Half Moon Bay Fish Go Hi-Tech

story and photos by Kristine A. Wong (Note: This story originally appeared on Half Moon Bay Patch on June 10, 2011).

With the debut of a new Community Supported Fishery (CSF) in Half Moon Bay, a group of Pillar Point fishermen are collaborating with local community members, businesses and Internet giant Google as a way to support sustainability of fish stocks, the ocean, and local livelihoods.

They’re also providing employees of the Silicon Valley company with access to fish much fresher than what’s in their local supermarket, according to Google chef and Half Moon Bay resident Olivia Wu. The CSF is the first of its kind in Northern California, and one of a small handful in the state.

For those who can’t drop by Pillar Point Harbor to buy fish off the boat on their way home from work, a little more than 48 hours from ocean to table doesn’t seem to be too bad—a plausible scenario for Google employees who picked up a 1-pound fillet of chinook salmon on a recent Friday caught two days before by Half Moon Bay fisherman Jim Anderson.

How did this all begin?

From her five years of writing about sustainable seafood for the San Francisco Chronicle — as well as her self-described passion for fresh seafood and support of sustainable fisheries — Wu got to know the Half Moon Bay fishing community well from regular forays down to Pillar Point Harbor.

Though her role changed a few years ago after taking a position at Google as one of six executive chefs, seafood was still on her mind.

“It was really obvious to me that there should be a partnership between local [seafood] producers and Googlers,” she said, referring to employees of the famed company which has 10,000 employees working at its Mountain View campus. “Googlers care a lot about the quality of our food and its impact on the environment,” she said.

Wu found a natural collaborator in fellow Google Executive Chef Quentin Topping, who grew up on the East Coast and had been on a personal quest to find fresh seafood at markets since his move West. Like Wu, Topping was aware of the precarious positions of the oceans with their declining fish stocks, and the tough times small fishermen had weathered in recent years.

“Seafood these days is moving in the direction of long hauls, which are destroying habitats,” he said. “When you have a great seafood resource you have to protect it and treat it in a responsible manner from the boat to the end product.”

Both Wu and Topping knew fishermen at Pillar Point Harbor who fished using sustainable methods in day boats, described by Topping as using “artisan” ways.

“We both realized that we could bring this amazing product to Googlers,” Topping said.

The idea also fit with Google’s policy of supplying their 27 workplace cafes with fish caught within 200 miles of its Mountain View campus.

So a few years ago, Wu brought Pillar Point fishermen and Half Moon Bay resident and San Mateo County Harbor District Commissioner Pietro Parravano to Google. Then, she approached Parravano with the idea of bringing freshly-caught Half Moon Bay seafood to employees.

“It was a slow process, it took two years,” Parravano said. He already had a hand in starting the Cape Ann Fresh Catch CSF in Gloucester, Mass., which is part of a larger network of CSFs on the East Coast.

The hangup? Parravano said it was “consistency”: finding a time that worked each week for all the fishermen to have their catches ready.

But at the end of March something clicked, and Jim Anderson, who fishes solo on the Allaine boat, got the call for help. He previously co-championed the first off-the-boat crab and fish sales at Pillar Point Harbor, held positions on the California Salmon Council and the state Dungeness Crab Task Force, and is involved in a salmon DNA identification project along the West Coast.

“Forty-eight hours later, we had our first meeting,” Anderson said. The exploratory gathering included a select group of peers like Duncan MacLean, head of the Half Moon Bay Fishermen’s Marketing Association, and Ben Parsons, an El Granada resident who fishes on the Mr. Morgan Boat docked at Pillar Point with Captain Steve Fitz.

The meeting indicated an interest in a Half Moon Bay CSF, so Anderson and Parsons’ wife Shannon acted quickly to form a Half Moon Bay Fishermen’s Association. The association was a necessary configuration if the fishermen were to get paid and engage in other business transactions as a CSF.

What motivated Parsons’ involvement? “I want to be able to support the fishermen and help them do what they love to do, what they’re good at, which is fishing,” she said.

Seven fishermen are currently on board to fish for the CSF. Parsons says participating boats represent those who provide quality fish using sustainable methods. The Mr. Morgan boat, for example, fishes for flatfish using Scottish seines, a type of equipment that lacks steel trawl doors or cables associated with degradation of ocean floor habitat.

The CSF was modeled after Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs where farmers are supported by locals who purchase shares of the farm’s production in advance of a season. The up-front investment supports small operators who might not have the capital to continue operating otherwise.

“They don’t have to worry about selling the fish when they get back,” Parsons said, adding that with the CSF, the fishermen know how much fish they have to catch before they head to sea — which not only saves time, but also gas, money, and wasted fish the boats cannot sell upon their return.

And since what’s delivered each week to members are what the fishermen are able to catch, it’s discourages overfishing and focuses on seasonal fish instead, according to Anderson.

“It also allows people to eat food that is incredibly fresh and local, not a product that’s been trucked up and down the coast just to get here,” he said.

With the basic structure in place, the group had a flurry of meetings over just eight weeks to prepare for the May 27 debut. Other key players involved CSA software specialist Farmigo and Eriko Fujino, owner of Princeton fish processor Blue Ocean Smoke House.

Fujino receives deliveries from the fishermen, cuts and package the fish for CSA shareholders (in biodegradable trays and plastic bags purchased especially for the CSF by Wu), and sends it south with fish wholesaler Monterey Fish to Google for a Friday morning delivery.

Using Farmigo’s software, which is built on a Google platform and designed for ventures like CSAs, Google employees can sign up for up to receive fish every week or every other week for three months. They can even put their account on a vacation hold. Parson and Anderson plan to open an online store in July, where subscribers can purchase additional fish or order other items such as squid or smoked salmon.

One $26 share will get an subscriber one pound of a more expensive fish (like chinook salmon), to two pounds of a less expensive one such as petrale sole. The catch being distributed today for week three is chilipepper, a type of Rockcod.

Subscribers make a short trek to a warehouse on the Google campus each Friday to pick up their weekly allotment packaged in the biodegradable materials, which they can pack home in a reusable bright green fabric container insulated by a gel pack to prevent spoilage.

And just like at the farmer’s market, when buyers can meet the people who produce the food on their table, Parsons sends each subscriber a virtual introduction to the fisherman that caught each week’s offering along with a link to an online recipe.

The CSF has been growing steadily, doubling subscribers from week one to two with more than 100 subscribers to date, Parsons said. She and Anderson have been getting requests to start additional CSFs.

“We’ll be focusing on this pilot program at Google until the first-season subscription ends in mid-August,” Parsons said. A CSF for Half Moon Bay and Coastside residents is in the works for August, and a pickup location already has been secured.

They’ll also look to expand with a CSF for Google employees working out of the company’s San Francisco office, as she said they’ve received a good amount of interest from workers there.

Half Moon Bay fishermen with the CSF don’t get paid as much as they would if they sold their catch off their boat in Pillar Point Harbor, Anderson said. But there’s still a big advantage to taking part.

“This provides a fresher product to the people, and builds a direct relationship between the fishermen and the consumer,” he said.

