Mav's, up close and personal. Photo: Jacobovs

The Inertia

Watching a surf contest on TV is a far cry from seeing it in person, and the Nor Cal community deserves the opportunity to see with our own eyes the feats of the best male big wave riders in the world. I want to take in the big picture, watch the massive waves approaching, the surfers turning their guns and paddling into them, then the drop and ride, or brutal wipeout. I don’t want to listen to nattering commentators and miss details because the webcast has cut away from live action to a commercial, an interview, or a replay of the money shot. I want to see the contest, unfiltered, unfold before my eyes, experiencing the immensity of the monster waves rising from the expansive sea and the skill and fearlessness of the surfers who ride them. But I can’t, not this year.

A giant wave at Mavericks during the 2010 contest

The last time the Maverick’s big wave surf contest was held, in January ’10, the organizers were careless with public safety. People got hurt when waves predictably rolled over the breakwall at high tide and inundated an area where tents had been set up amidst mud puddles left by the previous high tide. And in ’06, a woman was hit on the head by a rock falling from the bluff above.

The aftermath of the ’10 flood

This time will be different. No one, not even the media, will be allowed to see the contest from the bluff or beach. Instead, tickets may be purchased for $25-40, plus a $10 parking fee, to watch the contest webcast on a big TV at a nearby hotel. Only those with a boat, or willing to pay around $200 to secure a spot on a re-purposed fishing vessel, will be able to watch in person. And the harbormaster is trying to discourage viewing from private boats, which will be kept at a distance.

The little girl wanted to see some dogs, so her parents took her to the dog park and let her wander around unattended. As she stood in the middle of the field, an exuberant Great Dane raced past and knocked her down in the dirt. When she fell, she twisted her ankle and tore her dress. Aghast, her parents decreed that the little girl, and also her teenage sister, must never watch dogs at the dog park again, not even from the sidewalk outside the fence. Instead, they must content themselves with seeing dogs on TV from the safety of the sofa. 

The response to previous carelessness at Maverick’s is overcaution now. Jeff Clark, back in charge of the re-christened Mavericks Invitational contest, had this to say about the ’10 incident: “It wasn’t a rogue wave. It was one of those things that needed to be planned for and they didn’t have anybody to plan for it. That will never happen again.”

The view through a telephoto lens in ’10 (by Luke Kilpatrick)

So why not just hire someone to plan for it? There are ways to ensure public safety that fall far short of blocking all access to the shoreline. For starters, no scaffolding on the beach, no tents or people within the high tide line, and no walking out on the breakwall for a better view. A stay-out zone could be established at the edge of the bluff and on the beach below. A ticket system for shore access could be implemented to prevent overcrowding and ensure spectator awareness of the rules. Public access need not be entirely forbidden.

It’s hard to conceive of any public safety rationale to justify barring the media from viewing the contest from shore. The press group would be small, willing to abide by reasonable restrictions and easy to to patrol. At the ’10 contest, a media area was established at the top of the bluff, with access limited to credentialed members of the press. A similar scheme should have been implemented this time around. Instead, all contest-goers are offered only a sanitized TV show, so near Maverick’s and yet so far.

While the contest has changed radically for spectators, one thing sadly remains the same as in prior years: no women have been invited to compete.

She can surf Mavericks, but not in the contest

  • ctwalrus

    Seems a case of over protecting the public from nature?     personally, i would charter a boat with a bunch of my friends and ‘take a 3 hour cruise’ <–inside joke,   put some lines over the side and you  can tell them your out to fish and the contest  just 'happened'………..OR, if your really up for it, suit up and and paddle out and sit in the channel to watch, that would be a great experience.   Thats what i did my first trip to the North Shore(sat in the channel at the Bay and watched and collected  lost boards sliding out in the rip)……Of course, these days everyone is scared of being sued by everybody  for everything, so they try to cover their butts in all possible ways  

    • A friend of a friend of a friend has a boat, so I just might get on a “3-hour-tour”. Paddling out would be cool but literally pretty cold sitting in the channel for any length of time; the water’s barely above 50F and when I’m surfing I need to keep moving to stay warm.

  • Chris_Fauxte

    who cares?

