Chasing Mavericks

The window opened on January 1. Now all there is left to do, for the next three months, is wait.

Internationally elite surfers rush to Half Moon Bay within this three month window in the hopes of experiencing what the surf spot is known for: a half a mile off of the coast — surrounded by jagged rocks and the ever-present threat of a great white shark — mountainous, 50 to 100 foot waves rise and break. The big-wave surf location, known as Mavericks, is recognized for its elements of mystery, secrecy, and thrill since the beginning of the competition. If the early predictions are accurate, this winter’s El Niño could bring some of the largest waves in decades to the coast.

The Mavericks Invitational draws 24 of the best surfers in the world to compete on these waves. Up until this year, the Invitational has been a low-key contest with a comparably low amount of prize money, paired with dauntingly high stakes. These two dozen  ocean warriors, armored in nothing but a wetsuit and a surfboard, risk their lives for nothing but the thrill of it. It’s not about winning a battle against the ocean; it’s about alliancing with the wave for the ride of your life. This year, the Invitational is under new management that could drastically change the way surfing is appreciated: surfing could become mainstream. But a rush of big money and general public appeal could dilute the passion and fascination that initially attracted the truly dedicated surfers.

A football field will always be available, a basketball hoop will always serve its purpose, a baseball diamond will always have its bases and plates — the ocean is unpredictable. One moment a swell is approaching faster than you can paddle, and the next moment it has passed. It seems impossible to consider surfing a recognized sport: one that is televised, one that has teams across the nation, one that widely understood and easily explained by any audience that watches. The definition of the “perfect” wave differs from surfer to surfer, which makes it unreasonable to set the scoring and rules that a mainstream sport requires.

Surfing is about a connection: in essence, it is not a competition with another team or another person; it is working together with the ocean. Because of the original intentions of surfing — a peaceful friendship between the surfer and the wave — it should never become a mainstream sport.