So let me get this straight: There are 24 contestants from all over the world and they are given 24 hours notice that conditions will be ready for them to surf 50 waves in what is arguably the most deadly breaks in the world. And this is happening tomorrow? And I get to watch? I am so there!
The story of the Mavericks is both short and long. Hit up the link at the bottom for the long story. They short story is that for years surfers local to Half Moon Bay knew about a spot where 50 foot waves typically seen only in Hawaii were known to hit. This point was named after a feisty dog who tried to follow his owner out in the deadly surf. Eventually word got out and reached a legendary big wave rider from Hawaii. In 1994 he came to Half Moon Bay, paddled out into the Pacific, and promptly wiped out and was never seen again. Sounds like the start of a contest to me!
So I heard of this contest only the day before it was supposed to happen. Some quick phone calls to the West Coast Crew got some comments like “I gotta get up how early?” or “How far are we going to walk?” But the advertisement “Yeah…but we might get to watch some surfer die”, got a few interested parties! The following, however, is my side of a routine phone call to mom.
“Hey Mom…Yeah, I have plans for the weekend. There is this legendary surf contest out here that is going on this weekend
… No, I know that I didn’t tell you about this before... The contestants only get 24 hours notice so I wouldn’t think I would get more… Because there are supposed to be huge waves but that only happens under the right conditions. So they wait for those conditions… Yes mom. I am going surfing. You caught me. Secretly over the last 25 years I have been sneaking away to practice and completely unknown to you have become one of the top 24 surfers in the world… I’m sorry. Yes of course I will be careful. But there is really nothing to worry about.”
Little did I know that for once my mom provided serious foreshadowing.
So the great thing about Half Moon Bay is that it is a tiny little coastal town. The bad thing is that tiny little coastal towns really aren't set up to handle big events. It is sort of like move in day at college. Way to many people in way to small a space but not enough reason to ever make that space bigger for one day a year. It wasn't long into the glacier paced line that the first signs of trouble started in the form of numerous emergency vehicles rolling down the road. From where we had to park we could easily see all the spectators on the cliffs overlooking the bay. What we couldn't easily see was the end of the damn airfield that we had to walk around to get to those cliffs!
Strapping on our backpacks and coolers we joined the stream of people walking the same trail of tears to the Mavericks. Every mile brought some new piece of information that painted the scene unfolding on the other side of the cliffs.
Only 30 minutes before our arrival a rogue wave had swept across the jetty, beach, and sea wall that overlooked Maverick point. The 50 foot swell pushed aside tents, grandstands, and camera scaffolding. By the end of the day 7 people remained hospitalized but the chaos around the early reports was dramatic. With not all spectators yet accounted for rescue teams tended to the over 40 injuries and while search and rescue teams looked for those that are could have been swept into the bay or out to sea. Well... poop. Looks like I owe mom an apology! Maybe she won't here about this!?
Some officials along the way told us that the competition had been called off because of the surf, and some told us that some of the surfers refused to compete because of the treacherous conditions. But for some reason we just didn't believe them. In the end we all decided that since we could still see spectators up on the cliffs and no one was actually stopping us from going anywhere we would travel up and see the happenings for ourselves.
Once we got to the cliffs it was clear that the competition was still going on. But I can tell you that I can see why the cops wanted us to stay away. To say that the sea was impressive is a bit of an understatement. Enormous breaks were crashing at what was unmistakably Maverick point. The beach was closed because the waves had washed away pretty much everything there. It wasn't until you see a very tiny man on a board slide down the face of a 50 foot wall of water that you comprehend that every minute a 5 story building is crashing down in the sea
The vibe on the cliffs was extremely mellow. The tunes of Dick Dale blasted from somewhere behind me as we traded beer and binoculars with our neighbors. A few people had radios to listen to the competition. But most people there had zero clue who's who or why we would care. All we knew is that they were giving a good show and were absolutely crazy.
So the next day I get the phone call I had been dreading...
“Hey Mom. Yes I am fine! Well if you talked to Armand [my brother] then you know I wasn't there when the wave hit. Well... I wasn't ON the beach when the the wave hit. And they wouldn't let us back out there later... Really I was perfectly safe on the cliffs. If a wave got me up there all of San Francisco would have been wrecked... Yes I know you told me to be careful. Next time I'll call you immediately after nothing happens to me.... I'm sorry. You were right. I'll be careful.”
Mavericks info: http://www.maverickssurf.com/wave/hist.php
Videos of the incident: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0urujXs0YkU