Jeff Clark is the contest creator. He’s the one who makes the call as to when it takes place. “It’s a lot of pressure every year because what we’re trying to do is create perfect surfing conditions out there,” Clark said. The choice entails tracking storms thousands of miles away originating in the Aleutian Islands and predicting how they will impact Pillar Point. On top of that, there is a mountain of logistics at play. Hundreds of people need to be contacted, including surfers, media and sponsors, all of whom are given 24 hours notice to be at the beach. Some surfers are arriving from as far away as Australia.
John Raymond, Mavericks Surfer INSIDE MAVERICK’S: PORTRAIT OF A MONSTER WAVE
Jeff Clark gets the most respect of all of the Mavericks surfers out there, and not just because he discovered the spot and was the lone big wave surfer at Mavericks for 15 years, from 1985 – 1990. He earns it every time he paddles out. When he turns for a wave, you don’t even think about going. He can have his moods, but for the most part, he’s pretty serene. If he doesn’t like what’s going on, he gets real quiet and just leaves.
Talk about surfing when the cameras aren’t around—there’s one wave Jeff got I’ll never forget and it said everything about what he’s like out there. This was about seven or eight years ago, a totally bleak, foggy afternoon. Maybe four of us are out, sitting right next to each other, when this absolute bomb of a wave came: 30 feet, solid, as heavy as Maverick’s can produce. I paddle south for all I was worth, because I was scared to death. Jeff paddled out, and at the wave. Then he turned and went. No boats, no photographers no reason for him to go. He made that wave, and when he came back out, there was a big smile on his face. I said, “Man, that was heavy.” And he said, “Yeah, that was fun.” That’s Jeff. When he’s sixty-five years old if he turns to go it’s his wave, no matter who else is out there. He’s the purest of the pure.
After a four year hiatus, the third Mavericks Surf Contest took place and trophies were handed to: 1st Flea (CA) (third consecutive year), 2nd Matt Ambrose (CA), 3rd Evan Slater (CA), 4th Anthony Tashnick (CA), 5th Peter Mel (CA), 6th Grant Washburn (CA). This year’s competition drew 15,000 spectators and 75 credentialed members of the media. There were people everywhere trying to catch a glimpse of the action. Out in the ocean, about 30 to 50 feet from the break, a large flotilla was gathered, including a fleet of officials on jet skis, spectators on boats, spectators on surfboards, spectators on jet skis, and spectators in sea kayaks. January of 2004 also brought attention on the surfing spot when “Riding Giants,” a movie by Stacy Peralta, was released. The documentary highlighted contemporary surfing superstars such as Jeff Clark, Laird Hamilton, Greg Noll, Peter Mel, Gerry Lopez, Mickey Munoz & Darrick Doerner.
2005 – For the first time, the 2005 Contest was shown to a national television audience when NBC Spots picked it up. The event also attracted corporate sponsors such as Coca-Cola and Verizon Wireless, and the name Mavericks Surf Contest was trademarked.
