Longboard Luau: La Jolla surfing event has funded cancer research for two decades

2013 Rell Sunn Award recipient and Nobel Prize winner Kary Mullins, event co-founder Sam Armstrong, the late surf champion Rell Sunn and Michael Smolens during the first annual Luau and Longboard Festival. Courtesy

If you go


Luau and Longboard Invitational


Sunday, Aug.18 (surf contest 7 a.m., luau fundraiser at noon)


Surf contest near Scripps Pier; luau at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, 8622 Kennel Way, La Jolla Shores


Surf competition is free, luau fundraiser is $150 per person


(858) 246-1230 or


By Pat Sherman

For the past 20 years the annual Luau and Longboard Invitational fundraiser and surf competition at Scripps Institution of Oceanography has brought scientists, surfers and entrepreneurs together to raise nearly $6 million for the UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center.

Each year the proceeds provide seed money for the kind of groundbreaking research that turns ideas into life-saving innovation.

2013 Rell Sunn Award recipient and Nobel Prize winner Kary Mullins

The event features some of the biggest names in surfing. This year’s participating surf legends include Robert August, star of the 1966 surf documentary “The Endless Summer;” Fernando Aguerre, president of the International Surfing Association; Jericho Poppler, a cancer survivor and pioneer of women’s professional surfing; Rusty Preisendorfer, founder of Rusty Surfboards; and Kathy “Gidget” Zuckerman, the inspiration for the fictional surfer played by Sally Field in the 1960s sitcom, “Gidget.”

The event starts at 7 a.m. near Scripps Pier, and progresses to a Hawaiian-themed Luau on the Scripps campus at noon.

Organizers hope to raise $300,000 for research during this year’s event.

Event co-founder John Otterson, who returns this year to co-chair the 20th anniversary Luau and Longboard Invitational, said some of the most difficult fundraising is for seed money that helps launch research projects in their earliest stages. The start-up money helps researchers with crucial preparations needed to request more substantial grants from funding sources such as the National Institutes of Health or National Cancer Institute.

“It might take $50,000 to pull together the requisite information, data and planning for a seed effort,” said Otterson, a partner in SVB Capital, which supports start-up and emerging growth technology and life science companies. “That is extremely hard to raise money for … and sometimes (the research) doesn’t work.” However, Otterson added, “Some of our most important discoveries have come from that effort.

“It’s not like putting your name on a building, but we think it’s extremely meaningful,” he added.

Moores Cancer Center Director and


Jolla Light

columnist, Dr. Scott Lippman, said the event has helped fund pilot projects at the center that led to breakthroughs in cancer treatment, such Technetium tc-99 tilmanocept, a radio-isotope tagging imaging dye that more efficiently identifies and maps cancer cells during surgery. The technology, designed and developed by researchers at Moores Cancer Center, received FDA approval this year.

Sam Armstrong, an investment advisor with Wells Fargo, helped co-chair the first three events with Otterson, and is also returning as co-chair of this year’s event.

Former world champion surfer Shaun Tomson and surf film star, Robert ‘Wingnut’ Weaver (of ‘Endless Summer II’) catch a wave during last year’s event. Courtesy

“We have some of the most famous surfers alive today coming in from around the world for this event,” said Armstrong, who has served on the Moores Cancer Center board of directors for more than 25 years (on which Otterson also serves).



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