Half Moon Bay Surf Team Speaks

by Kristine A. Wong

I produced, shot, and edited this video of Half Moon Bay competitive youth surfers at the opening ceremonies of the 2011-2012 Mavericks Invitational big wave surf contest in Half Moon Bay, Calif., on Jan 6, 2012. I produced this video along with a photo gallery of the young surfers for Half Moon Bay Patch, including the photo below.

Half Moon Bay Surf Team Speaks from kristine a. wong on Vimeo.

A Prayer and a Paddle Out

by Kristine A. Wong

I produced, shot, and edited this video of the world’s top big wave surfers at the opening ceremonies of the 2011-2012 Mavericks Invitational big wave surf contest in Half Moon Bay, Calif., on Jan 6, 2012. In addition to the video, I shot photos (including the one below) and wrote a print article for Half Moon Bay Patch.
See the rest of the photos here and read the article below.

A Prayer and a Paddle Out: 2012 Mavericks Opening Ceremonies from kristine a. wong on Vimeo.

Surfers from as far away as South Africa, Australia, Brazil and Hawaii — and as close as Half Moon Bay and Santa Cruz — converged on Mavericks beach in Half Moon Bay, Calif., less than a mile in from the surf break known as one of the most treacherous waves in the world.

Seventeen competitors, alternates, and former Mavericks contest champions participated in the ceremony, including 3-time winner and now-retired Darryl “Flea” Virostko from Santa Cruz.

Oahu’s Kohl Christensen wore a “Live Like Sion” shirt commemorating Sion Milosky, the surfer who traveled from Hawaii and died while riding Mavericks’ last big waves of the 2010-2011 winter season.

San Mateo County Supervisor Don Horsley and State Assemblyman Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo) provided opening remarks, while Mavericks Invitational CEO Rocky Raynor presented each surfer with a ceremonial ti leaf and led the group in an opening prayer.

Afterwards, the group completed the opening ceremonies by paddling out to form a prayer circle on the water modeled after the Hawaiian tradition.

Adding to the afternoon’s excitement was the buzz of a helicopter flying over the surf break, blufftops and beach filming Of Men and Mavericks, the Hollywood film portrayal of Mavericks surfer Jay Moriarity starring Gerard Butler. The film has been shooting in the area since October. Contest director and Mavericks veteran Jeff Clark was out on the water with the film crew and other Mavericks competitors shooting scenes for the movie.

On Friday evening, surfers celebrated into the evening at a dinner and party at the Oceano Hotel in Princeton. They also drew their heat position for the day of the contest. Results are as follows:

1st Heat
Carlos Burle
*Shane Desmond
Tyler Smith
*Ben Wilkinson
*Chris Bertish
*Ken Collins

2nd Heat
Nathan Fletcher
Matt Ambrose
Grant Baker
Mark Healy
*Anthony Tashnick
*Ryan Seelbach

3rd Heat
Dave Wassel
Rusty Long
*Shawn Dollar
Ryan Augenstein
Jamie Sterling
Zach Wormhoudt

4th Heat
Shane Dorian
Grant Washburn
*Alex Martins
Kelly Slater
Greg Long
Peter Mel

*=present at opening ceremony and paddle out at Mavericks Beach

See coverage of last year’s Mavericks opening ceremonies on Half Moon Bay Patch here.

Sheriff Fails to Disclose Burglary of Major Restaurant

This story originally appeared in Half Moon Bay Patch on Dec. 2, 2011 with the headline ‘Sam’s Chowder House Hit by Burglaries.’

by Kristine A. Wong

Popular Half Moon Bay restaurant Sam’s Chowder House was burglarized in two separate incidents this fall, with at least one of the incidents showing no signs of forced entry, according to two San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office reports obtained by Half Moon Bay Patch through a public information request.

Because the case is currently under investigation, the Sheriff’s Office has not disclosed what was stolen from the restaurant nor the value of the stolen items. The agency redacted – by obscuring or removing – information from the reports released to Half Moon Bay Patch.

Sheriff’s Investigations Bureau Commander Lt. Ray Lunny said the agency redacted information that could not be released without endangering the investigation.

“There are several persons of interest in this case,” Lunny said.

Lunny said burglary in the second degree — the type of crime allegedly committed in these incidents and the classification for all commercial burglaries — could land the suspect(s) one year in county jail at the most.

Undisclosed items stolen; incidents described as being similar in nature

The incidents were discovered on the mornings of Sept. 26 and Oct. 11, and allegedly took place at some time during the previous evening, according to the reports. In one report, a Sheriff’s Office deputy described the two incidents as being similar in nature.

During the evening of Oct 10-11, five items were listed as being allegedly stolen from Sam’s Chowder House, according to a report filed by Half Moon Bay substation Sheriff’s Deputy Dennis Tealer on Oct. 11. The descriptions of the stolen items were redacted in the released report.

Tealer reported that he arrived at Sam’s Chowder House the morning of Oct. 11 and met with a staff person at the restaurant who showed him the area where the items in question were stolen.

Upon examining the scene, Tealer found evidence he categorized as “tools/equipment,” according to his report.

Tealer reported finding something (redacted information) on the perimeter of the restaurant’s northeast corner, and photographed something (redacted information) in the area. He then reported that he went inside the restaurant and photographed something else (redacted information).

No information on the suspected method of entry was included in the parts of the Oct. 11 report that had not been redacted.

“It is unclear which door the suspect exited,” Tealer wrote in the report.

Tealer took five statements from staff at Sam’s Chowder House, including one from a manager in charge of closing the restaurant the night before, one from a cook, and one from a server. The statements are included in his Oct. 11 report, and were largely redacted prior to release.

Nothing was found to be stolen in the Sept. 25-26 incident, according to a report filed by Half Moon Bay substation Deputy Dennis Loubal on Sept. 26. Loubal responded to the scene that morning after an unidentified individual associated with the restaurant noticed something (redacted information) at 7:45 a.m. and called 9-1-1.

In his report, Loubal wrote that he “did not notice any pry or force marks” at the suspected point of entry. The location of entry was redacted from the report.

Loubal reported that he dusted for fingerprints and lifted two prints at the restaurant on Sept. 26. He also took photos of the suspected point of entry that day as well.

According to his report, Loubal spoke to the staff person who called 9-1-1, but did not include a formal statement from the individual in the report provided to Half Moon Bay Patch.

Lunny said that the suspect(s) could be charged with either a felony or a misdemeanor for the incidents.

“What will matter is the dollar amount of the loss and the facts of the case,” he said.

A representative from Sam Chowder’s House could not be reached for comment on the incidents.

Second Burglary Not Reported to Press or General Public

While the Sept. 25-26 incident at Sam’s Chowder House was listed in the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Police log as “Deputy took report of commercial burglary. Report not complete” in the 4000 block of N. Cabrillo Highway, the Oct. 10-11 incident was not included in the press log released to Half Moon Bay Patch and other news organizations.

No press release was sent to Half Moon Bay Patch about the September or October incident from the Sheriff’s Office.

Anonymous Source Gives Unconfirmed Information

Half Moon Bay Patch was alerted about the incidents from a source who wishes to remain anonymous. The source provided information which the Sheriff’s Office says it cannot confirm at this time due to its ongoing investigation of the incidents.

