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


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