Chasing the Waves, Coming Up Gold

1359

Walking through the Viewing Festival gates, surfing fans were among legends at the ninth annual, world famous Mavericks Invitational surfing competition in Half Moon Bay on Jan. 24.

Due to the waves’ unpredictable nature, the competition did not have a set date. The Mavericks competition season is from Nov. 1 to March 31, and the contest can occur on any given day, as long as the waves meet the minimum requirement of 30 feet tall. Because of this, athletes and fans alike were notified a mere 48 hours before the competition.

Despite feeling fatigued, 40-year-old South African Grant “Twiggy” Baker maintained focus while riding the deadly waves ranging from 40 to 50 feet high. Baker received first place with a score of 29.331, Shane Dorian of Hawaii received second place with 25.532 points and Santa Cruzan Ryan Augenstein received third place with 16.663 points.

Baker took home $12,000 for his first place finish, while Dorian took the second place prize of $6,000 and Augenstein recieved the third place prize of $5,000.

While highlights of the day included two nine-pointers by 2013 champion Peter Mel and a perfect score of 10 by Baker during the first round, Brazilian Alex Martins suffered neck and knee injuries after being crushed by one of the massive waves, requiring rescue.

The festival was held in the Oceano Hotel grounds, a half mile away from the surf at Pillar Point. Because the beach cliffs are not stable enough to hold the thousands of spectators, the competition was streamed on two Jumbotron screens in the hotel parking lot.

The crowd watches the event on the Jumbotron in the parking lot of the Oceano Hotel, as the cliffs prevent large crowds from watching at Pillar Point. Photo courtesy of Derrick Thompson.
The crowd watches the event on the Jumbotron in the parking lot of the Oceano Hotel, as the cliffs prevent large crowds from watching at Pillar Point. Photo courtesy of Derrick Thompson.

“It’s not feasible to have people out on the cliffs,” said attendee and surfer Dana Sanderson. “You can walk the cliffs any day except today. It’s an environmentally sensitive area. If you fall, you die. With all these people there, it would be crazy.”

In addition to the 24 competitors — seven of whom hail from Santa Cruz — other legends included Santa Cruz native Floyd Smith, who shaped an 8-foot-long surfboard at a booth promoting his business, Floyd Smith Surfboards. Smith began making surfboards when he was just 15 years old, later teaming up with friend and fellow surfer Larry Gordon to open Gordon Smith Surfboards in San Diego.

“In 1959, Larry and I were both 19 years old, and we opened up our own surfboard business,” Smith said. “By 1963 we were one of the largest surfboard makers in the world.”

Floyd Smith Surfboards was one of the attractions featured at Friday’s Viewing Festival, along with several food trucks, a beer garden, a skate park and a Mavericks photography exhibit, as well as a performance from local reggae band, Nesta.

Featuring local businesses and organizations like Jeff Clark Mavericks Surf Shop, Half Moon Bay Surf Club and the Save the Waves Coalition, the competition was sponsored by seven big name companies, such as Body Glove, GoPro, Clif Bar and Red Bull.

Mike Wallace, member of the Half Moon Bay Surf Club and high school surf team coach, shared concerns about the growing commercialization of the Mavericks Invitational.

“There’s always a risk that if it’s hijacked by an outside organization, the community interests won’t be served,” Wallace said. “I think that has really been core to the board’s mission. I think they take that really seriously to their credit.”

While Wallace feels focus on the community is critical, he thinks sponsor participation is necessary to some degree.

“A lot of [the competitors] are bartenders or whatever they do to make a living, and then spend extra time doing their sport. They’re just amazing athletes,” Wallace said. “Being a surf coach, I’d really like to see that they’re rewarded for their effort, and that they can count on their sponsors and their travel expenses being covered.”

Half Moon Bay is only one stop along the 2013-2014 Big Wave World Tour, which includes cities like Punta Galea in Spain and Todos Santos in Mexico. The tour features six of the few places in the world where waves reach 40 to 50 feet high.

Mavericks attracts surfers from across the globe. Five of the 24 contestants were from outside the U.S., from Brazil’s Carlos Burle and Alex Martins, to Australia’s Ben Wilkinson, to South Africa’s Grant “Twiggy” Baker and Chris Bertish, the 2010 Mavericks champion.

Despite coming from different countries, Bertish said surfing competitions like Mavericks provide communities with a unique way to celebrate their surroundings, no matter where they are.

“It’s natural. It’s about being in the ocean, being in the elements, appreciating your own environment — appreciating the environment together,” Bertish said. “Anybody can do it. It’s natural and it’s free. It’s one of the few things in life that is still free.”