The source reported that he or she was told that the individual(s) who allegedly entered Sam’s Chowder House on the evening of Sept. 25-26 attempted to remove the restaurant’s safe through a window, but was unsuccessful.

On the evening of Oct. 10-11, the source reported, he or she was told that the safe was chained to the restaurant, but the individual(s) was allegedly able to unchain the safe, get it out of a window and winch it down to the ground. The source said that he or she was told that the restaurant’s hard drive containing its surveillance footage had been removed from the restaurant at some point during the evening as well.

Some individuals believe that the safe was put on a cart on the Coastside Trail behind Sam’s Chowder House and transported to a nearby parking lot at the harbor, the source said.

Concern Arises Over Nondisclosure

Half Moon Bay Vice Mayor Allan Alifano expressed concern that the Sheriff’s Office did not notify the public about the incidents.

“Any time something happens on the coast — especially that involves a business or possibly a home break-in — I think it’s so important to know what occurred so we know what we need to do to prevent it,” said Alifano, who runs Main St. business Alifano Technologies with son Mike and daughter-in-law Cortney.

The elder Alifano said he was told about the incidents at Sam’s Chowder House by a Half Moon Bay community member.

“I understand where law enforcement may say ‘We have a sensitive case here, so we’re not disclosing information for good reason,’” [Allan] Alifano said. “But it just seemed a little unusual to have a fairly major break-in in our community and hear about it from someone else…I don’t think it’s a good idea to hear about it from civilians,” he said.

“We normally do tell people that a burglary happened, but don’t tell about the specifics,” Lunny said when questioned why the Oct. incident was not listed in the Half Moon Bay substation’s incident log.

“I’m not involved in putting together the crime report,” he said.

Lunny said that for cases currently under investigation, the Sheriff’s Office does not release a lot of information “because we want to separate those who have the knowledge from those who don’t.”

“If we thought the incident was of a serious nature and that there was a threat to the community and a public safety issue with whatever had occurred, it would have been released,” Lunny added. “I don’t think it’s a threat.”

“Give us the basics to say that something happened and then say we can’t reveal it,” Alifano said. “If you hear nothing from the police agency it makes you scratch your head. It makes you wonder right away ‘Is there some sort of cover-up going on here?’ It leads people to speculation.”

“Just because the item did not appear in the incident log it’s not an indication of a cover-up,” said Lt. Lisa Williams, head of the Half Moon Bay substation for the county Sheriff’s Office.

Williams said she agreed with Lunny’s comment. “If there was an issue of public safety here, the incident would have gone out,” she said.

Alifano referred to the string of burglaries that took place along Half Moon Bay’s Main St. in the first half of September as another related example. The Sheriff’s Office did not alert area merchants or the Half Moon Bay City Council about the September incidents until after eight break-ins took place in less than two weeks.

“We tell people what to do to prevent a crime,” Lunny said. “You have to lock your doors and take all the common procedures to prevent a burglary from happening,” he said. “I think the same cautions apply to all of the businesses in Half Moon Bay and all communities.”

After investigation of the Main St. burglaries, the Sheriff’s Office reported that the suspects had gained entry through unlocked doors and windows, and cautioned merchants to take security precautions to prevent additional burglaries. The agency also offered to provide walk-through security consultations and provide tips to local merchants on how to better protect their business.

“Some good can come out of these kind of cases if the Sheriff will take the time and tell the media and say ‘Let me give you some tips for business owners,’” Alifano said. “It’s a wake up call.”

Half Moon Bay Mayor Naomi Patridge could not be reached for comment on the incidents.

To view the redacted Sheriff’s Office reports filed in connection with the September 25-26 and Oct. 10-11 incidents at Sam’s Chowder House, click on the documents attached to the media box at right.

(Redacted incident reports were posted next to the story at the time of publication).

Crab Strike Broken by San Francisco Fishermen

Story and photos by Kristine A. Wong

This story was the first to break the news that the 2011 Central Coast crab strike had been broken due to an unexpected action by fishermen at San Francisco’s Fishermen’s Wharf. It was published (along with an accompanying photo gallery) as breaking news on Half Moon Bay Patch on Nov. 28, 2011 and was reprinted on Huffington Post San Francisco.

Fishermen in Pillar Point Harbor and ports along the Central Coast have been scrambling to get out to sea today to set their crab pots, despite no known confirmed price agreement with the buyers, according to Half Moon Bay fishermen.

“We don’t know how much we’re fishing for right now,” said Jim Anderson, an unofficial liaison for Half Moon Bay’s crab fishermen, as he readied his Allaine boat to head out today from Pillar Point Harbor.

According to Anderson, the strike was broken unexpectedly this morning when San Francisco boats left after some fishermen weren’t allowed to attend the price negotiations meeting this morning at Fishermen’s Wharf.

“A group of guys weren’t allowed to come to the meeting so they said they were going fishing, and when we were in the meeting people we heard the boats leaving,” Anderson said.

It is not currently known whether any of the fishermen and the seafood buyers agreed to a price per pound for the crab, Anderson said.

Large-scale seafood buyers could not be reached for more information on whether any price agreement had been met.

The San Francisco boats’ actions triggered fishermen in Half Moon Bay and Bodega Bay to head out right away — in order to get a good position for their crab pots and maximize the amount of crabs their boat has a chance of bringing in, according to Half Moon Bay fisherman Bill Webb.

Half Moon Bay fishermen have said that this year’s supply of crabs are significantly lower than last year’s record-breaking season.

“I’m pissed right now, just like a lot of other fishermen,” said Webb via phone as he drove towards Pillar Point Harbor from his home in Antioch so he could ready his boat and head out to sea.

“We voted to hold out for $2.50 the other day [Friday] and now we don’t know what we’re fishing for. Right now Pillar Point Harbor is half-emptied out and it’s derby fishing,” he said.

Crab fishermen have been holding out for $2.50 per pound since the commercial season’s official start on Nov. 15. They also sat out Thanksgiving, which they say is a big part of their busiest season of the year.

Irene Hurwitz, who fishes with her husband John on the Irene Marie boat docked out of Pillar Point Harbor, said that there were rumors of an agreement for $2.25 a pound between the buyers, but “that’s all conjecture now,” she said.

Like others, the couple was readying today to set their pots as soon as possible.

“We’re not going to really know what the price is until we start bringing the crab in,” she said, “which will be late tomorrow at the earliest.”

Webb said that he and the other fishermen were upset because the next meeting had been originally scheduled for this Wednesday afternoon, and that if they had agreed to a price then all the fishermen would have agreed to leave Thursday morning so that everyone started the season from an equal position.

Many of the men live in farther-flung areas such as Watsonville and Sacramento, he said, and today had to unexpectedly drop what they were doing and drive over to go out fishing.

“We were supposed to all hold together,” Webb said.

“The boats that went out shot our bargaining power,” Hurwitz said. “To not go out now means we don’t even have a chance to set our [crab] gear.”

“It’s majorly disappointing to lose a big part of our sales for the year and not to reach an agreement with the buyers,” she said.

