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No Ordinary Surfing Competition

Riding the wave

The Mavericks Invitational is no ordinary surfing competition. It's one of five events making up the Big Wave World Tour, which sees the bravest (and possibly most insane) surfers on the planet competing in waves ranging from 20 to 70 feet high, along some of the most hostile coastlines.

This particular contest takes place in a small town in Northern California, called Half Moon Bay, which sits on the Pacific Coast Highway between San Francisco and Santa Cruz. The surf spot, Mavericks, is located roughly 1.3 miles offshore, in front of Pillar Point.

Mavericks Surf Competition, USA

The biggest obstacle in hosting an event like this is waiting for the massive waves to materialise. Even with a four month waiting period, the Mavericks Invitational is at the mercy of Mother Nature; there needs to be a very large, long-period, open-ocean swell in excess of 20 feet, heading towards land at the right direction, with favourable winds behind it. During the entire winter season a handful of swells like this will occur, and at Mavericks getting these elements to come together on an open day is such a rare phenomenon that the event hasn't happened in three years.

On 16 January 2013, event organisers announced that a contestable swell was headed for California and due to arrive by Saturday. Competitors from around the world needed to get there in time to start on Sunday morning. This included surfers from the USA, Brazil, Hawaii, South Africa and Australia. Incredible as it sounds, in less than a week the whole event was organised, like a pop-up circus; a team of judges, water safety, a medical team, a fleet of charter boats for media officials and spectators and a festival site complete with live music, big viewing screens and a beer garden.

Surfing Mavericks

Competition Day

In the pitch-dark harbour at 6am, every working charter boat in the nearby Princeton Harbour was full of journalists, photographers and spectators, eagerly awaiting clearance to get out there and watch some amazing surfing. While the swell wasn't as big as it was during 2010, it was still monstrous by regular human standards. Forget about old stereotypes about surfers being slackers; these guys (and girls) are serious athletes who train hard both physically and mentally to do this. The fact that the waves weren't quite as massive as expected meant that they were more relaxed on the day. From the deep water channel just next to the break, it was amazing to watch a collection of the world's best surfers (many of whom I've admired for years) playing with the conditions, like it was a fun afternoon at their local break.

Mavericks Surf Competition, California

The contest itself was a huge success. By 7am on Sunday there was bumper-to-bumper traffic coming into Half Moon Bay from Santa Cruz and San Francisco. Cars were stacked for over six miles in both directions. The crowd at the festival was thick and diverse; there were international visitors, locals and people from all around California who came to watch. It's amazing to think that all those people dropped everything to come here with less than a week's notice, during a long-weekend, to watch a Big Wave surfing event. Although it's a well-established sport, it's fairly new to spectators from a non-surfing background, so to see such a massive turn-out was great. By the time the final heat was shown on the big screen at the festival site, there was standing room only. In the end it was Peter Mel, a local Californian, who won the event.

The next event (should the right conditions come up) is in Baja California, Mexico, a short flight away from Half Moon Bay. With another month left in the waiting period, there's still hope that the event will run and that crowds will pack-up and make the trip, so fingers crossed that Mother Nature delivers again.

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Clayton Truscott

Clayton Truscott

Clayton is a comfortable traveller, having grown up in a small city that was far away from everything. He spent lots of time in the car as a child, driving up and down the coast of South Africa on surfing trips with his family. After studying abroad in the United States and spending a year working in London, he moved to Cape Town, where he completed a Master's Degree in Creative Writing. He now works as a freelance writer for various travel, surfing and action sports publications.