Illustration by Justin Martinez.   




Illustration by Justin Martinez.

A day of disappointment for big-wave surfers and the Half Moon Bay community, March 31 ended the waiting period for the Mavericks Surf Contest, making the 2009 season the second time in three years the window has gone without a contest. 

The span of January to March marks the three-month time frame in which the Mavericks contest can occur. Each year, surfers from around the world line up to surf the Mavericks big-wave break, located about half a mile off the coast of Half Moon Bay. 

“Mavericks is not just another contest — it challenges surfers’s limits in a way that other contests don’t,” said Keir J. Beadling, co-founder and managing partner of Mavericks Surf Ventures, which puts on the contest each year. “Not to have that inspiration is unfortunate and, in a way, limits the surfers.”

Jeff Clark, the other co-founder of the Mavericks brand, was the first person to ever ride the now world-renowned wave in 1975. As legend goes, Clark surfed it solo for 15 years, as no one else dared to tackle what is today considered one of the most challenging waves in the world. 

In addition to its reputation for sticking it to surfers, Mavericks is also widely regarded as a natural treasure due to the unique geological structures surrounding it, which help create some of the biggest waves on the California coast. 

“Two things happen at Mavericks that cause its uniquely large waves,” explained Gary Griggs, director of the UCSC Institute of Marine Sciences. “The rocky seafloor changes from a depth of about 75 feet to about 25 feet really quickly, which compresses the waves. Also, as they approach the coast, the waves bend with the seafloor, causing a convergence of wave energy. Both factor into the huge size of the waves.”

In response to the irreplaceable gift Mother Nature has awarded the surfers of Mavericks, contest managers have taken it upon themselves to protect the surrounding wildlife and regulate their actions in order to prevent any human disturbances to the neighboring habitat.

“We have heavy sensitivity to the wildlife around Mavericks, and we respect the [Monterey Bay National Marine] Sanctuary and other environmental organizations that watch out for the surrounding wildlife,” Beadling said.

As the end of March approached with no contest to speak of, Mavericks organizers considered extending the waiting period into April, hoping a swell would bring large enough waves to rally a last-minute contest.

However, due to possibly dangerous impacts the extension could have on nearby wildlife, organizers decided to forgo hopes of a contest this year and moved ahead in planning for a successful outcome for the next season.

Human disturbances, such as boating and even excessive human treading, can be extremely detrimental to vulnerable species during times of breeding. Extending the contest into April would have crowded the habitats around Mavericks, ultimately threatening the surrounding species, explained Maria Brown, superintendent of the Gulf of Farallones National Marine Sanctuary. 

Alongside the anticipation for next year’s contest, a historic prize purse of $150,000 will be on the table for competing surfers in the 2010 contest thanks to two $75,000 donations from private equity firm MVision and internet security company Barracuda Networks.

When the contest was unsuccessful in 2007, Mavericks was without prize-purse sponsors, so the money failed to roll over to the next year. The huge sum of money slated as a prize for the 2010 contest, Beadling explained, provides an extra incentive for the surfers planning to risk their lives surfing these monstrous waves.

“Not having the contest means we don’t get to give that prize money to surfers who, for the most part, need it because they’re trying to make a living doing this,” Beadling said. “There’s not enough money to amount for the risks these guys put out in surfing these waves.”

Looking ahead at the 2010 contest window, suggestions of starting the waiting period as early as November have begun to permeate in circles of organizers and participants who don’t want to face another season without a competition. 

“We were looking forward to showing the magic of Mavericks, especially during these struggling economic times,” Beadling said. “Not having the contest was definitely disappointing, but now we have to look ahead at ensuring a successful competition for next year.”

A large Swell breaks at the Mavericks Surf Contest during the January 2008 competition. Photo by Kyle Alden Smith.
A large Swell breaks at the Mavericks Surf Contest during the January 2008 competition. Photo by Kyle Alden Smith.