Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Waiting for the Waves

The Mavericks Opening Ceremony 2012

While most areas in the US have four seasons, Half Moon Bay actually has only three: The fog season, the pumpkin season and the "waiting for Mavericks" season.
Right now we are in the middle of the waiting for Mavericks season, which officially started on January 1st with the opening of the contest window.

The waves of Mavericks, named after a German Shepherd, who tried to surf the waves with his owner in the early 1960, became known and famous after Half Moon Bay surf legend Jeff Clark proved that there are indeed big waves comparable to the ones in Hawaii.
Since 1999, the year of the first big wave competition, surfers around the world gather here, by invitation only and only if the swell is right, for one of the most dangerous surf competitions.

Photo taken at the 2004 Mavericks competition

That Mavericks sure is a dangerous spot to surf even Hollywood star Gerald Butler had to experience, as he almost drowned this December during the filming "Of Men and Mavericks" at Mavericks. Though Gerald Butler got lucky, two other big wave surfers, Mark Foo and Sion Milosky did not survive the waves here.

Photo taken at the 2004 Mavericks competition

Mavericks is located past Pillar Point Harbor, just north of Half Moon Bay. A tiny little beach that didn't get a lot of attention, except during the competition, until recently. Somehow word must have gotten out and now at any given low tide hundreds of people trample more or less carelessly around sea anemones and other delicate tide pool life....

Why do the waves get so big here? A sign on top of the Princeton Cliff explains: "When swells complete the journey across the Pacific [coming from Japan] and reach Mavericks, they encounter an abrupt change in water depth along with a uniquely shaped sea floor. As a result, the wave heights increase dramatically and form perfectly shaped giant waves."

On Jan 6th, seventeen of the competitors, alternates, and former winners came together for the opening ceremony of the 2012 season. They were joined by the "big wave surfers of the future", members of the Cunha Intermediate and Half Moon Bay High School surf teams (see picture above). Instead of announcing a given day for the ceremony, which usually took place in December, this year the organizers waited for a day with a good swell, so that the surfers not only could participate in the ceremony but also were able to surf the big waves.

The ceremony was to begin at 2 pm, but with so many "celebrities", the press wanted to interview almost everybody, here Darryl "Flea" Virostko, three time winner of the Maverick competition, and that took some time....

The onlookers spared no effort to get the best view...

And as word got out, that the helicopter that was flying dangerously low over the waves actually was still filming for the "Of Men and Mavericks" movie, people wandered over to sneak a peak.

But in order to really see something one would have to brave the cliffs as this photographer here was willing to do...

...since I already had experienced that seawater and camera equipment is not really compatible, I kept my distance from the waves...;-)

Finally, some movement came into the surfers...

..and the ceremony began.

After the officials had said their initiatory words and the opening prayer was held, the surfers and the kids from the local surf teams paddled out into the ocean to form a prayer circle in the Hawaiian style:

Now I will keep my fingers crossed that the competition will take place. For the first time since I'm following Mavericks I secured myself a spot on the boat, to get closer to the action!

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