Mavericks waves in surfing's heavy weights
Big wave purse split between surfing friends
January 14, 2008 5:18 PM
HALF MOON BAY, Calif.--The final round of the Mavericks Surf Contest brought together six of the world’s best surfers, who battled the 40-foot waves for a $30,000 prize, but in the beginning of the final round the finalists said it was for the love of surfing and promised to split the purse no matter who won, said 2008 champion Greg Long from San Clemente, California.
While in the water the final six took no prisoners as they jockeyed for monster waves caused by a receding tide. Long said he was waiting for only the biggest waves and at one point thought he should follow the veterans and take what he could, but his patience paid off with a perfect score for his giant drop down the face of a wave and his finesse for riding the rest of the wave out.
Defending champion Grant “Twiggy” Baker landed in second place after heading straight off the top of a 30-foot wave and fighting through white water to surf a significant wall of water stretching in front of him. Baker will take home $12,000 in prize money and the Cliff Bar Green Room award for catching the best tube. Jamie Sterling, Tyler Smith, Grant Washburn, and Evan Slater rounded out the top finalists.
“Mavericks is kind of the king of the big waves pageant,” Baker said and it’s always a thrill to get back out two of his favorite surfing spots – Ocean Beach and Mavericks.
“These guys have been heroes and idols of mine forever,” Long said. “I’m humbled and awed just to be in the water with them.” Long, Washburn, Sterling and Baker have been in contests together for years, including ones in Hawaii and South Africa.
Four of the six finalists are Californians but Grant Washburn, a San Francisco resident for more than 20 years said “it’s great to have the best surfers. The best from Africa, the best from Hawaii, from everywhere. It makes everybody play better.”
The waves at Mavericks break so far from shore that judges were on boats and the entire contest was shown live on a massive TV on the beach and in AT&T Park. Many fans scrambled up a crumbling bluff or to the top of the bluff for a better view. In 2006 several fans were seriously injured by falling rocks so organizers and the San Mateo County Sheriffs escorted fans from the dangerous ground.
Many spectators stood with their backs to the ocean to watch the jumbotron TV, but Kate Lentz, 19, an SF State Marketing major and Stacy Dellens, 18, a Nutrition major, tried to watch everything without the help of the cameras.
“It’s hard to see anything, but I’m loving the atmosphere,” Dellens said. The San Diego native said she enjoyed the sights and people of her first surfing competition while Lentz, from Santa Cruz, said “It’s really comfortable, it’s like being home.”
Each of the four 45-minute long heats gave surfers an opportunity to ride up to ten waves, keeping the score for the best three and doubling the points from their best ride. The top three contestants in each heat move on to one of the two semifinal rounds. Again, the top three of the six surfers in each heat move on to an hour-long final round.
The first three set of contestants saw some huge waves in the early morning Half Moon Bay fog, enthralling the fans with wipe-outs while Ryan Seelbach, who dominated the third heat, but didn’t make it past semifinals, and most of the two dozen surfers caught waves worthy of the only big wave contest on the mainland.
Matt Ambrose, 46, who has been surfing Rockaway Beach in Pacifica most of his life, said he was happy to make the semifinals with such a talented and wonderful group of athletes. “Everyone has pretty much a good vibe out there,” he said “even when it was a little bit dog-eat-dog in the last round (semifinals).”
The high tide ushered in few waves, bringing the competition level up a notch. “It was more dog-eat-dog in the last round,” Pacifica resident Matt Ambrose, 46, said. Without enough waves to go around, surfers split waves – one heading left and another right – with spectacular results.
Shane Desmond started deep and took a long wall, doubling back and riding out a little white water along with Tyler Smith, who carved a good wave, dropped down the wall and hung on through the break.
Sterling, a Hawaiian native, caught three great waves in the first half of the final round including one of the biggest waves of the day with another hair-raising drop down the front. Although all the surfers ride huge boards, Sterling is known for his massive Rhino Chaser and his ability to maintain control of the big gun while catching waves smaller boards wouldn’t have a chance of riding.
Dozens of boats and jetskies hauled or rescued surfers from the break point back to the set area, including a couple surfers and their nine or ten foot surf boards, according to event organizers.
Like each round before, Evan Slater wiped out on his first ride then came back strong for a long ride with only 12 minutes left in the final.
The first ride of the final round wasn’t until almost 20 minutes into the hour-long heat, tempting judges to restart the clock, Smith said. “I thought it was going to go flat, but a set came in and the contest really got started.”
Even though Long, 24, was the youngest surfer in the water he knew he needed a game plan. “I wanted to take it to the next level, take some chances.” Long said. “It was the final and I was going to give it 110 percent.”
Long started surfing when he was 10 years old off the coast of his home town, then fell in love with the big waves at Todos Santos, a small island off the coast of Ensenada, Mexico.
Mavericks, which invites only the best 24 surfers in the world, keeps the contest on hold from December through the end of March like many other contests around the world. In 2007 the contest was never called because challenging waves never made an appearance.
“Sharing it with my five of my best friends was great,” Long said. “I’ve already won in my mind.”
Founder and Contest Director Jeff Clark gave out awards and greeted competitors after the final round. Clark started the Mavericks Surf Contest, originally called Men Who Ride Mountains, in 1999 with Quicksilver sponsoring the event.
This year Mavericks featured a “climate neutral” event with the help of co-sponsor Clif Bar & Co. to help focus on saving the delicate marine ecosystem at Mavericks Surf Break, according to event organizers. For the second year fans could watch the event live at AT&T Park in San Francisco or online at myspace.com, while those who made the trek out to see the event live were kept in check by volunteers from Save The Wave Foundation and other green groups.
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