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Geoff Gilbert's Blog: If It Swells, Write It

Good morning and greetings, Mavericks fans. Yes, due to cooperation from the father, the sun and the holy coast, the Body Glove Mavericks Invitational was a go on Friday, as 24 big wave chargers from around the planet got together for a little party in Half Moon Bay. For big waves surfers, in the words of Santa Cruz’s Shawn Dollar, “Mavericks is the place where it matters.”

Earlier in the week, surf forecasters were talking about the scoring exploits of Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant, along with the strongest storm of the season heading for the west coast. It would be accompanied by light offshore winds and a huge swell coming in from a westerly direction, which would be ideal conditions for one of the world’s premier big wave surfing contests.

As westside thrasher Zach Wormhoudt says on what it takes to surf this break, “Big heart. Mavericks demands a lot of desire and passion to do what common sense dictates otherwise.”

As longtime surf scribe Bruce Jenkins reported in the San Francisco Chronicle, when a swell like this hits Mavericks, there is a combination of excitement and anxiety. For me, it would be nothing less than total terror, as the only time I like to be in water over my head is in the shower under a waterfall. These days I get my adrenaline rushes from body surfing in the hot tub.

As Jenkins noted, “northwest swells produce the most powerful, compressed waves at Mavericks, and they are especially dangerous because they produce a south-to-north current. And that is why I always dog paddle east to west.”

What happens a half mile off shore at Half Moon Bay is terrifying, because if you lose your board or get caught inside the pounding, churning, burning chamber of white water insanity, you end up taking a sea cruise through a dangerous jagged rock formation. At this point we’re dealing with life and death issues. It’s not like the danger of fouling out of a basketball game.

So why do it? Why risk life and limb for this gigantic rush of adrenaline? In the words of Maui-based, tow-in legend Laird Hamilton, who’s married to the lovely Garbriella Reese “For those searching for something more than just the norm, we lay it all down, including what others call sanity, for just a few moments on waves larger than life. We do this because we know there is still something greater than all of us. Something that inspires us spiritually. We start going downhill when we stop taking risks.” That’s what’s called preaching to my choir.

The excitement continued to build throughout the week, as there were 20-foot waves on Tuesday with 40-foot faces and 60-foot noses. But it did not come without a price, as one entry rider, Alex Martins, was involved in a severe wipeout and ended up in the hospital and out of the contest.

So Friday’s surf prediction was cloudy with a chance of paradise. We’re talking about a gathering of the best and the brightest big wave surf riders from Santa Cruz and from across the planet. When the word got out that a storm was brewing, our local contingent of all-stars flew back from Maui after surfing the break at Jaws.

So what does it take to surf this bad boy, whose waves and fury have sent big-time surfers to their graves? South Africa’s Chris Bertish, winner of the 2010 Mavericks Big Wave Invitational says, “Courage hardly sums it up. You have to be completely motivated to overcome your fears, especially when everyone is telling you not to do it.”


And how do they measure the size of the waves at places like Jaws, Mavericks and Coney Island? According to big wave pioneer Buzzy Trent, “Waves are not measured in feet and inches, they are measured in increments of fear.” Added Laird Hamilton, “Surfing’s one of the few sports that you look ahead to see what’s behind.”


So Friday’s contest went off as planned, with sets that we close to 40 feet in size. But according to Jenkins, “The dreaded southeast winds came up a little before noon, putting chop on the water. The swell was out of the west, focusing all of the ocean’s energy onto a narrow section of reef known as the “bowl,” producing waves so thick, fast-moving and hollow, only a world-class surfer would even think of taking the drop.”


The winner was South Africa’s Grant Baker, who put on a clinic under the most treacherous of conditions. This was Mavericks at its most dangerous, and world-class wipeouts were the featured item on Friday’s menu along with sand dabs and macadamia crusted mahi mahi.

“The conditions made it so nerve-wracking,” said San Francisco’s Ryan Seelbach. “Some of those waves – I mean, you’re right there, but then you look down, and whoa … I don’t want any part of that.”

So although I did not make the trip up the coast to Mavericks, I did manage to get into the spirit of the occasion by spending some quality time down at Steamers Lane last week. So for today’s photo funhouse we are going to the sunrise from Friday morning, as the feeling of big wave competition was in the air.

The early sky was not in a cooperating mood, but it eventually opened up and allowed the sun to shine through. And to get a little flavor of the competition going on up the coast, I posted a couple of shots from earlier in the week at Steamers.

Surfing at sunrise does a body good. Or in the words of the Hawaiian surf legend Duke Kahanamoku, “Out of the water, I am nothing.” Or as the bumper sticker says on my car, “Geoff would never go.” Aloha.


To check out these photos, click on http://www.SunriseSantaCruz.com/blog

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