Lined up shoulder-to-shoulder stood a slew of sandy beach boys, all masters of their craft. The surfers, 24 strong, posed in front of their surfboards, fashioning themselves in the classic stance immemorial to surf history as photographers snapped pictures.
For them, last Monday’s opening ceremony to the Jay Moriarty Big Wave Invitational was the dawn of a new chapter in big wave surf history. The opening ceremony was the culmination of a long-standing conflict between the surfers and the previous permit holder of the competition’s location, Mavericks Surf Ventures.
In 2004, Mavericks Surf Ventures began hosting the Mavericks Big Wave Surf Invitational near Half Moon Bay. The company, named after the competition’s location, had annually attracted thousands of viewers to watch the daring surfers tackle the Goliath waves. The scene is a dream for many a big wave surfer: 80-foot swells, California sunshine and the biggest names in surfing around the world.
Hawaiian big wave surfer Jamie Sterling, current leader in the Big Wave World Tour, recalls some of his best moments in surfing that happened at Mavericks.
“Mavericks generates the perfect swells,” Sterling said. “It breaks in a defined reef location consistently, and has some of the biggest waves in the world. The Jay pushes the evolution of big wave surfing to the next level by bringing together the most stellar athlete line-up from around the world. In this way, all oceans meet at Mavericks.”
But in recent years, the competition has been mired in poor management, angering both the surf competitors and the competition’s sponsors, veteran surfer Grant Washburn said.
“[Mavericks Surf Ventures] was going to do whatever it wanted to do, regardless of what we thought,” Washburn said. “They were taking all of the money provided by the competition’s sponsors to spend on other company events and merchandise. They wouldn’t — no, couldn’t — pay the judges, the staff or even the prize money to the winning surfers.”
Washburn’s comments reflected the attitude of the international surfing community as a whole, unhappy with Mavericks Surf Ventures for commercializing one of the largest surf events in the globe.
“When they forced Jeff [Clark] out of the competition, the guy who made Mavericks what it is today, none of the surfers were happy then,” Washburn said. “When they were cutting the smaller prizes out to just give one big prize to the top winner, we weren’t happy then either. But we all banded together then just as we are now … [Mavericks Surf Ventures] had this coming.”
In October, the Half Moon Bay Surf Group, composed of veteran Mavericks competitors in conjunction with Barracuda Networks, succeeded in a prolonged campaign against Mavericks Surf Ventures over the permit for the competition’s location.
The competition, renamed the Jay Moriarty Big Wave Invitational — or “the Jay,” for short — is named after the late Jay Moriarty, an avid surfer who died in a diving accident. In the huddle of Moriarty’s friends and family at the opening ceremony, not a single story passed without describing him as “stoked.”
But more than just the event’s name has changed.
One third of this year’s competitors hail from Santa Cruz, the rest coming from other prominent international surf spots such as Australia, South Africa, Brazil and other U.S. surf locales. Kenny “Skindog” Collins, winner of Billabong’s 2010 XXL Ride of the Year, is one of the surfers from Santa Cruz invited to compete at the Jay this season.
“We’re a real close community,” Collins said. “You can see we’re all out here just doing what we love doing most. Now that the old management, Mavericks [Surf Ventures] is out, and we, the surfers, are in, things are awesome. No other contest is run like this.”
The event has had an overhaul in its managing scheme, now being geared as a non-profit event — its earnings going towards supporting local charities. The invitations to the event are now allocated based on a vote among the surfers handling the Jay, as opposed to being chosen by Mavericks Surf Ventures. In short, every facet of the world-renowned competition is now solidly in the hands of its surfers.
“These shores have a global reputation and a dedicated bunch of dudes who love to surf them,” Collins said. “It’s no surprise that so many surfers from Santa Cruz — surf culture central — should care about what happens at Mavericks.”
To see the wave riders out on the water and hear the shore roar from the beach-side crowd, it’s clear that Mavericks this year belongs to none other than the surfers themselves.