“And now to be faced with not having any agreement, and yet have no other choice but to go out fishing at this point…it’s discouraging,” Hurwitz said.

Crab Fishermen Decide to Sit Out Thanksgiving

Story and photos by Kristine A. Wong

This piece was the first to break the news that Central Coast fishermen decided to give up fishing for Thanksgiving with the hope of a better price per pound for their catch. It was published (with an accompanying photo gallery) as breaking news on Half Moon Bay Patch on Nov. 21, 2011.

If you want to eat fresh crab this Thanksgiving, you’re going to have to catch it yourself.

With the window of opportunity to meet Thanksgiving market demands diminishing quickly due to time and bad weather  — and large-scale buyers still holding tight to a price 50 cents short of the fishermen’s call for $2.50 a pound — over 30 boats in Half Moon Bay’s Pillar Point Harbor decided this weekend not to head out in time to meet the holiday dinner rush.

“We’re the 99 percent waiting for the 1 percent of the fish buyers to share the wealth,” said Jim Anderson, an unofficial liaison for the crab fishermen docked out of Pillar Point Harbor.

Approximately 100 fishermen gathered at the harbor Saturday in the hopes of working out a solution that would be able to get their boats out during what is traditionally their most lucrative time of year.

Central Coast fishermen have stayed in port since the commercial season’s opening nearly a week ago on Nov. 15, saying that the large seafood buyers’ offer of $2 a pound doesn’t cover the rising costs of fuel, equipment and supplies needed to crab in 2011.

At the meeting, fishermen discussed how they could sell to smaller buyers — such as Morningstar Fisheries located at Pillar Point—  willing to pay $2.50 per pound.

Steve Melz of the Sunrise boat suggested fishing for $2.50 a pound on limits, a strategy which caps how many crabs each boat in the fleet is allowed to catch a day.

Melz said that fishing on limits would prevent the market to be flooded with crabs, a condition which could effectively lower the buying price offered by the larger buyers.

“It’s a way to slow the market down and still support the demand for a stream of crabs,” he said.

Other fishermen said some boats wouldn’t adhere to the limits, which would defeat the purpose of the gentlemen’s agreement.

“It’s not cost-effective for the larger boats to go out for a smaller amount,” said John Hurwitz, whose boat Irene Marie operates out of Pillar Point Harbor. “They would never agree to that.”

To settle the matter, Half Moon Bay fisherman Duncan MacLean asked each boat in attendance — over 30 at least — to write on a slip of paper their desired price per pound and whether they supported fishing limits.

Out of 41 votes, 34 wanted to keep their asking price at $2.50 per pound, 3 favored $2.25 and 4 were fine with the $2 offer. Two-thirds opposed fishing limits.

With the decision made, the group made plans to reconvene in another week, giving the men the opportunity to go home for Thanksgiving. MacLean and Anderson told those assembled to leave their contact information if the situation changed before then.

“Over Thanksgiving we’re going to have to do something creative,” MacLean said.

Fishermen, Buyers Locked in Crab Price Stalemate

Story and photos by Kristine A. Wong

Note: This story (with accompanying photo gallery) originally appeared on Half Moon Bay Patch as breaking news on Nov. 16, 2011 and was reprinted on Huffington Post San Francisco.

Dungeness crab for Thanksgiving is still a possibility, but the chances of being able to serve up fresh crab this weekend are diminishing quickly.

Though Tuesday was the official start of the commercial Dungeness crabbing season, Half Moon Bay fishermen and their counterparts along the Central Coast continue to stay in port, holding out for a $2.50 per pound purchase price – a cost which they say will support the rising costs of crabbing in 2011.

“We’re locked out because the buyers don’t want to pay more than $2 per pound,” said Jim Anderson, a fisherman who serves as the unofficial liaison for crab fishermen docked out of Pillar Point Harbor in Half Moon Bay.

For the second time in one day, over 100 fishermen met at the harbor on Wednesday afternoon to talk about the price negotiations — and agreed that they should hold their ground.

Fishermen in Bodega Bay, San Francisco, Santa Cruz and Moss Landing are doing the same, said Anderson.

Fuel, crab pots and rope have all increased in price, yet the cost of crab per pound has not supported that rise, said Steve Fitz, captain of the Mr. Morgan fishing boat docked out of Pillar Point Harbor.

Earlier Wednesday, fishermen were waiting to see the results of the quality testing of crabs from Bodega Bay, Half Moon Bay and San Francisco. The acceptable range for quality crabs are those with 23 to 25 percent of body weight composed of meat, according to Half Moon Bay fisherman Duncan MacLean.

By mid-afternoon, test results from Bodega Bay, Half Moon Bay and San Francisco all came in within the quality range, MacLean said. While crabs picked from Bodega Bay came in at 24.1 percent, those from Half Moon Bay and San Francisco came in at 24.9 percent.

But despite the positive test results, large-scale buyers in the Bay Area weren’t budging beyond $2 a pound as of Wednesday afternoon, MacLean and Anderson said.

“It’s a matter of price, not quality,” MacLean said.

Large-scale Bay Area seafood buyers, including Caito Fisheries, could not be reached for comment by the time of publication.

With the commercial crabbing season delayed from Mendocino County north due to early body composition reports not within acceptable standards, the Central Coast fishermen feel they’re in a good position to hold their ground.

“We have no pressure on us to go out crabbing now, since we can’t head north [to crab] once we’ve set up our gear here,” said Pillar Point fisherman Ben Platt, referring to restrictions on making a landing in more than one port within 30 days.

The delay of the northern coast season from its original date of Dec. 1 means that without crab from the Central Coast, there will not be any crab on the market at least until mid-December, said MacLean.

And with so many families relying on crab as a staple — or main dish — in their Thanksgiving dinner, the holiday market is what’s likely to put the pressure on the large buyers, Platt said.

“The smaller buyers are willing to pay us $2.50 a pound,” said MacLean, who referred to Morningstar Fisheries at Pillar Point Harbor as an example.

But until the larger buyers are willing to take on that price, the fishermen say they will continue to refrain from heading out to sea.

Penny Webb, the wife of Cricket boat fisherman Bill Webb, says the waiting is difficult — especially with a full list of customers who have already placed orders to pick up the first crabs of the season.

She spent Wednesday afternoon sitting in the Pillar Point Harbor parking lot surrounded by crab pots stacked 15 feet high, her dog Rufus sitting at her side.

“We’re losing a lot of money right now,” she said. “Almost all of our business comes out of the crab and salmon season — it’s what we live on,” she said.

Throughout these last two days, she said, her phone has been ringing repeatedly with customers anxious about when the crabs will come in.

“People are upset,” she said, “but they understand the position we’re in.”

Steer Show at San Mateo County Fair

Steer Show at San Mateo County Fair from kristine a. wong on Vimeo.

The showmanship competition at the San Mateo County Fair evaluates entrants not just on the way he/she presents a steer, but on his/her poise and professionalism throughout.

Half Moon Bay, Calif. Future Farmers of America member Kelly Noland wins with Duke, a 1,140-pound steer she bought at a Napa, Calif. ranch in November.

