Every turn of the year in the small town of Half Moon Bay, California, the eyes of the globe focus in on the most legendary big-wave surfing competition in the world: Titans of Mavericks. Located just 20 minutes south of San Francisco, and a half mile offshore from Pillar Point harbor, Mavericks rises from the cold, wintery haze into one of the largest and most formidable waves ever surfed. With an average wave height of 60 feet during the time of the Titans of Mavericks competition, from November 1st to March 31st, Mavericks explodes onto the sharp reef before it with enough explosive ferocity to be measured on the Richter scale. It comes as no surprise that a wave like Mavericks has secured itself a coveted position in surfing folklore, touted as one of the most hazardous waves ever to be witnessed and rode, and creating legends out of the 24 world-class surfing professionals that surf the wave every winter.
Many are surprised to learn that such a massive wave was kept a local secret for many years before being recognized as one of nature’s greatest phenomenons. The wave was first discovered by a small group of surfers in the 1960’s, who commonly surfed near Pillar Point Harbor and noticed a massive wave forming every winter offshore. Out of curiosity, the men paddled out to the wave, but determined that it was too large and violent to be surfed safely. It wasn’t until 1975, when a 17-year-old high school student named Jeff Clark took note of the wave, and began to examine it with his sights set on taming the beast. After months of observation, Jeff Clark decided Mavericks was, although extremely dangerous, very much surfable, and tried to recruit his friends to paddle out with him. It didn’t take long for Clark’s friends to say, “hell no,” resulting in the young surfer paddling out alone on one misty morning, during the same year he’d first laid eyes on the wave.
To the surprise of nearly every local surfer, Clark not only surfed Mavericks, but slayed it. From then on, an increasing amount of local surfers summoned their bravery and headed into the firestorm. With a group of about ten people surfing Maverick’s regularly, word spread about a wave that was similar to Waimea Bay, but colder and much gnarlier than anyone had ever seen before. Almost overnight, Maverick’s went from local secret to world attraction, and soon crowds of photographers, filmmakers, helicopters, reporters, and spectators surged to the spot. Some became worried about the newcome popularity of Mavericks, as eager surfers from every coastline began to arrive with dreams of conquering the fabled break. But Jeff Clark, the first man to surf the behemoth, had his own outlook, “I’ve seen a lot of people paddle out there, but only a few really ride it. I don’t care if word gets out. Mavericks will take care of itself.”
Clark’s words ring painfully true, considering the amount of surfers who have failed to conquer powerful Mavericks, being overcome by mother nature’s unforgiving force. Answering the call of Mavericks, as Jay Moriarty did when he was 16-years-old, is a feat of extreme bravery and athleticism, and one which requires a certain hopefulness that the ocean has not conspired against you as you gradually drop into the ride of your life. In December of 1994, during one of the most epic swells in Mavericks history, Hawaiian big-wave surfers Mark Foo, Ken Bradshaw, and Brock Little paddled into the frigid water of the Pacific on a mission to see what this Californian wave was all about. The session went well at first, with all of the Hawaiians catching numerous waves and escaping its iron vice. But at 11:20am, after taking off late into a breaking wave, Foo wiped out and disappeared into the frothy white water. It would be the last time anyone would see him alive.
Mark Foo's last wave; from Riding Giants from ENCYCLOPEDIA of SURFING videos on Vimeo.
In wake of tribulations like Mark Foo’s untimely death, the Titans of Mavericks staff formed a Mavericks Water Patrol team to monitor the water during the biggest days at Mavericks. Still, exactly 17 years later, in 2011, another Hawaiian surfer, Sion Milosky, lost his life on a giant wave which slabbed out and crashed onto an extremely shallow section of the reef. Molosky left behind his wife and two daughters, and an army of brotherly friends who mourned the loss of their fellow waterman. Tragedies like these clarify the extraordinary danger posed by this northern Californian wave, emphasizing the incredible bravery and character it takes to surf Mavericks.
During the competition dates from November 1st to March 31st, the contest takes place intermittently during the weeks when the waves are the largest. Unlike most sports, surfing exists at the whim of the ocean, which does as it pleases despite the wants of surfers and their fans (the competition was cancelled in 2009, 2011, 2012, and 2015 due to lack of waves), and the Titans of Mavericks staff must allow a large window of time for the targeted swells to arrive and materialize for the contest to be a success. This being a highly probable El Niño year, it seems more likely than ever for the competition to run, with the southern oscillation bringing above average wave heights to the California coast. Considering the contest couldn’t be held last year due to lack of waves, the athletes of Titans of Mavericks should arrive in Half Moon Bay this year with lofty expectations for themselves and the break, and viewers with prodigious expectations for their performance. As long as the contest isn’t cancelled, we’re guaranteed a memorable event.
As one can imagine, the athletes who compete in the Titans of Mavericks event are a small group of men (no women yet) with questionable sanity, mostly repeat contestants at the event. Darryl Virostko a.k.a. “Flea” of Santa Cruz, California, won the first ever Titans of Mavericks competition in 1999, and went on to win two more titles in 2000 and 2004. Other competitors, like Peter Mel, also from Santa Cruz, California, have competed in the competition four times (1999, 2000, 2004, 2013), finally taking home a title in 2013. The competitor line-up for Titans of Mavericks 2016 has not yet been released. However, most - if not some - of the surfers who competed in Titans of Mavericks 2014 are likely to return again. If you’re reading this and believe you are viable candidate to compete in the Titans of Mavericks big-wave surfing competition, there is a certain criterion which must be met before entering. The requirements are listed below.
Dedication to surfing at Mavericks
Person who puts in time at Mavericks during the pre-season
Person who is athletically in top, peak physical condition to handle the rigorous conditions and hazards at Mavericks
Person who understands the water safety rules, and is knowledgeable of the inherent dangers of Mavericks
An accomplished big wave surfer who has put in time at Mavericks before or whom has put recent time in that proves eligibility
A person who provides community service efforts in their local community
A proven waterman: person who has dedicated a portion of their life staying involved with the ocean
A person who is associated with one or more community organizations
Person who promotes ocean conservation and lives a healthy lifestyle
A person who is educated on the ecosystem, waterway, and cold water conditions surrounding Mavericks
Person who is drug free and doesn’t take any performance enhancing drugs
A person who understands the participation at Mavericks is a privilege, not a right
Person who is respectful to his/her peers and has character in and out of the water
As for me, I’m happy playing observer. I was able to attend the Titans of Mavericks surfing competition in 2013, the year Peter Mel took the title after three years of coming up short. I can attest to the greatness of this contest, and the sheer legendary status each surfer achieves after conquering not one, but twenty or more of these frightening waves on the day of their heat. Titans of Mavericks, one of the last truly epic contest of our time, is approaching this November. If you’re able, take a trip to Half Moon Bay and experience this contest commemorating the astounding heroism of phenomenal surfers. Titans of Mavericks isn’t just a surf contest, it’s the paragon of mankind’s will to reign victorious over forces remarkably more powerful than himself. That, my friends, is a spectacle you won't forget.