Shane Desmond appears to be an ordinary Santa Cruzan — bagging groceries at the Whole Foods on Soquel, working behind the bar at a local pub. You probably figured he was just like any other guy, an everyday resident working to make ends meet.
While this is true, Desmond, 40, is also an accomplished surfer who has competed in dozens of prestigious competitions, including the O’Neill Cold Water Classic at Steamers Lane for over 10 years and the infamous Mavericks surf competition, held at Pillar Point in Half Moon Bay, five times.
At this year’s Mavericks contest on Feb. 13, Desmond made it to the final heat and took home second place, his best finish ever at the competition.
The man whom the Mavericks website refers to as “the most respected backside surfer in Mavericks history” sat down with City on a Hill Press on the bumper of his car to talk about his start in surfing, what he loves about the sport, and the historically big waves at this year’s Mavericks contest.
City on a Hill Press: How did you get started in surfing? Who or what was your source of inspiration?
Shane Desmond: I started surfing when I was 11 or 12 years old. My source of inspiration was my best friend, whose mom had a friend who was really into surfing and took us surfing for a day. I definitely think having a friend that was into surfing got me into it.
CHP: When did you start surfing competitively?
SD: I surfed my first contest in junior high around age 14.
CHP: What do you enjoy most about surfing?
SD: The thing I love about surfing is that I get away from everything on land. You get out and surf and you have to focus on what you’re doing, so it allows you to clear your head completely of what’s going on on land. With big-wave surfing it’s an adrenaline rush — some people say it’s the best drug in the world. There’s nothing like it.
CHP: What’s your favorite place to surf in Santa Cruz?
SD: The Harbor. It’s a barreling wave that breaks in front of the jacks and it’s really hard to surf. I grew up surfing there.
CHP: What other contests had you competed in prior to this year’s Mavericks, and how did you do in them?
SD: This is my best result [in Mavericks]. I participated in it four times before. In 2005 I made finals and got fifth in that event, and caught the biggest paddling wave in the world that year — 47 feet — and got an award for that. I’ve also surfed in the Cold Water Classic 10 years or more and I’ve made it to the round of 32 in that event a couple times. There’s also a tow-surfing event in Oregon that I got second place in in 2005, and third place in a paddling event there in 2008.
CHP: What do you think of the recent change to Mavericks’ rules, which requires a two-thirds majority vote of approval by the participating surfers in order to set a date for the competition?
SD: This is the first year we have done this and there are new challenges with this voting. Everyone had to pay attention to the Internet and the coming swells. This year we did a good job and I’m so glad we picked the day we did. It was the biggest surf ever in a paddle contest, and it raised the bar a lot higher than it ever was before.
CHP: What was your first impressions of the conditions at Mavericks that day? Were the waves really of record-breaking size?
SD: I was just like, ‘Wow, these are some of the biggest waves and this is going to be really gnarly.’ This was by far bigger than anything — they’re calling [these waves] 40 to 60 feet. The Guinness Book of World Records says the biggest wave ever caught was 50 feet, but I think this broke that.
CHP: This year you placed second in the competition, edged out by Chris Bertish of South Africa. How would you evaluate your performance overall?
SD: I just observed the conditions and I looked around to where I needed to sit and make waves. A lot of guys were catching the waves too deep and I sat a little more over where the bowl was lining up. … That worked out, got me second place and almost got me a win.
CHP: What do you plan on doing now that Mavericks is over? Are there any upcoming competitions you’re participating in?
SD: Typically, swells start to become more far and few as we come into March. There isn’t an event I see that I’m going to participate in right now.
CHP: What do you feel has been the defining moment of your career thus far?
SD: I think the first time I was invited to Mavericks was the defining moment. It’s such a great honor just to be invited and to surf with these guys, some of whom I grew up with and some of whom are surfing legends. It’s a dream come true and it’s still a goal of mine to win this event.
CHP: What words of advice would you give to up-and-coming surfers who are trying to get to a competitive level?
SD: It’s pretty simple: just follow your dream. Do what you can to just make it happen.