The morning of the contest featured big waves right on schedule. They weren’t the biggest ever seen here, or even the largest of any Maverick’s contest. But they were plenty hefty, sometimes generating faces as high as 45 feet. There were seven heats, including the finals, where the contestants could be seen negotiating for position in the take-off zone. It was an elaborate chess game, made all the more complex by the fact that the wave peaks shifted north to south and back again, as well as shifting inside (closer to the reef) for smaller waves, and outside for large ones. By early afternoon, the picture was complicated buy windswell and chop. The waves that were big enough to clean up as they soared out of the sea were nearly un-makeable, rising so fast that surfers had to be in exactly the right spot and paddle like demons to launch their rides. Grant Washburn, the poet laureate of Mavericks if anyone is, says this process is akin to “trying to place a Dixie cup on the horn of a charging rhino.” Stellar performances on individual waves, by themselves, don’t conquer a contest. They have to occur at exactly the right time, i.e. during the finals. And that’s where Anthony Tashnick was able to see his planets align. Right at the time when take-offs for everyone were the most critical, he nailed launches from two extremely steep crests and rode those waves cleanly to snatch up the first-place trophy. The trophy, in this case, was a 4-foot-long check made out in the amount of $25,000, his cut of the $75,000 purse arranged by Evolve Sports. “I was just lucky today,” Tashnick said. “I feel really fortunate I was able to be out there with all of my heroes. On a different day, it might have been a different scenario. But I felt really amped out, and I wanted it really bad.” The Jay Moriarity Award, for embodying the heart and spirit of the surfing lifestyle, went to Pacifica’s Matt Ambrose. And Ryan Augustine won a special award for taking a beating and coming back up with a smile. By Paul McHugh, Chronicle Staff Writer
MAVERICK’S SURF CONTEST / Mountain of an event / South African drops in for big-wave win. Paul McHugh, Chronicle Outdoors Writer Published 4:00 am PST, Wednesday, February 8, 2006
Hawaiian surfer Brock Little launched the 2006 Maverick’s Surf Contest — just as in 2005 — by snatching the first ride of the first heat, at 8 a.m. Seven hours later, a lanky South African named Grant Baker stood on a stage near the beach at Pillar Point to accept a $30,000 check as champion of Northern California’s most famed big-wave surf break. In between came set after set of waves that San Francisco’s Grant Washburn proclaimed, “The best we’ve ever had at a Maverick’s contest, maybe the best at any big-wave surf contest ever.” Others would qualify that remark, but at the moment, Washburn was aglow with adrenalin, enthusiasm and fatigue. He’d surfed three heats in swift succession and placed fifth in the finals.
Along with the 24 top big-wave riders from around the world, big, glassy swells, occasionally approaching 50 feet in height, showed up on schedule.
There were far fewer ghastly wipeouts than at last year’s contest, yet plenty of hair’s-breadth escapes, two lost boards, a handful of dives
off the lip, and one rescue gone wrong when a jet-powered personal watercraft was swallowed by a following sea. There was only one injury reported from the surf zone. Mike Gerhardt, who severely ripped up a shoulder last year, feared he had torn its tissue again during a fall in the first heat.
At dawn, in a fenced area near Pillar Point’s Air Force satellite and missile tracking station, chief judge Gary Linden had watched light spread over the heaving Pacific and said conditions were right. “These are long-period waves (17 seconds passed between wave crests),” he said. “So, they will stand up clean, and we may see long rides.”
The other three preliminary heats showed similar performances. Peter Mel was a standout in Heat Two, performing the most dynamic cutbacks, then driving back out of the foam pile. He even “backdoored” Maverick’s, going left where most riders go right, grabbing a rail and air-dropping the steepest part of the face, cutting a few turns before getting knocked over. He paid more dues when he came up, as another wave was about to crash. He dived deep, but the impact snapped his leash, and his board went dancing in by itself to the reef. He had to be rescued by a personal watercraft. Mel, though, did not advance. This is a big-wave contest, and the swells he picked were not the corkers. Josh Loya, Tyler Smith and Evan Slater went on.
Heat Three was where Baker began to distinguish himself, picking the biggest waves and starting deep inside the peak for slashing rides across the bowl, getting half-swallowed by foam piles, then somehow blasting free. Baker, Danilo Couto, and Pacifica board-shaper and Maverick’s regular Matt Ambrose went to the semis from Heat Three.
The semis began just after 11 a.m., as the tide dropped from a high of 6 feet, heading toward a low of zero at 1 p.m. This sharpened the swell, steepened it, and shifted the peak outside and further north. The first six contestants were scrambling, and big waves went untouched. But Slater, editor at Surfing Magazine, took a wipeout off the lip and was driven deep to endure a two-wave hold-down. By the time a third tumbler drove Slater toward the reef, five personal watercraft were speeding to his rescue. Still, Slater, Little and Tyler went on to the finals.
The second semis, dominated by Maverick’s locals, displayed solid wave selection and daring maneuvers. Ambrose got barreled but handily made it out, Baker pulled off a turn off a massive lip, and Washburn made a giant drop that rewarded him with a nice, refreshing shower as he escaped the lip. They went on to the final heat.