The competition took place on June 14, 2011 at the San Mateo County Fairgrounds in San Mateo, Calif.

I produced this video (camera, video editing, writing) along with an accompanying print article for Half Moon Bay Patch.

End of an Era: Half Moon Bay Dissolves Police Force

Half Moon Bay Police Sworn In As Sheriff’s Deputies from kristine a. wong on Vimeo.

Watch a video of June 14, 2011 swearing-in ceremony of Half Moon Bay, Calif. police officers as San Mateo County Sheriff’s deputies, along with the traditional badge pinning by family and friends.

Tuesday’s ceremony at the Old Redwood City Courthouse marked the final step in the transition for sergeants, officers and police department staff. The department was officially handed over to the Sheriff’s Office on June 12, 2011 as a cost-saving measure for the city.

Half Moon Bay Mayor Naomi Patridge, City Councilmember “Farmer John” Muller and 38-year Half Moon Bay Police Department veteran Guy Reimche share their reactions in the video posted at right.

According to former interim Half Moon Bay Police Chief Lee Violett, Half Moon Bay was the first city in the United States to formally put out a competitive bid for law enforcement services from an outside agency. The council voted to outsource the department and enter into negotiations with the county Sheriff’s Office on April 2.

I produced this video (camera, video editing, writing) for Half Moon Bay Patch.

Opus Organamatronic

Opus Organamatronic from kristine a. wong on Vimeo.

At the 2011 Bay Area Maker Faire (held May 21-22), Organamatronic (Half Moon Bay’s Michael La Guardia and Santa Cruz resident Delaney Parker) weaved together a dreamy, otherworldly mix of music from traditional and handmade instruments, along with found/altered objects.

While La Guardia “plays” the array of sound makers, Parker remixes the music on his Mac Book Pro, and plays synthesizer and percussion.

Sitting in a glass booth, the pair stayed intensely concentrated on their music, yet consistently engaged with their audience and invited them to suggest which object La Guardia should play next.

The music attracted a consistent set of onlookers fascinated by the group’s participatory approach to making music.

This video was shot on May 22 and produced for Half Moon Bay Patch. It’s a second (extended) video of one of the group’s performances I produced (camera, video editing, writing) from that day.

*NOTE: Video was shot from outside the booth purposely to capture the interactive nature (in the window’s reflection) of those outside the booth with the musicians.

The video is accompanied by a full-length article on the website.

Preserving the Tradition of Letterpress Printing

Letterpress printing is both an art and a craft to be preserved for those who treasure the written word and favor the uniqueness of objects produced by hand.

The Stow family of Half Moon Bay, Calif. has practiced this art for more than 25 years at their local gift and card shop The Paper Crane. Doug Stow and his son, Robert, produce custom-designed posters, cards, booklets, and invitations. One of their specialties is printing poems in broadside form. (A broadside is material printed on one side of a single sheet of paper). The elder Stow has been printing broadsides of poems read at Half Moon Bay café M Coffee throughout the years.

Recent projects include a broadside of a poem by poet and singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen, as well as a booklet of baseball haikus printed midway through the San Francisco Giants’ 2010 World Series season.

I produced (camera, interview, video editing) this video — along with an accompanying print article — for Half Moon Bay Patch.

Preserving the Tradition of Letterpress Printing from kristine a. wong on Vimeo.

Blue, Green and Ready to Roll

It’s blue, green, and ready to roll: In March 2011, coastal residents in San Mateo County, Calif. got a new bookmobile powered by biodiesel and solar panels. It’s also wheelchair accessible. The bookmobile will serve unincorporated communities in the 25-mile stretch between Pescadero and Montara (with the exception of Half Moon Bay, the only incorporated town in the area), and go as far inland as LaHonda.

The new bookmobile debuted in Pescadero on March 5. I produced (camera, interviews, video editing) this video of the event for Half Moon Bay Patch.

Blue, Green, and Ready to Roll from kristine a. wong on Vimeo.

Seismic Safety in Question at Cabrillo Unified Schools

by Kristine A. Wong

At least one school building in Half Moon Bay has been listed as vulnerable in the event of an earthquake, while over a dozen additional Cabrillo Unified School District building projects are listed among those not certified as meeting state seismic safety standards, according to a media watchdog investigation.

A 19-month California Watch investigation, which was released Thursday, uncovered holes in the state’s enforcement of seismic safety regulations for public schools.

California began regulating school architecture for seismic safety in 1933 with the Field Act, but data taken from the Division of the State Architect’s Office shows 20,000 school projects statewide never got final safety certifications. In the crunch to get schools built within the last few decades, state architects have been lax on enforcement, California Watch reported.

A separate inventory completed nine years ago found 7,500 seismically risky school buildings in the state. Yet, California Watch reports that only two schools have been able to access a $200 million fund for upgrades.

While none of the district’s schools were found to be located in an Alquist-Priolo fault zone, liquefaction zone, landslide zone, or within a quarter-mile of a fault, the investigation identified a 10,000 square-foot building at Half Moon Bay High School as “likely to not perform well in an earthquake” and “in need of a structural evaluation.”

half moon bay high school buildingThrough a state inventory list dated March 30, 2011, Half Moon Bay Patch found the building has one story, is located in seismic Zone 4 (the highest-risk classification in the 4-zone system developed by the U.S. Geological Survey) and had its records placed on file with the state on Jan. 1, 1961. The building, which could not be specifically identified, has not been shown as ever being seismically reviewed or retrofitted, according to California Watch, nor has it been demolished or sold, according to the March 30 inventory list.

Thirteen other projects located throughout the district were included in California Watch’s uncertified list, including building projects at Cunha Intermediate School in Half Moon Bay, El Granada Elementary, Farallone View in Montara, Kings Mountain Elementary in Woodside, and other projects at Half Moon Bay High. Four of these projects were described as “various locations” throughout the district.

California Watch also found that one project at Hatch Elementary in Half Moon Bay was once listed as a “Letter 4” level of risk under the Field Act – the highest level in its ranking system — but downgraded to a Letter 3 on March 25, 2010 by the State Architect’s office. While it is not clear whether this is the case for the project at Hatch Elementary, California Watch’s investigation found that some projects upgraded from a Letter 4 status did not appear to have resolved the structural issues which deemed the building as high risk in the first place.

When presented with California Watch’s data for district schools, Facilities Manager Jim Tjogas said he was confident that the district’s facilities are safe.

“All of our buildings were built after the Field Act,” he said. “When they were built, they were built to standard,” he said.

The state’s records of monitoring and assessments of the seismic safety of its K-12 school buildings has consistently been a work in progress. Its Tracker database does not include any projects submitted to the state before Nov. 12, 1997. To rectify this, it is currently working to get a backlog of paper records scanned into this system, installed more than five years ago.

Other problems with the state’s database include incorrect addresses on file for specific schools, including Cunha Intermediate School in Half Moon Bay. The address associated with Cunha was that of the district office — 498 Kelly Ave. — instead of its physical address at 600 Church St. This problem prevented California Watch from being able to match every project in the uncertified list with the school each project was associated with.

