Maverick’s 2008 Surf Contest Report: Notes from the Channel

by Mike Wallace

January 12, 2008

We can’t all get out to the channel at Maverick’s or see much from the cliffs over a mile away, and the best view for non-participants of the Maverick’s contest is truly the live webcast at PacBell Park, or, even better yet, from the safety of your own laptop. But the following is one observer’s impression of the circus at sea from the front lines.

 

mavs2008_1

Though StormSurf forecaster Mark Sponsler allegedly had reservations about the call to hold the event Saturday after doing some secondary analysis, the overall conditions couldn’t have been better and kudos go to Jeff Clark for pulling the trigger and setting the wheels in motion on Thursday. It was a bluebird day, the kind you usually witness from the cornice of some Sierra mountain top, only the slopes are moving, jacking and coming at you with deadly purpose. The waves came, perhaps not as consistently as some competitors might have wished, but the scene was pristine and spectacular all the same.

After the sun came up and the morning mist burned off, the heats got off to a slightly later start than the 8:00 A.M. scheduled. Watching the wave bend and warp on the reef from close proximity took away some mystique and at the same time re-instilled fresh awe. It was not the big, raw tow-in-only Maverick’s of December 4, shrouded in fog and surging with up to 80-foot faces. The swell peaked out overnight at about 12 foot and 21 seconds, roughly translating into waves of up to 20 foot, with anywhere from 20–40 foot faces. By the time of the contest, the swell settled in the 10 foot and 18 second range, tame enough to be ridden both left and right during the early heats into the rising tide, which peaked at just over 5 feet at about 12:30 P.M.

 

Maverick's Contest 2008, dropping right

Maverick's Contest 2008, dropping right

High tide took some consistency out of the heats, not giving enough waves to go around for the six competitors in each heat, though rogue sets appeared regularly enough to remind the surfers that it was still the real deal. Unfortunately, that made positioning very challenging: should you bag a couple insiders to get points on the board, or wait patiently for a bomb on the outside to make an impression on the judges? Sometimes the pack got caught in between and more than one large set went unridden as contestants opted out of the steeper, make-or-break slabs. Active surfers like Sterling, Washburn, and Smith, among others, got through the early rounds, but quality and wave selection weighed heavily in the end. Some barrels were attempted without exit, bottomless drops were many, and longer rides were taken all the way to the inside reef pass, just for the joy of it.

 

 

Maverick's Contest 2008, Deuce on the Face

Maverick's Contest 2008, Deuce on the Face

On the spectators’ boats in the channel it was truly like Water World, or Mad Max with life jackets, with PWCs (personal watercraft) darting in and out and surfers interspersed. Diesel was belching from the larger vessels like the Huli Cat and Rip Tide, which concentrated on holding their line between the contest buoy markers positioned to keep the swirling boats at a safe distance and marshaled back and forth by the Coast Guard, as well as by the harbor and contest water patrols.

Light afternoon onshores eventually helped clear out the fumes. Near-misses were constant and it was a mad scrum to maintain separation and visual contact with the line-up. Sometimes it was hard to distinguish the contest in the line-up from the battle in the channel. All manner of craft were in water: surfers who just paddled out to watch, PWCs, shrimpie motorboats, a catamaran, several fishing trawlers and a huge flotilla of power boats. Some vessels were flash, shiny and decaled to the helm. Others were motley and spray-painted in graffiti. It truly takes all kinds of folks to be surfers and to be spectators.

 

Maverick's Contest 2008, Pushing the Lip

Maverick's Contest 2008, Pushing the Lip

High speed shutters whirred on the Huli Cat press boat at every dramatic air drop or gut-wrenching plunge into the pit as surfers were swatted from their perch on the ledge. The collection of telephoto lenses gathered on the starboard side of the boat actually appeared heavy enough to tip the boat over on more than one occasion. Those watching from land appeared as colorful ticks dotting the cliffs all the way around from Ross’s Cove to the harbor. Flyovers by a couple different helicopters and private planes served to amplify the surreal atmosphere.

 

 

Maverick's Contest 2008, The Grant Washburn Grin

Maverick's Contest 2008, The Grant Washburn Grin

The closing ceremonies on the beach were a simple, but heart-felt affair and a tribute to the character it takes to regularly challenge such conditions. The final results were (1) Greg Long; (2) Grant “Twiggy” Baker; (3) Jamie Sterling; (4) Tyler Smith; (5) Grant Washburn; and (6) Evan Slater. Long, from Southern California, was very humble about his victory and honored to share waves with such watermen. He revealed that following a lull 10 minutes into the final, the group of six agreed to split the $57,000 pot ($30k for first place), no matter who won, and just share the pure joy of surfing the spot with a small group of friends, though Long admitted he would hold on to the oversized cardboard check himself. That move by the group really transcended the event and showed a class and commitment to the sport of big wave riding, which more often than not, depends on crazy last-minute global logistics and the kindness of others. Hawaiians have a word for it, “Ohana,” that means extended family, embodied in the bond shared by these brothers of the sea.

Jamie Sterling received the Jay Moriarity Memorial Award from an emotional Clark for his similar traits of outgoing friendliness and character on land and in the water. Sterling had to hop a flight right back to Hawaii for the prestigious Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational at Waimea Bay, along with Hawaiians Garrett McNamara, Dave Wassel, and Brock Little, Australian Ross Clarke-Jones, and Californians Peter Mel, Darryl “Flea” Virostko, Greg Long and Anthony Tashnick. Off they go again to the next big wave event, a little weary, a bit salty and still glowing from the perfect day at Maverick’s.

(Editor’s Note: The Eddie was called off on Jan. 13 due to inconsistent conditions.)

 

Maverick's Contest 2008, The Results Board

Maverick's Contest 2008, The Results Board

Full heat-by-heat results can be found on: www.maverickssurf.com.

Mike Wallace has surfed for over two decades on the East and West coasts, Hawaii, Europe and NorCal. Currently a resident of Moss Beach with his family of four, he can often be found haunting the beaches south of Devil’s Slide in search of the perfect sandbar with his one-eyed dog, Moose. Comments? Mike(at)surfpulse.com

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