In the closing showdown, Grant Baker got one of his pair of “10s,” in the contest. Good time for it, since each rider’s top wave score is doubled in the judging at Maverick’s. Baker’s 10 was won for starting deep behind the peak, slashing all the way across the bowl and face with the fringe of the lip towering over his head, and then linking up the inside sections as the wave continued to jack upward — until it jacked every possible riding surface out from under him and he fell into foam.
Another standout in the finals was Slater, who landed a seriously large drop, bottom-turned and began to cut right, when he saw the lip pitching out and rode up the face to pull into a giant tube — which then proceeded to collapse on him. It was a move of massive boldness, and won him one of the contest’s two special awards, the Clif Bar Green Room prize, new for this year.
Near the awards stage, Maverick’s mainstay Jeff Clark was sunburned but all grins. “Last year was all about the changing of the guard,” he said. “Top honors went to the youth. This year, the old guys pushed back, they stepped up and made a statement. Pretty cool.”
Clif Bar Green Room Prize: Slater
Jay Moriarty Award (for inspirational relations in the surf community): Ambrose.
— Surfers are judged by the size of the waves they choose, their success in making the drop and subsequent moves.
— Big wave plus bold moves equal a perfect 10.
— Maverick’s is distinctive among big wave contests in that a rider’s top score in each heat is doubled. This means a rider can win his 45 minute-long heat with just two rides, provided his top score is exceptional.
— Many other contests compile scores from more rides, usually without weighting one.
At the last minute, Mavericks proves itself yet again as the premiere big wave in the world. Leo Maxam, Santa Cruz Sentinel
As the first morning light dawned over the water at the 2008 Mavericks surf contest, the scene didn’t quite appear to be in line with the months of pregame hype. But in the end, the legendary wave off of Pillar Point Harbor somehow mustered up some big-wave magic to provide everyone on hand Saturday with a thrilling finish.
Greg Long, a 24-year-old from San Clemente, won the contest for the first time, beating out a field of 24 of the best big-wave surfers in the world. The real winner, though, was Mavericks, which proved itself yet again as the world’s premiere big wave, worthy of all the hype and able to deliver once again, even with the odds stacked against it.
“I’m glad Jeff called it,” event producer Keir Beadling said. “It was a great day all around. Everything came together in a short amount of time.”
It didn’t look so good early in the day. The west/northwest swell that prompted contest director Jeff Clark to hold the contest had peaked through the night. While still potent, it was beginning to dissipate. The tide was low but would be shooting up high through the morning and into the afternoon, which wouldn’t help matters.
While no one could complain about the weather conditions — light and variable winds and clearing skies — the waves weren’t huge by Maverick’s standards, just 20 feet on the face with the rare 25-foot bomb out the back.
The lulls between sets lasted up to 10 minutes, occasionally 15 — a big deal in heats only 40 minutes long. There were probably about 6-8 waves on average ridden in the opening rounds and the waves were already starting to show signs of dying out. They often would just jack up for a huge drop and then mush out into a soft shoulder, like big Middle Peak on steroids.
I didn’t think groveling was possible in a big-wave event, but guys were doing what they had to, just trying to get through some of the slower, flatter opening round heats, especially Heat 2. Granted, a term such as groveling is relative when used in the same sentence as Maverick’s. However, more than one surfer was seen scratching to catch a slower inside wave that they would normally never even flinch for just to get a score.
By the time the final rolled around, the wave droughts had gotten longer. The scene began to look more like Lake Havasu during spring break than a dramatic, death-defying big-wave event. There were tons of boats, watercrafts, yachts and kayaks out, as well as a catamaran and even a dude on an SUP. Two Coast Guard boats were cruising around and a helicopter was buzzing overhead, but the waves were still playing coy. Spectators were relaxing, enjoying the sun and some beers while casually waiting for the next set.
“There are some long lulls out there for sure,” said Evan Slater, who placed sixth, before the final. “It’s gonna be a dog fight.”
