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Window opens for Mavericks surf contest, causing big waves for small town [PHOTOS]

By Roseann Cima | 7 Jan 2012

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The weather is shifting. The foliage is changing. And Half Moon Bay is just crawling with big-name big wave surfers and the media masses that come with them.

It’s that time of year again. It’s Mavericks season.

The “paddle-out,” or opening ceremony for the Jay at Mavericks Big Wave Invitational, took place yesterday. The public was invited to paddle out with an elite group of competitors to mark the opening of what’s known as the contest window.

Mavericks is among the most famous and most exclusive surf competitions in the world. It is also, for a quasi-yearly event, one of the most unpredictable — not necessarily in terms of who wins, but when. The 24 competitors and 17 alternates are given 24-hours notice to get to Mavericks for contest day, which can be held any time within a three-month window. This year’s contest will occur sometime between now and March 31.

Experts are hopeful that suitable conditions will occur this year, as they failed to within last year’s contest window. Big waves are the result of seasonal storms, and last winter the waves weren’t tall enough to meet the competition’s standards.

When the surf does swell at Mavericks, it really swells. A sub-aquatic ramp is responsible for waves up to 50 or 60 feet tall, a few miles out off the cliffs of Pillar Point. This is what the competition’s organizers are waiting to get.

“Before seeing Mavericks, I never thought I would see waves this big in California,” three-time Mavericks winner Darryl “Flea” Virostko said before the ceremony yesterday.

These “perfect” conditions can also be very dangerous. Just before Christmas,  actor Gerard Butler was hospitalized after being pulled under the waves while shooting Of Men and Mavericks, a movie about the competition. The last time Mavericks took place, in 2010, many onlookers were injured when waves swept the beach during the competition.

In light of this, the beach will be closed on contest day. Organizers will instead host live video-viewing in a local hotel.

But the weather was clement enough yesterday that spectators were welcomed by the water. A crowd gathered to meet the surfers. Before the official ceremony, the competitors spent a few hours in the wave break, and mingling with fans on the shore.  Once on the water, fans joined professionals in celebrating the ocean, and hoping for a good wave-churning storm, and for good health in spite of it.

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