Thursday, February 11, 2010
Mavericks Looks Swell
The contest will be held on Saturday in Half Moon Bay! For updates and the latest news, click here.
Just as it was beginning to look as if the Mavericks Surf Contest might be doomed for the third time in four years, El Niño finally appears ready to deliver Saturday.
The official votes from the 24 invited surfers won't be tallied until noon Thursday, but the fast approach of the March 31 contest deadline and fresh memories of seasons that got away have pushed patience aside.
The big-wave adrenaline junkies want their fix — and a chance at the record prize purse of $150,000.
A poll of voters who have been poring over computer-model data suggests there is little doubt that the seventh big-wave champion will be crowned Saturday on the beach at Pillar Point. Waves measuring 40 feet on the face — considered the threshold for a big Mavericks day — are expected.
"Ninety-nine percent," is how longtime contestant Evan Slater described the chances for Saturday, adding, "It's not going to be picture perfect, but it's going to be big, real big if the forecast holds."
Santa Cruz's Zach Wormhoudt, another longtime competitor, was just as confident, saying: "Let's get ready to rumble."
The surfers' optimism might be colored somewhat by a desire to get the focus back on the wave. After swells in November, December and January were voted down decidedly by the competitors, attention surrounding the event turned to a lawsuit filed by contest co-founder Jeff Clark, who contends he was wrongly ousted as director by his former partners at Mavericks Surf Ventures in June.
This winter has proved that even with an early opening of the contest window (Nov. 1) and a flurry of good El Niño-charged swells, it's tricky to find a day that will provide the six- to eight-hour windows necessary for a big-wave contest.
"There are no slam dunks; you're just going to have to make the best call you can make," said Darren Brilhart, who serves as a liaison between the contest's surfers and organizers. "(But) I think it's pretty crucial to have a successful event this year."
The storm generating this swell formed quickly near the international date line early Wednesday and barreled east toward the Bay Area. It is expected to turn north just 600 miles off the coast by late Friday. The proximity to shore worries event forecaster Mark Sponsler, if only just a bit.
It's "definitely close," he said via e-mail. "The best would be if high pressure builds in a little earlier than forecast to dampen those south winds."
That would mean cleaner surface conditions for those negotiating treacherous drops at Mavericks. But bumpy rides or not, the chosen 24 are likely to be out there taking the plunge Saturday with brightly colored contest jerseys pulled tightly over their wet suits.
"Fasten your seat belts," Slater said.