Sure enough, the final started out with yet another long wave drought, with only one wave ridden through the first 15 minutes or so. The six surfers in the water thought that the winner would be determined by whoever could catch the one decent wave that rolled through. Faced with what appeared to be a dire situation, they huddled together and hatched a plan — split the $75,000 prize purse evenly between them.
“We were bobbing out there for like 10 minutes without a wave and I could have swore it was Greg’s idea,” said Tyler Smith, the only local to make the final, finishing fourth. “We all said, ”Why not?” You know, and shook on it.”
Turns out the surfers were wrong. After they joined arms in the water and made their pact, a set of 20-foot waves began marching in from out the back. Despite the high tide and the dropping swell, Mavericks mustered up some big-wave magic and produced a thrilling final.
There was jockeying, big, late drops and radical big-wave surfing. Somehow the biggest waves of the day managed to march through right then with a couple legitimate, heaving 25-footers. It was the most consistent 5-10 minutes of the event and it came at the perfect time — 15 minutes before the end of what turned out to be an epic final, filled with drama and suspense.
“All of a sudden a few 20-footers rolled through,” Smith said. “[The pact] almost encouraged the waves to come. It’s not really about the money.
“I was hoping for the three, two, one,” Smith said referring to his third and second place in the last two Mavericks contests and his hope for a title this year, “but I’ll settle for the 3, 2, 4. I’m just happy to make it out of my first heat. It was another great day thanks to Jeff Clark.”
It’s been a good final when there is no clear-cut winner heading into the awards ceremony. It also helps when there is a perfect 10 ridden, earned by Long for his air drop down the vertical face and big bottom turn on a wave that Sterling also dropped in on. Sterling also nabbed what many considered the largest wave of the day during the same flurry. In fact, the final was one of only two heats where every surfer snagged at least one solid ride and four of the six had two great scoring waves.
Sure enough, Long announced at the podium the surprise twist to the crowd.
“People always say that the day picks the winner,” Long said. “The waves just gravitate to one person and today the waves came to me. Splitting the prize really took the edge off for everybody. It was just a free surf, sharing with friends.”
Mark Conley San Jose Mercury News, 2.14.10
The moment Anthony Tashnick saw a fellow contestant spitting up blood after a particularly horrendous wipeout, the former Mavericks Surf Contest champion knew this was a whole new ballgame. “There was tons of blood spewing from his nose and mouth, and they were telling him he had to go to the hospital” Tashnick said of fellow Santa Cruz surfer Zach Wormhoudt. “But he refused and paddled back out. He said, ‘No, I’ve gotta go surf.’ ”
When it was over Saturday, South Africa’s Chris Bertish had been crowned the seventh Mavericks champion and handed a check for $50,000. But the biggest vic
tory in the mainland’s biggest surfing competition – beyond the fact that everybody survived – went to the sport of big-wave surfing, which found itself in historic waters. Never before had so many surfers ridden so many titanic waves. And never before hade so many flirted with serious injury—maximum risk for maximum reward. “Today, big-wave surfing was taken to another level,” said head judge Gary Linden, who has witnessed many of the events that formerly staked that claim.
The 24 invited surfers know the conditions would be extreme. When the majority voted Thursday to stage the contest, some were sure it wasn’t a good idea. The swell was coming from a precarious westerly direction, which draws the current straight into a crop of rocks known as the Boneyard. Penalties for wiping out would be swift and severe. The storm system that generated the swell had developed close to shore, meaning the ocean surface would be roiled, raw and angry. Undesirable bumps and warbles would be the norms as surfers pointed the noses of their big-wave guns to nearby vertical down 40-foot walls of water, and then hung on for dear life.
Many didn’t hand on. Wormhoudt was one of many on a day where agony-of-defeat wipeouts far outnumbered thrill-of-victory success stories. Veteran contestant Evan Slater knew he needed a wave desperately in the first heat of the day. Three-time champion Darryl “Flea” Virostko was suddenly charging waves with the same fearlessness that had made him famous. Grant “Twiggy” Baker, another former champ, and another North Shore lifeguard Dave Wassel Were dropping in late – at the point the lip of the wave is pitching outward—without a care for consequences. Slater spotted a huge set on the horizon and maneuvered his way into position. He looked at the first wave – one of the many on the day contestants wanted no part of – and said to himself, “No way.” The second wave seemed more within the realm of sanity, at least in the brief second he had for contemplation. He scratched hard for the wave and made the drop. Halfway down he caught a rough patch of chop – and braced for the wash cycle. “At first I thought I’d broken both my legs when I hit,” he said. “Everything inside my body broke when the lip came down on top of me . . . but I’m still here.”
