Jeff Clark is called “The Godfather of Maverick’s” for a variety of reasons. For starters, Clark was one of the first individuals to discover the behemoth wave and surfed it literally all by himself for 15 years before others finally listened to Clark and saw the wave for themselves. Clark knows the wave better than anyone and founded the first surf contest at Maverick’s. Clark was one of three surfers who starred in one of the greatest surf documentaries ever made, Stacy Peralta’s Riding Giants. In the film Clark represented Maverick’s, with Greg Noll and Laird Hamilton sharing history and stories about Waimea Bay and Jaws. Clark is also the owner of Mavericks Surf Shop. It is for these reasons that Clark is held with the highest regard when any discussion turns to the famed monstrosity that is Maverick’s.
Despite his reputation for being one of the world’s greatest big wave surfers, Clark for the most part has stayed out of the picture the past few years after his unfortunate dismissal as Contest Director of Maverick’s in 2009. That event was the start of what was to become nearly three years of utter turmoil and chaos at Maverick’s. There was the rogue wave that injured over a dozen spectators. Next, a change in organizational structure that saw Barracuda Networks and the Half Moon Bay Surf Group take over running the contest from Mavericks Surf Ventures (MSV). Just recently, the announcement that Jay Moriarity’s family had requested to no longer have Jay’s name affiliated with the contest (the contest was briefly renamed The Jay at Maverick’s Big Wave Invitational), the disbanding of the Half Moon Bay Surf Group, and Barracuda Networks bowing out as title sponsor of the contest just one year into a three year sponsorship agreement.
Through all this, Clark stayed relatively quiet. Part of the reason was because of a legal dispute between himself and MSV which culminated from his controversial dismissal as Contest Director of the Maverick’s Surf Contest. The other reason being that Clark didn’t see the Half Moon Bay Surf Group and the way it was set up as a formula for success. No one was tapped to head the group, meaning all decisions had to be mutually agreed upon by both Barracuda Networks and other members of the Half Moon Bay Surf Group. When certain parties discovered that decisions were being made without full consultations, talks broke down, and eventually Barracuda Networks bowed out as title sponsor, with Jay Moriarity’s name no longer associated with the contest. Clark’s decision to stay out of the fray never looked so right.
Until now. The San Mateo County Harbor District issues a permit to run a surf contest at Maverick’s annually, meaning that Clark, or anyone else for that matter, could make an attempt at taking over the contest and possibly trying a new approach. When asked if he would take control of the contest, Clark’s initial response was, “Yes,” before providing a more detailed response.
“It’s been about three years now. Watching all the different players grasping for straws of this thing and really pulling at it, instead of letting it be, letting it happen the way it should, trying to just go over the top with it, they’ve forgotten the whole reason I started this,” said Clark. “It’s to showcase the surfers. The best big wave surfers in Northern California. Once you move from that, you’re missing the point of the whole thing.”
Some who have been involved in the organizational aspect of Maverick’s contests believe that a major sponsor isn’t necessary to run a successful contest at Maverick’s. Clark not only disagreed with that notion, but also that Barracuda Networks was to blame for both the decision by the Moriarity family to pull Jay’s name from the contest, and the disbanding of the Half Moon Bay Surf Group.
“A major sponsor is definitely a necessary component. There is always a way to work it out,” said Clark. “I really hated to see the Half Moon Bay (Surf) Group push (out) Barracuda, who had committed a million and a half dollars for the next three years. There is always a way to work it out, to make everybody happy. It just kind of shows me that maybe we need a break from this, and get the right people working on this thing to make it happen. Right now I don’t think those people are in place.”
Clark went on to explain the benefits of having a title sponsor, both for the contest and for the community.
“The cast of characters that tried to do this didn’t have the tools they needed to get it done,” said Clark. “It was really unfortunate because when you have an event like this, you want your sponsor to make money from an event like this so that they can recoup some of the couple hundreds of thousands (of dollars) it takes just to get this thing off the ground again. And if they’re making money, just like in any big sporting event, if the sponsors are making money, they can afford to pay the athletes. They can afford to pay the community, the charities. It’s the trickle-down. It helps everybody. It helps the community. It’s a great thing. If you don’t look at it in that bigger picture, it just doesn’t really work.”
It remains to be seen if Maverick’s will once again see itself without a contest, similar to the three-year hiatus forced when Quiksilver left as the title sponsor in 2001, or if someone will take control and bring the contest back as early as this winter. Certainly there will be organizations that attempt to organize a contest at Maverick’s. What organizations try, and become successful, at such a venture remains to be seen.
To listen to the podcast of the interview with Jeff Clark in its entirety, click here.