindly invited me to skimboard at the world-famous Ipanema beach. I boarded a steamy, packed city bus with my board and hopped off at the beach, where Lucas greeted me. He looked a bit different than the wiry teenage kid I knew from his videos. He now had a mustache and was a married man, but he was every bit as gregarious as I imagined.

As the sun set behind the iconic granite peaks of Rio, Lucas and I shared the waves of Ipanema. He explained to me where to skim, how to navigate the absurdly crowded beaches, and where to get the best açai in town.

Soon, I joined the “Rio skim” family, a community of skimboarders in Rio de Janeiro, a couple hundred strong, who meet up daily for skimboard sessions, organize skimboard contests and help beginners learn the sport. Albeit much larger and formal than the skimboard community I grew up with in Santa Cruz, the camaraderie of rallying around a sport reminded me of home.

Aside from the method of riding waves, skimboarding differs from surfing in another major way: Skimboarders are drawn to one another, whereas surfers tend to repel each other.

I wasn’t alone after all.

All this occurred because when I was 12, I borrowed a wooden skimboard from a friend at Seabright Beach. The freedom I felt while sliding finless across the sand overwhelmed me and transformed my future.

In a famous surf town like Santa Cruz, skimboarding gets overshadowed.

It’s easy to see why. Skimboarding is harder. It has a steeper, painful learning curve that requires punishing tumbles on the sand. Someone learning to surf can catch a wave in their first session, but it can take months, or years, for someone learning to skimboard to accomplish the equivalent and ride their first wave.

Evan Quarnstrom skimboarding at 26th Avenue in 2012.
The author skimming at 26th Avenue in 2012.
(Via Evan Quarnstrom)

Skimboarding requires propeling with your own power, while surfing exclusively harnesses the power of a wave. In surfing, you draw carving maneuvers on an open canvas. In skimboarding, you create energy with your sprint, and when you arrive at the wave, the ride is fast, intense, aggressive.

A skimboard is a small, finless board, usually just a tad over 4 feet in length. Skimboarders seek steep beaches with waves that break near the shore. After a steep sprint down the sandy slope, skimmers jump on the board, slide out to the wave and ride it back to the beach. Tucking under the wave’s crashing lip is what we call a “barrel,” the ultimate sign of a good ride.

Feeling the power and risk of a wave so close to the shore is euphoric. When you successfully drop down the wave and watch the sheet of water envelope you in the tube, time seems to slow down. It’s an unforgettable feeling. It’s addictive, causing you to yearn for the next wave, a little bigger, a little stronger.

Santa Cruz’s skim community might be relatively small, but our small town plays an outsized role in the history and culture of the sport. For nearly two decades, Santa Cruz has hosted a stop on the professional circuit — the United Skim Tour — and has historically produced some of the sport’s top athletes. Spots like 26th Avenue, Seabright and Privates are internationally recognized as top skim destinations.

Evan Quarnstrom has spent 10 months traveling the world. Here, he is skimboarding in Ubatuba, Brazil.
(Via Evan Quarnstrom)

Aside from the method of riding waves, skimboarding differs from surfing in another major way: Skimboarders are drawn to one another, whereas surfers tend to repel each other.

There is a joy in skimboarding that gets amplified with others, particularly when the others share your passion for the sport. So although I have spent more time surfing than skimming in my life, skimboarding has been my principal conduit into foreign countries and cultures.

Back in 2013 when I was attending a skimboarding contest in Cabo San Lucas, we agreed to host a few Mexican skimmers we had never met, but who needed a place to stay. Those two skimmers, Chuy Luna and Gerardo Valencia, turned out to be two of the most humble, genuine people I had ever met. And little did we know that eight years later, in 2021, Gerardo would progress to become the skimboarding world champion. It’s been 10 years since we first met, and we remain close friends.

When Gerardo’s skimboarding travels brought him to Santa Cruz for the first time in 2016, he spent the day with my mother touring our city, even though I wasn’t in town. He was impressed by Santa Cruz’s world-renowned, chilly waves and towering redwoods.

Gerardo Valencia in Santa Cruz with the author's mother.
Gerardo Valencia in Santa Cruz with the author’s mother.
(Via Evan Quarnstrom)

Despite Santa Cruz’s historic and key role in global skimboard culture, the sport is destined to forever live in the shadow of its more popular cousin, surfing. And we skimmers are perfectly fine with that.

There isn’t glory or money in skimboarding, but there is community, passion and joy.

Skimboarding in Santa Cruz altered the course of my life. It taught me to love the ocean, hooked me to an active outdoor lifestyle, and set my destiny on a crash course with people in faraway lands, including Lucas and Gerardo.

So next time you are strolling down 26th Avenue to catch a summer sunset, if you spot a few skimmers sliding out to the waves, take a moment to watch and realize what the sport means to them and our community.

And if you are interested, ask them for help learning. Eighteen years ago, that’s exactly what I did, and it changed me forever.

It could do the same to you.

Evan Quarnstrom is a Santa Cruz native with an affinity for surfing, the outdoors, traveling and studying languages. He graduated from Harbor High School in 2010 and went on to study international business at San Diego State University. After seven years working in the surfing industry, Evan now works as a freelance writer and online English teacher. He has been to 25 countries and counting. His previous piece for Lookout appeared in October.

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