Such is the mandatory mindset of a big-wave conquistador. Reigning champion Greg Long, who was unofficially christened “World’s Best Big Wave Surfer” after winning the Eddie Aikau Invitational at Waimea Bay in January, suffered a similar fate in heat three. Needing a wave, Long turned and went, thinking he had found a negotiable one. “There were bumps at the bottom that I didn’t anticipate. Then I went over the handlebars,” he said. “That one rattled me for the rest of the heat. But we kind of knew this was how it was going to be. The guys who pushed the hardest and wiped out probably weren’t going to recover.”
Bertish, a Cape Town native, was the exception. He was the contestant with the most difficult path to the Bay Area, hopping a string of flights that totaled 36 hours on Thursday. He had to gamble the contest would run bun before the votes were tallied just to get here in time. He may have regretted the decision during his first heat. After negotiating several big ones early on, he got caught inside and took three gigantic waves on the head. Somehow he had scored well enough on his previous two waves to advance to the semis. Once there, he wowed the judges with a hotdog maneuver, attempting to pull into a condo-sized barrel – a feat rarely attempted, or possible, at Mavericks. In the final, Bertish got the best of tricky low-tide conditions that saw numerous lulls and massive mutant waves that doubled up and detonated on the inside reef.
Santa Cruz’s Shane Desmond, who nearly became the first goofyfoot surfer (right foot forward on a right-hander) to win at Mavericks, proved a worthy foil. But Bertish attempted the more critical drops, and stuck them. “The ability level is just so mjcy higher that it used to be,” Linden said. “Those guys today – that was big-wave surfing.” There have been other impressive events at Mavericks, such as Virostko’s close victory over nine-time world champion Kelly Slater in 2000. And there have been others at spots like Waimea Bay Todos Santos in Baja California and Dungeons in South Africa. Bud the sheer number of freight-train-sized waves ridden at Mavericks on Saturday launched this event into a completely different stratosphere. “The book of big-wave surfing was rewritten today,” Bertish said. Even San Francisco’s Grant Washburn, one of the surfers who voted against the day, couldn’t complain about Saturday’s historic outcome. “Nothing’s gonna top that,” he said.
HALF MOON BAY (CBS/AP) — Mother Nature saved the best for last, with some of the largest swells of the day arriving during the final heat of Sunday’s Mavericks Invitational big wave surfing contest as thousands of spectators invaded a quaint coastal town known more for its annual pumpkin festival than for surf. The waves weren’t the largest ever seen at the famed Northern California Mavericks surf break a half-mile offshore of Half Moon Bay — the biggest faces reached 25 to 30 feet — but surfing fans still got their fill of steep drops, wipeouts and powerful, booming surf. (See video) In the end, Peter Mel, of Santa Cruz, took home the crown. He decided to split the $50,000 pot with his six competitors, a symbol of good faith that has become a Mavericks Invitational tradition. “We as a brotherhood decided to split the money,” Mel said, saying the group agreed to the split upon paddling out for the last heat. “When you start a final like that, it takes the pressure off … and that’s when the waves started to come too,” he said.
Surfers are judged on a number of factors, but those who make the largest drop down the steepest wave usually end up on the winner’s podium. Mel, 42, had a number of hair-raising drops and long rides. But it was a spectacular wipeout that was most memorable. On one giant wave, he stood up as the crest pitched over him, completely engulfing him in the “tube.” He never made it out, getting slammed by a two- to three-story wall of whitewater.