  • I have written on the final point numerous times on my blog. In addition to Why Weren’t Women Invited to Mavericks? linked in the last line, see:Women Who Surf Mountains
    Women Who Surf Big Waves: Billabong XXL Video Highlights 
    Women Who Surf Big Waves: Baby Steps
    and my post on the ’10 contest.

    I mentioned it in this post because the contrast struck me – how much the contest has changed in one way (for viewers) while remaining stagnant in another (for female chargers).

  • Which men would you drop from the invitee list to replace with women? Who are the women you would invite who are better Mavericks surfers than these men?It doesn’t really matter anyway. The contest is a publicity stunt. It doesn’t determine who the best surfer at Mavericks is. It doesn’t even determine who the best surfer at Mavericks is on the day of the contest. I mean, Sean Dollar arguably won the last one and he wasn’t even competing. The Mavericks competition is just an exhibition.

    • Matt O’Brien

      Well put… Now let’s hold our collective breathes and wait for said list…

      Maybe Women should get their own event – where they have a chance to actually stand a chance. Not that I am against women’s surfing, BUT when the men’s event runs, I’m not sure the women would stand a chance against them. I can hear the “anti-woman” hating crap being aimed and ready to fire at me. BUT I SWEAR I HAVE NOTHING AGAINST WOMEN SURFING/COMPETING – just NOT when it will most likely be a wasted space (especially with VERY limited SPACE AND A RATHER LARGE LIST OF Invitees to choose from)

    • I’m not in a position to rank big wave surfers of any gender. But before he regained control of the event, I recall Jeff Clark floating the idea of holding a women’s contest the day before or after the men’s. That’s one option, and certainly better than being shut out.

      Clearly this is a topic for a follow-up post.

      • Matt O’Brien

        one question Cynthia – who pays for the women’s event? I mean, in case you haven’t noticed – the economy sucks! So the fact that there is even an event at all should be good enough. I’m sure when Jeff made those remarks he didn’t think we would all be face down in a “Great” Depression 2.0. Just saying… Maybe YOU should do your own Hard Work and Make an ALL WOMEN’S EVENT YOURSELF. Your Blog could be the sponsor – and Facebook could be your “free” website. While I appreciate your perspective – it seems a little one sided. 
        F.Y.I. – I co-organize a surf contest up North (in Humboldt County) AND We have Multiple divisions – Women’s AND Men’s Long AND Short Board, groms, teens, and even little tiny kids w/parent help – so I totally understand where you are coming from regarding Inclusion – I just think this a special “case” which shouldn’t be held up to “your” standards. Again my two cents and look forward to reading your follow up piece!

  • Nick Hill

    1) Ok.  I took the bait and bit on your red herring of a last thought.  Even clicked on the link and gave your blog one extra hit.  brilliant.

    Anyway.  What a joke.  In response to your statement, women aren’t invited because they don’t fall into the same level as the men.  By all means, nobody is stopping women from surfing whatever waves they want.  And yes, there are plenty of women that surf better than your average man.  A handful even charge bigger waves than 90% of male surfers. But to imply that they are AS GOOD as the tiniest percentile of elite big wave surfers is, in a word, ridiculous. As someone has already posted, find one surfer on the list of invitees and alternates who should be dropped in favor of a female surfer.

    2)While it seems like a strange concept, I completely understand the position that contest organizers have been put in regarding beach access (or lack of) and it is entirely due to the poor management of the event by its previous handlers.  This murky and awkwardly public tug-o-war between all parties has been monitored for some time now, but what remains clear, is that Mavs is open for anybody who wants a piece, male or female.  This contest is tied up in a mess of red tape and is really a way to honor the invitees and make some bucks for the parties willing to put in the work.  Not to mention that the majority of the guys surfing the event dedicate their lives to this and do not reserve much if anything in terms of monetary support.

    • Matt O’Brien

      elegantly put.

    • Matt O’Brien

      elegantly put.

  • The Roller


    You’re correct.  Some things haven’t changed quick enough…

     so let us leave that steaming pile of a bullcrap mindset to those on planet earth like the taliban, and other certain “religious” nutters who prefer and derive their power from forcing people to stay in the 12 century,..

     and move on up….

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