The Maverick's surfing contest has been revived. After a troubling autumn in which sponsorship became an issue, contest organizers have set a waiting period of January 1 through March 31 for the event pitting the world's best big-wave riders against the giant surf off Pillar Point near Half Moon Bay.
Because of the struggling economy, and the fact that an exact date cannot be promised, Maverick's Surf Ventures Inc., needed more time than usual to summon sponsorship. Sources indicated that details are forthcoming, but the primary sponsors are said to be Jim Beam bourbon and benefactors Moose Guen and Jane Sutherland of MVision Equity Partners.
"We're all stoked that the sponsors stepped up and we're back for another year," said contest director Jeff Clark, the Half Moon Bay surfer who pioneered Maverick's in the mid-1970s. "When Maverick's is on, it's the most challenging venue in surfing." Once the call is made, surfers will be on 24-hours notice to arrive for the event.
The entry list includes the previous six contest winners: Darryl (Flea) Virostko, who won the first three (1999, 2000 and 2004); fellow Santa Cruz standout Anthony Tashnick (2005); South Africa's Grant (Twiggy) Baker (2006), and last year's champion, Greg Long, who is based in Southern California.
For a variety of reasons - notably the absence of ideal conditions - the contest has not been held every year. If the current big-wave season is any indication, the prospects are bright for 2009. The northwest swell that hit Northern California on the weekend of Nov. 29-30 produced what many surfers called the best Maverick's surf they'd ever seen.
Then again, the competitors gladly would settle for the conditions that graced the past two events. Baker's 2006 victory came on a postcard-perfect day with sets up to 25 feet (translating to some 50 feet on the face). Last year's event featured glorious sunshine and 20-foot surf, and in a remarkable show of sportsmanship, Long and the other five finalists - Baker, Grant Washburn, Evan Slater, Jamie Sterling and Tyler Smith - agreed to split the prize money, no matter who finished on top.
Dave Wassell, a Hawaii-based lifeguard who has made the invitee list for the first time, recently offered a pretty good summation of Maverick's. "You can't compare this place to Hawaii; it's like nothing else," Wassell said. "It's got cold water, giant sharks, giant waves and giant rocks."
As such, Maverick's attracts only the most fearless, committed surfers in the world. For them, the endeavor has nothing to do with bravado, a daredevil mentality or a death wish. Able to relax body and mind in the most dire circumstances, they surf Maverick's out of sheer desire, planning their entire winters around it. They often say they'd "do it for free" - and they prove it, time after time, throughout the year. The prospect of contest prize money (a $75,000 purse, including $30,000 for first place) is merely an added bonus.
The entry list looks quite familiar to anyone who keeps up with Maverick's lore. Virostko, Tashnick, Washburn, Zach Wormhoudt, Peter Mel, Shane Desmond, Matt Ambrose, Kenny (Skindog) Collins, Ryan Seelbach, Josh Loya, Ion Banner and Shawn Rhodes have been regulars in the lineup for years.
The out-of-town representation includes Brazil (Carlos Burle), South Africa (Chris Bertish), Hawaii (Sterling and Brock Little) and Southern California (Long, Slater and Nathan Fletcher). For years, Banner was the only competitor from Half Moon Bay (Clark runs the contest but does not compete), but Banner now has company in the person of Tim West, among the best of the new, up-and-coming generation.
It's rare that any of the 24 invitees misses the contest in a given year, so only the top-rated alternates have any chance to get in. This year, the top three alternate slots (in order) have gone to San Francisco's Alex Martins, Brazil's Danilo Couto and Hawaiian standout Mark Healey.
More info can be found at maverickssurf.com.