This year’s contest was different than previous years: Spectators are forbidden access to the beach or bluffs. After a large set of waves crashed into the crowd in 2010, injuring dozens, local officials barred crowds from congregating there. Also, people congregating on the bluffs and along tide pools during previous contests caused environmental damage. A festival was set up in the parking lot of a hotel near the beach, where spectators could watch a live broadcast. If there was disappointment, there was no evidence of it in the large crowd that gathered to watch, oohing with each great ride.
The Mavericks Invitational 2012-2013 didn’t have the biggest waves of all time, but it was worth the wait and everyone had a good time. “Mavericks has been a big part of my life. I am so happy to have been able to do this for so many years. It is a blessing and an honor to be called a Mavericks champion. I will hold this close to my heart forever”, says Peter Mel.
Mavericks Invitational 2012-2013 | Final
by Kevin Cody and Eddie Solt, Easy Reader
“There are two contests you need to win to be remembered as a big wave rider — the Eddie Aikau in Hawaii and Mavericks. I’m honored to have won one of them,” declared South African big wave rider Grant “Twiggy” Baker at the awards ceremony of the 2014 Body Glove Mavericks Invitational. As he spoke, his two taut arms held up a three-foot tall, 70 pound bronze sculpture that was this year’s winner’s trophy. The trophy for the January 24 contest was presented by Body Glove president Robbie Meistrell and sculpted by former Hermosa Beach pro surfer Chris Barela. “It’s only fitting the the sculpture is going to another true waterman,” Meistrell said. The trophy presentation represented a historic coming together of the proud, famously insular Northern California surf community with the equally proud and nearly as insular South Bay surfing community.
“It was as heavy as 20-foot Mavs gets,” said Body Glove team rider Alex Gray, of Palos Verdes. Gray, a part of the small elite group of international big wave surfers, especially after being a finalist in the 2012 Billabong Ride of the Year contest for a disgusting tube at Teahupoo, was chosen to man a wave runner for the water safety patrol. “Due to the long period and west swell direction, every wave was ‘slabbing’ [barreling hard] on the bowl. Most waves were impossible to get under to paddle into” he said.
With any contest from the Big Wave Wave Tour, there is a 30 foot minimum with a 50 foot plus preferred. 2010’s Maverick Invitational serves as the benchmark. In consistent 50-foot faces, South African Chris Bertish took the top of the podium. This year’s faces were an inconsistent 50-foot, and more often in the 30- to 40-foot range. But President of the Mavericks committee Rocky Raynor said this year’s waves were the “heaviest” of any year since the contest began in 1999. “In 2010, the waves were bigger, but clean. This year the waves were choppy from the south wind and thicker,” Raynor said.
The south winds aka the “Devil Winds,” in the weather forecast almost had Event Director Jeff Clark call the contest off. From the south direction, the wind blows into the face of the wave which causes the surfer to get hung up in the lip (see Jay Moriarity’s infamous “Christ” wipeout in 1994) as well as blows the spectators’ vessels into the line-up. With the winds not building until the late afternoon, the contest was a “go.”
With the morning glass, the first round started with a massive cleanup set affirming that Clark made the right call. Last year’s 5th place winner, Hawaiian Mark Healey, took the beating of the heat while being caught inside and scratching over a 50 foot face. With Jamie Sterling barely making it over the forming lip in front of him, Healey caught collapsed on. He fell down the face of the wave and in the turmoil being captured by his Go Pro attached to the nose of his board. Healey was washed into the rocks before signaling for the Water Safety Patrol. Although executing well ridden waves, the Hawaiian couldn’t nab one of the sizable sets of the heat to advance.
In heat 3, Nic Lamb of Santa Cruz sacrificed himself with a late take-off. After going for broke on a critical wave, Lamb took the gas by slipping off his board on the bottom wave and then immediately being eaten alive by 50 feet of white wash. While the right off the peak of Mavericks is what the break is known for, some competitors, mostly goofy footers, took to the seldom ridden left. The left is more shorter and abrupt with a nastier riding surface then the more photogenic right. A wildcard, Kohl Christensen of Hawaii, dropped in only to have his gun swallowed. Last year’s winner, Santa Cruz Legend Peter Mel on his backhand attempted to get to his feet, but got caught on a chop and was tumbled down the face.