With knowledge of the discrepancies in the state’s tracking database, Half Moon Bay Patch asked Tjogas for documentation from the state showing that the projects on the California Watch list were certified as safe.

Earlier this week, Tjogas said that he could not provide that. “I don’t have info on that or those records,” he said on Thursday. “I don’t know where they are offhand. We have them in some boxes and they’re scattered all over,” Tjogas said.

Half Moon Bay Patch inquired about district records with Jim Hackett, the acting regional manager of the State Architect’s Oakland office where the state houses the school district’s building records and correspondence. Hackett did not return a call to Half Moon Bay Patch by the time of publication. Half Moon Bay Patch has also filed a public records request with the state architect’s office for the district’s building records.

Following Half Moon Bay Patch’s inquiry with the district for the records, Tjogas said that he contacted Hackett’s office on April 6 in regards to obtaining and reviewing the district’s records.

“This is a statewide problem that’s affecting all schools, not just the Cabrillo Unified School District,” Tjogas said. “It would be really nice to have money to get the records on microfiche, but we haven’t been given those funds,” he said.

District Superintendent Rob Gaskill elected not to be interviewed for this story.

Half Moon Bay Patch is continuing to investigate this story and will provide updates as they become available.

This story was produced using data provided to Half Moon Bay Patch by California Watch, the state’s largest investigative reporting team and part of the Center for Investigative Reporting.

To view the interactive map, click here http://projects.californiawatch.org/earthquakes/school-safety/

Etches in the Sand: Sion Milosky Remembered

This article was published on Half Moon Bay Patch on March 18, 2011.

message from daughters to sion miloskyA day after Sion Milosky died surfing the powerful Mavericks surf break on Wednesday evening, he was remembered by his family and friends on the beach at Mavericks with a line of hearfelt messages etched in sand, each accompanied by flowers.

“WE LOVE YOU DADDY,” read one message written to Milosky which appeared to be from his two daughters. Delicate pink roses marked the top of another message which appeared to be from his wife, reading “To the Love of my Life forever.” The letter “o” in the word “love” was written as a heart, and the names of the couple written inside a heart at the bottom.

Some messages referred to Milosky’s passion for surfing big waves that he had turned into a lifestyle in his home state of Hawaii: “SION/THANK YOU FOR SHOWING US THE RECIPE OF LIFE!” and “INSPIRATION/YOU DA MAN.”

And a few others included in their messages to Milosky with the simple — yet complex in meaning — Hawaiian word “Aloha.”

Milosky’s wife went out to the break located less than a mile past Pillar Point Harbor on a jet ski yesterday and saw where her husband spent his last moments before drowning after a fatal wipeout that witnesses said took place at approximately 6:30 p.m.

Milosky was found tethered to his surfboard floating face down about twenty minutes later, according to the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office, which handled the emergency dispatch call for aid at 6:50 p.m.

Three emergency firefighters/paramedics arrived to find Milosky receiving medical care from other surfers, the Sheriff’s Office reported. After the crew performed advanced CPR on Milosky, he was transported to the emergency room at Seton Medical Center Coastside in Moss Beach, where he was pronounced dead at 7:46 p.m. by the physician on duty, according to the Sheriff’s Office.

mavericks surfersMilosky’s misfortune on Wednesday night didn’t stop surfers from hitting the waves at Mavericks. About six to eight surfers were out surfing the break at midafternoon yesterday and were being watched over by one on a jet ski, according to a few observers who had climbed up on the bluffs at the edge of the beach during low tide to watch.

Although the surfers were barely visible to the naked eye from the bluffs, Kathe Goria-Hendrickson was able to amplify her view with binoculars.

“I’ve seen a couple of nice rides on the waves — and I’ve also seen a lot of surfboards up in the air,” she said.

Goria-Hendrickson, a resident of Clipper Mills, had wedged herself into a tight vertical space on the edge of a bluff with a pair of binoculars with her golden retriever dog Oso sitting patiently next to her. She had been there for about an hour, she said.

“It’s scary because they’re so huge,” she said, referring to the size of the waves, which dwarfed the surfers in comparison.

sion milosky memorialized on signBack out at the entrance to Mavericks, Milosky had also been memorialized on the wooden sign noting the beach’s location at Pillar Point Harbor, with “RIP SION” and “ALWAYS IN OUR HEARTS” carved into the top and left hand side of the sign. Flowers had been placed at the sign’s bottom ledge.

At Mavericks, Milosky will not be alone: his remembrances are a few steps away from a rock-and-shell memorial erected for Mark Foo, the first-known Mavericks casualty and another Hawaiian. Foo died surfing Mavericks in December 1994.

A memorial fund has been set up for Milosky’s wife and two daughters by Vans, the company which gave him $25,000 last December for winning the Project North Shore Underground contest co-sponsored with Surfing Magazine. Donations can be made at any Bank of Hawaii branch or through PayPal.

Volcom has also set up a memorial fund for Milosky’s family. Donations can be sent via PayPal here.

Milosky reportedly funded his trip to Half Moon Bay using some of the money he won from the North Shore contest, which was designated to be used as a surfing travel fund.

Photos by Kristine A. Wong

51 Tons and 100 Wheels

51 Tons and 100 Wheels: Phyllis J Crabbing Boat Transported Up Highway 1 from kristine a. wong on Vimeo.

At approximately 1 a.m. on January 4, the Phyllis J crabbing boat overturned at Francis Beach, a segment of Half Moon Bay State Beach on the California coast. The owner of the boat, Larry Fortado, and two crewmembers escaped safely. The trio was in the midst of a crabbing trip. (All of the 10,000 crabs estimated to be on board escaped as well).

A joint response team comprised of the Coast Guard, Fish and Game, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and private environmental response and vessel salvage/recovery specialists worked to upright the boat in the surf zone and avert the potential hazard of an oil spill by successfully draining 20,000 gallons of diesel fuel and 500 gallons of residual contaminants from the boat.

Because the owner decided to salvage the Phyllis J, it was dismantled for transport into two pieces. The wheelhouse (passenger cabin area) was cut off separately from the 51-ton hull.

The hull was pulled up Highway 1 by a truck and rested on specialized trailer with 96 wheels. Permits from the city, county, and state were required before the operation could begin.

Its transport on January 28 marked the end of a 24-day stay at Half Moon Bay State Beach.

I produced this video (camera, video editing, writing) for Half Moon Bay Patch, which provided comprehensive coverage the story of the Phyllis J from when it beached to its removal and delivery to Fortado’s yard in Princeton almost a month later.

An Afternoon Snack at the Farm

Half Moon Bay, Calif., is one of the pumpkin capitols of the world. Every fall, the small town receives thousands of tourists who come to pick pumpkins from local farms. The pumpkins are ready for the picking by late September/early October. A few hundred thousand also attend its annual pumpkin festival.

Despite the public’s enthusiasm for pumpkins, though, the local supply is often greater than the demand. This year was no exception. If you drive along San Mateo Road/Highway 92 in late fall/early winter, you’ll see pumpkins lying on the fields through the last few days of December.

What happens to all the leftover pumpkins, then? Watch this video for one answer.

