News Reader: Surfers commit to Mavericks, this Saturday

Twenty-four surfers from around the world voted today to hold the famed Mavericks surf contest this Saturday.

The contest, a major local event and one of the top surf events worldwide, is held only when conditions are just right, producing the forty-foot waves for which the site is famed.

The vote, the first time the surfer’s themselves have made the go/no-go decision to hold the contest, was not unanimous.

The San Mateo County Times, in an unsigned article, worried that the conditions might be more dangerous than expected:

Grant Washburn, a veteran surfer and filmmaker from San Francisco, cast his vote against holding the contest this weekend. He said two storm systems close to shore will likely create violent wave and wind conditions.
“It’s a really, really dangerous angle of swell,” Washburn said. “I expect a lot more wipeouts than during a regular event. The rescue people are going to need to be rescued themselves.”

The vote was 15-9.

Greg Thomas at the Half Moon Bay Review hints at some of the frustration that accompanies the contest, especially with regard to attempting to predict the weather and surf:

Driven by El Niño, weather conditions producing several near-perfect swells prompted about a half-dozen votes since the contest window opened in November. Unfavorable winds are mostly to blame for snuffing hopes on each of those occasions, contest organizers say.

Including this year, the contest has come to fruition seven times in the 11 years since the event first began. The last contest was held in January 2008. Last year’s contest season was marred by upset over missing a swell of historic proportions that washed into Mavericks about a month before the window opened. An acceptable setup failed to materialize in the months after.

Locals know that you have three choices during Mavericks: Join it, stay at home, or go over the hill. At least if you plan to drive. Reports claim that 37,000-40,000 people crowded Princeton-by-the-Sea at the last event.

Does this harm the environment–the contest is held in a protected zone–or endanger the wildlife? Not much to worry about, at least according to famed Mavericks discoverer Jeff Clark, from

“The biggest impact here I see is nature,” said Jeff Clark, on a morning walk out to Pillar Point. Clark is the original Mavericks surfer, who rode the wave alone for 15 years, before the larger surfing community became aware of the spot. He’s the owner of Mavericks Surf Shop and the original founder of the annual Mavericks surf contest. “The negative impact comes from the ocean — the erosion. People don’t even amount to 1 percent of it,” he said. A walk along the beach illustrates his point. Huge piles of rocky debris lie at the foot of the cliffs-the result of rain, wind and waves.

His former wife and former business partner Katherine Clark, now the co-director of the Mavericks Surf Contest, says all is well:

Katherine Clark, co-director of the Mavericks Surf Contest, makes sure that the environment is a major consideration in the planning of the contest details. “This has been a passion for me from day one,” she said. “We use biodegradable materials with the contest and make sure that recycling centers are set up where crowds gather. Our volunteers secure the tide pools and clean up the beach, even returning the next morning to make sure they’ve gone over the area with a fine-tooth comb. When we leave, the beach looks even better than when we got there.”

But there is another kind of green very much on people’s minds, and I don’t mean just the $150,000 purse that is up for grabs. Over KGO-TVs site Lyanne Melendez captures the essence in a telling anecdote:

Sharing the surfers’ optimism are the business owners. The Half Moon Bay Brewing Company says business this weekend should be up, way up. One of the employees there recalls the last Mavericks 2008, when people started drinking at 5 a.m.

Mavericks Surf Ventures is thinking about the cash, too. The big wave only comes every year or two, wrecking havoc with any business plan centered on the contest. However, as the Wall Street Journal’s Japhet Weeks reports, they have a plan…

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