In the semis, Anthony Tashnick of Santa Cruz and the 2005 event winner, riding a twin fin configuration on his gun to much success the entire contest, found out how the maneuverability of the set-up can be a disadvantage. After insane first rounds of good conditions, the south winds started to turn up. Tashnick took off on a set wave only to have a burst of wind blow him back up the face. Much like Moriarity’s wipe-out, his board was floating in between the salvation of making it over the lip or being taken down to oblivion. For a second it appeared as Tashnick barely stroked to safety, but then his fluorescent gun came cannonballing down with the foam dragging him along by his leash. His twin fin pin washed on to the rocks.
The Finals In waves deemed only approachable by being towed in by a jet ski a decade ago, each heat with the cast of big wave talent could of easily been a final. In route, the finalist either used their local knowledge of the break, were veterans of the Big Wave Tour and used their skill to take off in the most critical spots, and/or got lucky by catching the better set waves. By the final, the south wind really began to show up. Luckily, Clark knowing Mavericks like the back of his hand cut the time of intermissions to shorten the contest before victory at sea conditions prevailed.
On the deck of the competitor’s boat, the three-time Maverick’s winner, the legendary“Flea” Virostko manned the mic for Universal Sports interviewing contestants throughout the event. When asked Baker about this year’s waves, Baker answered, “The waves looked unmakable, but it was the finals, so we had to put our heads down and go. Every wave I just hoped I didn’t hit a bump on the way down and get catapulted.” The increasing south wind made the finalists adapt. The waves hit the reef with such speed that in the time it took for the competitors to stop paddling and get to their feet, they were rocketed up the 30 to 50 feet from the trough to the lip, where the challenge then was to drive their boards back down the face, or get pitched.
The take-offs were so steep that on one wave Hawaiian Shane Dorian went into a three point stance, like a lineman, with his left hand on the nose and his right arm hooked into the wave. There were no snaps, no floaters, no (deliberate) aerials, or other trick maneuvers that judges look for in other contests. Baker was awarded a perfect 10 in the finals simply for surviving the drop, getting covered up on the inside and doing a bunny hop when he hit a ledge known as the “Nugget.” Baker, who pioneered South Africa’s aptly named Dungeons slab, took off deeper and seemingly twice as often as the other five finalists. He also won last month’s Punta Galea Challenge in Spain, the first stop on the Big Wave World Tour. In addition to his 10 point wave, the judges awarded Baker a 9.3, for total of 29.3. (The top scoring wave is counted double to encourage risk taking.) Hawaiian Shane Dorian racked up 25.53 points, by virtue of staying on his feet during seemingly impossible-to-make vertical drops. Dorian arrived at the contest that morning at 5 a.m., after spending the previous day surfing larger swells at Jaws, off of Maui. Ryan Augenstein of Santa Cruz was third (16.33 points), followed by fellow Santa Cruz surfer Tyler Fox, (12.0), 0008 Mavericks champion Greg Long of San Clemente (12.0) and Anthony Tashnick (0.0), also of Santa Cruz. DZ
The Titans of Mavericks surfing competition took place on Friday, February 12, 2016. It’s called one of the most hazardous sporting events in the world. Santa Cruz resident Nic Lamb outlasted 23 other competitors to win the 10th organized contest at the legendary Mavericks surf break near Half Moon Bay.
HALF MOON BAY, Calif. — The veteran big-wave surfer Ken Collins thought he was going to drown. Safely alive a few minutes later, standing on a small dock with gauze stuffed into a left ear that had a ruptured drum, he was out of the Titans of Mavericks.
He was asked if the injury occurred when he hit the water.
“When the water hit me,” he said, making it clear that the ocean was the aggressor in the conflict. “The thing came down on me — two tons of water. I thought I was concussed at first. But then I felt water come in my head and go down my throat. It was stinging and I knew something was wrong.”
He pulled the cord on an inflatable life preserver, churned through three more waves — “never have I been so disorientated,” he said — and was pulled from the water. By the time he got to land, and after he called it the “scariest thing that ever happened,” he sounded ready to try again.
