Surfing Madonna run stretches to half-marathon


The Surfing Madonna Oceans Project, which hosts what’s billed as the country’s biggest annual beach running event, is expanding next year to become a half-marathon.

The new 13.1-mile race — set for March 26 — won’t be a dash through the sand. Instead, an estimated 5,000 participants will run along downtown streets in Encinitas and Solana Beach.

The Encinitas City Council approved a permit for the new event on May 18. In exchange, race organizers promised to donate at least $100,000 to the city to improve parks and pay for a mosaic project on the new lifeguard tower that will be built at Moonlight Beach.

The council also agreed to give a separate event — the somewhat contentious Cardiff Kook Run, hosted by a different organization — another chance if its leaders would sign paperwork promising to donate $4 per participant to organizations that help people in Encinitas.

Saying it was troubled by the Kook Run’s ongoing legal battle with the Cardiff 101 MainStreet Association, the council opted to issue only a one-year permit for the race instead of the two-year deal sought by organizer Steve Lebherz.

Susan Hayes, president of the Cardiff MainStreet organization, told the council that she would not support a two-year permit.

“Our experiences with this group have not been positive,” she said.

For the first three years of the race, event organizers and the business group had an agreement, and race proceeds paid for some beautification efforts around Cardiff’s famed “Kook” surfer statue. However, that relationship has since dissolved.

The business organization is suing race organizers for copyright infringement, charging that they used images of the “Kook” surfer statue on their race publicity materials without payment after the two parties stopped working together. The business group has held the copyright on the statue since 2007 when the artwork’s creator — Matthew Antichevich — donated it to the group.

Lebherz told the council Wednesday night, May 18, that he’s considering changing the event’s name to the Encinitas 10K, so it wouldn’t appear to be affiliated with the Cardiff business group and he could broaden its marketing base — a proposal that council members said he’d need a new permit for.

Meanwhile, the Surfing Madonna’s annual Save the Ocean 5K and 10K has had a smooth record with the city.

“We’ve always made good on our commitments,” Bob Nichols, foundation president, told the City Council.

The council voted to include the new half-marathon in the city’s 2017 events lineup if organizers signed legal paperwork committing to the $100,000 donation.

In addition to the conflict with the Cardiff business group, Lebherz has had his differences with the Surfing Madonna organizers.

The new run is proposed to occur one month after the annual Cardiff Kook Run, and there’s been speculation that it might reduce the Kook Run’s turnout.

On May 18, Lebherz appeared with Nichols at the public podium and announced to the council that they had, that morning, worked out their differences. Now, they will work together instead of fighting, he said.

“There’s so much we can do together — all just working together,” he said.

Nichols said the two events were very different and wouldn’t compete.

Council members asked the two men to publicly display their change of heart by shaking hands, and said that despite its various conflicts they want the Cardiff Kook Run to continue because its casual atmosphere and costume contest are much-loved by community members.