I produced this video for Half Moon Bay Patch.com.

An Afternoon Snack at the Farm from kristine a. wong on Vimeo.

goats at tunitas creek family farm

Goats and sheep grazing at Tunitas Creek Family Farm.

Forecasting Big Waves for Mavericks Surf

This story was published on Dec. 3, 2010 on Half Moon Bay Patch. It won a second-place prize in the San Francisco Peninsula Press Club’s 2011 Greater Bay Area Journalism Awards competition for the “Sports Story” category in the Broadband/Web division.

To a nonsurfer, it may seem like a formidable task and a lot of pressure—forecasting big waves for The Jay At Mavericks Big Wave Invitational, one of the top surfing competitions in the world. But to Mark Sponsler, official surf forecaster for the contest, it’s a fairly simple task that can be boiled down to a basic science.

Instead of being held on a set date, the competition has a three-month contest window from Dec. 1 to Feb. 28, meaning that the event can take place at any time during this period. The window ensures that the surf conditions on the day of the event are befitting of The Jay At Mavericks’ prestigious nature. Invited competitors are essentially on call to arrive in Half Moon Bay. In previous years, competitors had only 24 hours to arrive after the call was made for the competition to begin.

Sponsler, an unassuming man who is quick to smile and laugh—and is also a surfer himself—runs stormsurf.com, a global surf forecasting site. He is not a formally trained meteorologist, but is self-taught. Though he is the one to notify contest organizers when he thinks it’s the right time to hold the contest, Sponsler says that the process is more collaborative than his title betrays.

“By looking at the surf report, the surfers already know pretty much when the competition will be held,” he said this past Monday, standing on the beach at Mavericks as he looked out to the ocean where surfers were engaging in the traditional prayer circle as part of the day’s opening ceremonies.

When the data looks right, Sponsler talks with the organizers, and more in-depth analysis of the conditions take place.

“When we think it’s time, they [the competitors] talk about if they think the conditions are right, and if they agree, then the call is made,” Sponsler says.

Though Sponsler is on call for what could potentially be almost three months, he doesn’t appear to be burdened at all by the assignment—nor does he let his added responsibilities hinder his regular activities during the period—responsibilities that include a day job.

“I can do it all by digital device,” he said. “I check the data about three or four times daily—I can even be skiing at the top of a mountain and look at it,” he said. The first time he looks at the surf conditions data each day, he says, is at 6:30 a.m.

Sponsler got started in surf forecasting by building the analytical models that he uses to predict surf conditions. As a software project manager by trade, he drew upon his programming experience to capitalize on data collected from buoys essential in forecasting surf conditions that are stationed around the world by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and other countries.

Equipped with digital Iridium Satellite sensors, the buoys’ sensors measure wave height, wave period, wind speed, and barometer pressure, according to Sponsler. The buoys relay this data by satellite to NOAA’s headquarters, which then makes its way to Sponsler’s computer, thanks to a Freedom of Information Act request Sponsler filed to get access to the data.

“Because the buoys are off the coast, you can really see the swell coming,” Sponsler says.

Sponsler’s computer is able to render the data live, he says, and the data gets fed into algorithms and surf forecast models he developed. The models update three or four times a day, which is when Sponsler checks the data during the contest window period. In addition to Mavericks’ swells, Sponsler’s website shows data from around the world, and provides a tutorial section so that anyone interested in learning how to read the data can do so.

What kind of surf conditions is Sponsler looking for? Buoys reading a “pure swell of 10 feet with wave crests of 18 seconds apart,” he says. “The wind has to be just right when the swell arrives also, along with having low tide and sunlight.”

Though the word around Monday’s opening ceremonies was that no big wave action would be happening at Mavericks in the first part of this month, Sponsler seemed as positive as ever for the opening of the contest window to begin.

Ironically, Sponsler’s surf-forecasting career got started at the time when he had to move away from Mavericks—all the way to the East Bay, where he lives now in Castro Valley. “I couldn’t just check the conditions out here anymore,” he said.

Though Sponsler can’t be out surfing as much as he did before, the big wave competition at Mavericks is all the better for it.

Photo by Kristine A. Wong

Crab Fishermen Get Green Light to Start Season

Story and photos by Kristine A Wong

This story was the first to break the news that after a prolonged wait, Central Coast fishermen were allowed start the Fall 2010 Dungeness crab season, after body composition tests met market requirements. It was published (with accompanying photos) as breaking news on Half Moon Bay Patch on Nov. 15, 2010.

A message written outside the Harbormaster’s office at Pillar Point Harbor today said it all. “Commercial Crab Season Opens November X??,” it read, with traces of the number “15” erased and a large X crossed out over the erased number.

But shortly before 5 pm, Duncan McLean, president of the Half Moon Bay Fisherman’s Association, said that the fishermen docked in Pillar Point Harbor would leave tomorrow at 6 am to start the season.

Though the start of the Dungeness Crab commercial fishing season legally and officially opened earlier today at midnight, local commercial fishermen at Pillar Point had been spending the day standing out on the pier instead of doing what they had originally planned to be doing at this time: crabbing.

The reason for the standoff was because local fishermen wanted to test the local crabs’ percentage of meat as part of its overall body composition to ensure that their catch would bring in stable market orders before the fleet could head out and drop their crab pots into the ocean.

“The rumors were that the crabs were not very good at all, so we wanted to get the price solidified to ensure good quality to the public and make sure the price is stable,” said Duncan McLean, president of the Half Moon Bay Fishermen’s Association.

“Usually a 22 percent portion of meat as part of the crab’s overall weight is what is needed to be marketable,” said John Draper, Assistant Harbormaster at Pillar Point Harbor.

Draper said that this morning, the crabs were sent out to be tested at North Coast Fisheries in Santa Rosa from Bodega Bay, San Francisco, and the waters outside Pillar Point Harbor.

Duncan McLean, president of the Half Moon Bay Fisherman’s Association, said earlier at 4:45 pm today that he was still waiting for the test results to come in from the crabs from Bodega Bay and San Francisco, and that a 6 am start tomorrow for the fishermen was a “definite maybe.”

Later, at 4:50 pm, after calling to confirm test results, McLean said that based on a  average of 26.84 percent in body composition tests from Bodega Bay, San Francisco, and outside Pillar Point Harbor, the fishermen were “good to go.”

Shortly after 3:30 pm this afternoon, McLean cited the test results from just the Pillar Point Harbor area when he was waiting for test results from all locations to come in. “The crabs [from outside the Pillar Point area] were good, a little over 27.4 percent,” McLean had said.

Bill Webb, who fishes off his boat Cricket (along with his dog that is named after his boat) which is based in a berth in Pillar Point Harbor, said earlier today that the fishermen were waiting to hear the official word from McLean that the fishermen had a market order based on the results of the crabs’ body composition tests.

Webb had heard the rumor that the fishermen weren’t going to be able to go out until tomorrow at 6 am. Mentions of the “6 am start” were overheard in several passing conversations around the harbor in the late afternoon.

“I’ve already got six pages of orders,” Webb said, sitting in his boat while he encouraged his dog Cricket to shake his hand with her paw. Webb sells some crab off his boat, and sells some to wholesalers.