Collins was one of 24 of the world’s top surfers invited to Mavericks, shorthand for both an event and a place. The event is one of the premier competitions in big-wave surfing. The location is one of the world’s most-dangerous breaks, about a half-mile offshore from Pillar Point, south of San Francisco. Enormous green swells arrive from the horizon, rise to a vertical wall above a slablike reef, roll themselves into barrels and crash into a roiling stew of deadly white water, at least when conditions are just right.
Competitors are forced to make one of the deepest and steepest drops in surfing, one of the most thrilling and frightening few seconds they endure anywhere, then race to escape the violence erupting behind them, like action heroes running from an exploding building.
On Tuesday, organizers sent the siren call. Mavericks would be held on Friday. It was deemed that conditions were worthy of the competition, which was not held last year because the waves never surfaced to the satisfaction of those in charge.
The waves were not as majestic as they have been for past contests, but they provided plenty of danger and awe. “I don’t think the biggest wave ever ridden is going to happen today,” Anthony Tashnick said after the early heats, on his way to the semifinals. “But someone could die, easily.” The waves at Mavericks have killed top surfers before, including Mark Foo in 1994 and Sion Milosky in 2011. “Mavericks really packs a punch,” Tashnick said. “It’s not, like, just a big wave. It focuses all that energy and just” — he hammered a pier railing with his fist — “right on the same spot.”
By late afternoon Friday, after sunny skies were chilled by winds and fog, 28-year-old Nic Lamb of Santa Cruz, Calif., had been declared the winner and the recipient of the $30,000 first prize. “These guys are the best in the world,” Lamb said. “It feels good to be on top.”
The contest had a strange made-for-television vibe, as fans were cautioned to stay away and watch a live video stream. At the 2010 competition, a rogue wave struck the nearest beach, injuring more than a dozen fans. The beach was off-limits to spectators Friday, but hundreds lined nearby bluffs for a faraway view of the frothing surf. Others headed to Pillar Point Harbor and loitered near Mavericks surf shop.
The fickle combination of weather, tides and currents, all during El Niño winter, brought perfect conditions to Mavericks last week. Those days brought plenty of surfers, too, but the days were blacked out on the Mavericks competition calendar because the police and rescue authorities would not commit resources in the week before the Super Bowl, held Sunday in nearby Santa Clara.
But on Tuesday, a group called the Committee 5 — surfing gurus, including Clark and the three-time winner Darryl Virostko, known as Flea — which is given the honor of making such declarations, said Mavericks was on. Competitors — many of whom were in Hawaii for another top big-wave contest that had been scheduled for Wednesday but was canceled at the last moment because of lagging surf — hustled to Northern California. When they arrived Friday at sunrise, they found heaving northwest swells, light winds and sunny skies. Waves grew throughout the day before subsiding in the final half of the hourlong final, and riders estimated faces up to 40 feet.
The field of 24 was narrowed to 12 semifinalists by lunchtime. Six Titans paddled out in the 60-minute final. Mitchell, Burle, Fox, Long, Payne, and Lamb. Two surfers from Santa Cruz. In the end, it was Nic Lamb who raised the trophy designed by Bob Marzewski.
“It was actually the hardest heat I had to surf, and not just because it was a final,” Payne said. “The fog bank came in over the hill, and there’s a lineup spot that I usually use, and it kind of just disappeared when the fog came in. So that whole lineup was gone. I had to surf off the other people in the event.”
By the time the boat carrying all the participants arrived back at the harbor, a crowd of supporters had grown on the dock. All of the athletes wore tired but satisfied smiles, a look tinged with an expression of relief.
“Oh man, I am over the moon. I have so many people to thank. I want to thank the past champions, C5… A big shout out to Brock Little, my trainer, and to everyone,” said an emotional Lamb.
For 2017, the world wants women in the Titans of Mavericks. Because they can; because they’re surfers.
Titans of Mavericks | Final
Boldest Drop Award: Greg Long (USA)
Best Barrel: Jamie Mitchell (AUS)