A group of surfers and photographers won approval last night to take over management of Half Moon Bay’s famous big-wave competition, arguing that the event needs to be less corporate and more in touch with its maverick roots.
What began in 1975 with a lone local surfer, Jeff Clark, paddling out to ride monster waves that can break as high 50 or 60 feet, has grown into a competition known around the globe, with television coverage, corporate sponsors and $150,000 in prize money. That growth has caused tensions between many surfers and Mavericks Surf Ventures, the company that has run the competition since 2004.
“We were tired of seeing that ‘Super Bowl of surfing thing’ where it looks good on the surface, but underneath, you know it’s not working well,” said Grant Washburn, one of the world’s top big-wave surfers and a member of the group that persuaded the San Mateo County Harbor District to award it a permit to run the event this winter. “This is something we all want to be proud of.”
Under Harbor District rules, only one organization can hold the permit needed to host the annual Mavericks event, which takes place about half a mile offshore of Pillar Point Harbor and uses harbor facilities as a staging and viewing area. Last night, the Harbor District commissioners voted to award this winter’s permit to the new Hay Moon Bay Surf Group that includes Washburn and fellow big-name surfer Peter Mel; Clark’s ex-wife, Katherine; surf event organizer Darren Brilhart; and several surf photographers.
Harbor District General Manager Peter Grenell said safety was a primary issue for the commissioners. Last February, 13 spectators were swept into the ocean by two enormous waves that surged over the seawall where they were standing. No one was killed but several suffered broken bones. Critics said the bystanders should not have been so close to the action.
“[Half Moon Bay Surf Group] responded satisfactorally to all the concerns we had,” Grenell said, adding that the group’s finances appeared in order and it presented a sound organizational plan.
Speaking for the group at last night’s meeting, Katherine Clark, one of the original organizers, pledged that “I feel confident we can … put on the best event we’ve seen yet at Mavericks.” The new group now has to hustle to arrange an opening ceremony in coming weeks and be prepared to run the event as soon as Dec. 1. When the Mavericks competition occurs depends on when the waves are best — sometimes as early as December or as late as the end of February.
Keir Beadling, the chief executive officer of Maverick Surf Ventures, tried unsuccessfully to get the Harbor commissioners to delay a decision until November, to give him time to find common ground with the surfers’ group and possibly allow them to co-manage the event. Commissioners said they had granted such a delay in September and there were no signs of compromise. Before last night’s vote, Beadling said he might explore a lawsuit, citing trademark infringement and “wrongful conduct.”
Barracuda Networks, which previously financed the Mavericks Surf Ventures event, has pledged to work with the new management team and for the next three years fund what will now be called the Jay at Mavericks Big Wave Invitational.