“It’s tough,” Webb said about the state of this year’s fishing season. “Some of these guys have no salmon season…that used to be more than half my season,” he said. “So you put in more [crab] pots which cost more money…the pots come to about $200 each,” he said.

“It puts more pressure on the crab season than it can handle,” he said.

Generations Past & Present, Together

This story was published on Oct. 29, 2010 on Half Moon Bay Patch. It won a first-place prize in the San Francisco Peninsula Press Club’s 2011 Greater Bay Area Journalism Awards competition for the “Feature Story of a Light Nature” in the Broadband/Web category.


Porfirio Lopez was a Mexican cowboy.

“He loved cows, horses, and family,” said Lily Monroy, recalling her father-in-law as she stood next to the altar dedicated to Lopez on display at tonight’s Día de los Muertos celebration at the Half Moon Bay Library. At the center of the altar was a photo of Lopez sitting tall on a horse, cowboy hat intact.

From the town of Cocula in Jalisco state, Lopez owned a farm, and was a father to 16 children (only 8 survived). He passed away 5 years ago, but his son and daughter-in-law still miss him very much. “He was very hardworking,” Monroy recalled. “He was a wonderful father and grandfather for us and our kids.”

Lopez’s photo was accompanied by a stout brown and cream-colored spotted cow, symbolic of his love for the animals he took care of. Monroy, originally from the state of Oaxaca, had placed a small mound of shiny brown pecans next to a similar pile of peanuts at the base of the altar. Bright orange cempasúchil (marigolds) flanked both ends, and skeleton figures watched over it all.

The peanuts and pecans were a contribution from the Oaxacan tradition, Monroy said. People from Jalisco, she said, do not traditionally include food at altars.

altardisplayLopez’s altar was just one of ten on display at the library. Along with a photo, skeletons, and marigolds, each altar was filled with mementos and objects of personal significance to the deceased. In preparation for tonight’s event, Armando Ramirez, Community Services Librarian, invited several members of the community to create altars in honor of their loved ones who have passed on.

The altar dedicated to H. Clair McMahon had special meaning for Ramirez, who put it together in collaboration with McMahon’s daughter Laurie. McMahon, a teacher at El Granada Elementary School, explained how it was only by chance that Ramirez discovered that her father was the man who helped him get through difficult times at Westview School in Pacifica, when he first arrived in the US from Mexico.

“I’d known Armando for 12 years,” she said, “and a year ago I pulled out my library card along with an old photo of my dad,” she said. “When Armando saw the photo, he started to cry,” she said.

Ramirez told McMahon that it was her father, the principal at Westview School, who took him under his wing and helped him adjust to attending school when fellow students teased him for having an accent. Coincidentally, Ramirez also unknowingly got to know McMahon’s mother when the two collaborated on a Bilingual Storytime project at the Millbrae Library years ago.

Under a smiling portrait of her dad, McMahon had placed a box of Sees candy, a Glenn Miller CD, and a black and white photo of Westview School where he was principal, along with a mug of his college alma mater. Ramirez added the traditional skeleton figures and orange marigolds, along with a tall and slender candle.

The younger generation was represented in full as well. The evening began with a bilingual reading of the children’s book Día de los Muertos by Bob Barrer. Rosa Martinez, Senior Library Assistant at the Half Moon Bay Library, read each page in English with Martina Tello, Community Program Specialist for the San Mateo County Library, reading the same page in Spanish immediately afterwards.

Next, Cunha Intermediate School’s drama class took the stage with their rendition of the bilingual book Ghost Wings (titled El Circito Magico in Spanish) by Barbara M. Joose, a story set in a Mexican forest where butterflies like to fly. The class read the story and acted it out for the standing-room only crowd filled with proud parents and family members.

After the play finished, it was time for pan de muerto (baked sweet bread of the dead, shaped to represent the deceased) and champurrado, a steaming drink of corn, chocolate, cinnamon and sugar made by Monroy and her sister Elda.

Over the food and drink, the children played and the adults reminisced. The deceased were there, too, looking out from their photos to the mix of mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters.

It was a night where generations past and present came together.

Photos by Kristine A. Wong

Pumpkin In My Ears, Pumpkin In My Hair, Pumpkin Everywhere

This story was published on Half Moon Bay Patch on Oct. 16, 2010. It won a second-place prize in the San Francisco Peninsula’s 2011 Greater Bay Area Journalism Awards competition for the “Headline” category of the Broadband/Web division.

To many, no matter their age, it’s the most exciting part of Half Moon Bay’s Pumpkin Festival: the pie-eating contest. Where else could one have a legitimate excuse to dive (headfirst) into an entire pumpkin pie, eat it as fast as you can, all with your hands tied behind your back? To make the contest even better, you’re supposed to get as messy as possible in the process.

During this weekend’s festival, there are four opportunities to do just that. Two of them happened earlier this afternoon, starting at 2 pm at the Bank of America parking lot off Main Street, otherwise known as the festival’s “Family Fun Zone.”

The first contest was for those age 11 and younger.

When emcee Michael Lederman of the Coastal Repertory Theater gave the emphatic go-ahead to the first group of contestants, a frenzied round of eating and cheering ensued.

pieeatingcontestRon Root, one of three contest judges and this year’s Annual Pumpkin Weigh-Off winner, said that the pie-eaters generally followed one of two strategies: eating delicate bites one at a time, or letting it all hang out: “The smaller kids are very neat — they don’t make a mess and they actually eat it. Then there are some that just rub their face in it and make as much of a mess as they can.”

When time was called, judges selected the top three contestants they thought were the messiest and who had eaten the most of their pie. Joining Root as a judge was Cameron Palmer, owner of Cameron’s Restaurant and Inn, and Michael Langfelder, a clerk at Safeway, whose company provided the pies.

In the end, the contestant in the age 11-and-under competition who followed the strategy of making as much of a mess as he could was first-time competitor Michael Whitlatch, 10, of Half Moon Bay. Whitlatch won the top prize, and it was easy to see why: burying his entire face into the pie during the duration of the competition had left smeared globs of pumpkin pie on his face and sweatshirt. The front strands of his hair were coated with a generous helping, and the top portion of one of his ears was spread with pumpkin as well.

boy with face covered in pumpkin pie“It was an amazing experience,” he said, shortly after he accepted his golden ribbon and descended the stage. “I just dumped my face in it and rubbed my head in it.” His father stepped in promptly with a roll of paper towels to clean his face, hair, and ears.

Jacquelyn Dellins, 9, also of Half Moon Bay, came in second. “I made blowing noises into my pie,” she said of her strategy to win the messiest award, “so that it would get all over me.”

Sean Kennedy, 8, of Half Moon Bay, came in third.

“These kids make excellent human piranhas when it comes to eating pie,” Langfelder said, smiling.

Sound fun? There’s two more chances tomorrow at the same time and same place: 2 pm (age 11 and under) and 2:15 pm (age 12 and up), Bank of America parking lot on Main Street. Get there early if you want to enter the contest.

Photos by Kristine A. Wong