Maverick’s – Half Moon Bay, California
Maverick’s is California’s claim to fame in regards to big wave surfing. Like the majority of big wave surf spots, it takes ideal conditions for this place to really show what it’s capable of, but when the setting is right, you’re looking at one of the biggest waves, if not the biggest wave, that California has to offer. With a nice winter storm in the northern Pacific Ocean, it is not uncommon for Maverick’s to produce standard waves of about 25 feet or more, and they can often reach a height of over 50 feet. This rocky reef break is mainly a right, but there is also a left off the main break that is rarely surfed. Jeff Clark was the first to surf the spot in the early 1970s; because he was goofy-footed, his first waves were lefts, but he soon began to surf the right switch-stance because it would break so much smoother and better than the left. Besides worrying about getting eaten alive by Maverick’s massive waves, you should also take note of the good number of rocks inside the break known as the “Bone Yard,” which tend to cause a little trouble. Maverick’s is truly where California’s biggest waves reside, so don’t think anyone can just pull up there and paddle into any wave. Maverick’s is a break designed for people familiar with big wave paddle and tow-in surfing only.
Footage from one epic day in November 2008:
Maverick’s is located 25 miles south of San Francisco in Northern California, just a few miles north of Half Moon Bay and a quarter-mile off of Pillar Point Harbor. There are two options to get yourself out to this massive break. The first is to park south of Pillar Point, walk over the hill to a small beach, and paddle out at the north jetty. The paddle takes about 45 minutes, so don’t think it’s easy, but then again, surfing enormous waves isn’t easy. The other option is to take a boat from Princeton Harbor out to the main break.
Swell & Weather Conditions
Maverick’s is known to break during the winter months, usually after a nice winter storm off the northern Pacific. A calm or still wind is ideal for this big wave spot, although light onshore or even northern side winds are doable. The problem with offshore winds is that with all the power you already have from a massive wave, any wind pushing up the wave tends to send the surfer airborne. There are two swell directions that will make Maverick’s break the best: northwest and west. A northwest swell will generally produce a longer, easier wave, and a west swell produces shorter faster waves. Tides also play a big part in the way this gigantic wave will break. A lower tide tends to make the waves steeper and more dangerous, while a higher tide will keep the danger down to a minimum.
Big waves equal big boards. The majority of people who surf Maverick’s will ride a big wave gun that can range anywhere from 9 feet to 12 feet or more. A wetsuit is not just recommended: it’s a requirement. The water is so cold at Maverick’s during the winter months that you surf with a 4/3mm wetsuit and usually a hood. You also need a wetsuit that can withstand the best of Maverick’s wipeouts without ripping to shreds and leaving you in the middle of the cold ocean in nothing but your birthday suit. Whether or not you use a leash is up to you. It can either be your best friend or your worst enemy; it will either help you find which way is up or hold you down if it manages to get caught on the jagged rocks below. And last but not least, a jet ski, which can be used with other tow-in equipment to pull you into waves, or as a lifesaver to pull you out of a multiple-wave beating.
In 1961, three Half Moon Bay surfers ventured out to the break after surfing the inside wave for a bit and deemed it too dangerous to surf. The name “Maverick’s” comes from the name of their German shepherd, who followed them into the water. The real history of this spot, however, has to do with an 18-year-old goofy-foot surfer named Jeff Clark, who began surfing Maverick’s in 1975 and surfed it all alone for 15 years. During this time, Clark taught himself how to surf switch stance so that he could surf both the lefts and the rights front side.
In the early 1990s, Clark introduced his one-man break to surfers from San Jose and San Francisco, and Maverick’s soon made its debut on the cover of Surfer Magazine. In 1994, Hawaii big wave surfers ventured to California’s biggest waves to see what all the fuss was about. Sadly, the waves on that cold winter day ended up taking the life of famous big wave rider Mark Foo. From then on, Maverick’s began to receive coverage in mainstream media, including newspapers and film, and has now become one of the greatest big wave surfing spots in the world.
The first legitimate Maverick’s Surf Contest was held in the winter of 1999-2000, but the contest known today as Maverick’s launched in 2004 with the help of Jeff Clark. Like other big wave surf contests, it doesn’t happen every year. The conditions have to be just right, and they have to fall within the waiting period set aside (January 1st – March 31st in 2009). If everything plays out right, the 24 invited surfers get contacted, and in 24 hours, they are expected to arrive and tackle what Maverick’s has to offer. The contest is pretty big and usually includes about 50,000 spectators in person and another 1 million on webcast.
Highlights from the 2007 Maverick’s surf contest:
Brief Travel Info
There are three major airports in the vicinity of Half Moon Bay, the closest being San Francisco International Airport. The Oakland and San Jose airports are only a few miles further away than San Francisco, so it wouldn’t be a bad idea to search those airports for price comparisons. Your best bet would be to rent a car and make the 25-mile trip to Half Moon Bay, where you will find a number of places to stay, ranging from cheap hostels to places as nice as the Ritz-Carlton. I recommend finding a place online and booking it in advance to assure a better price and a place to stay. Once there, you will find a nice little town worth taking a look at and also some great local eateries. Take a look at www.coastsidelive.com for more information on things to do and places to see that will make your trip more worthwhile.
The history and story of Maverick’s as seen in the movie Riding Giants: