Paddle out ceremony marks the beginning of Mavericks surf contest season (MULTIMEDIA)

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Today in Half Moon Bay, a ceremony known as a “paddle out” marked the opening of Mavericks Invitational surf contest season. If wave conditions are right, organizers will give the world’s top big-wave surfers one day’s notice to get to Half Moon Bay and compete. The contest window is open now until the end of March. (Story continues below.)

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At today’s event, surfers gathered to take pictures, say a prayer led by contest founder Jeff Clark and paddle into the ocean, where they formed a giant circle. The surfers carried Hawaiian ti leaves in their mouths or tucked into their wetsuits for good luck.

Clark first paddled out on his board to Mavericks Point 38 years ago. Back then, he never imagined that his discovery would turn into an international competition and a Hollywood movie.

Two miles offshore of Pillar Point Harbor, Mavericks got its moniker from three local boys who tried to surf there but deemed the spot too dangerous and decided to name the point after their German Shepherd. Clark watched the flow of the waves from an early age and ventured to Mavericks for the first time when he was 17. He surfed there for the next 15 years by himself, unable to convince friends to join him because they thought it was too hazardous.

In 1990, other surfers finally began to paddle out to Mavericks. They found huge waves, some reaching 60 feet, that many thought were possible only in places like Hawaii and Australia.

The Jay at Mavericks Invitational — the surf competition Clark founded with sponsorship help from the apparel maker Quicksilver — marks its 15th anniversary in January, riding a crest of publicity from the feature film Chasing Mavericks. The production crew, including actor Gerard Butler, came to Half Moon Bay last winter and filmed on the city’s beaches and in some neighborhoods.

City officials expect the film, which opened in theaters Oct. 26, to bring more tourism to Half Moon Bay, an industry the local economy heavily relies on. Half Moon Bay resident Rocky Raynor, who coaches a surf group and is chairman of the board of the Mavericks Invitational, said, “We are planning on having twice as many people in town for the contest. We know that [the movie] will bring a lot more people.”

Charise Hale McHugh, president and CEO of the Half Moon Bay Coastside Chamber of Commerce and Visitors’ Bureau, estimates that the competition brings in an extra $2.1 million each year in visitor spending at hotels, restaurants and bars. Along with an onshore festival the day of the contest, boat tours are available. On the boats, spectators can watch surf competitors up close for $200 to $400 a person, or rent a private charter all day for up to $10,000.

But the added attention puts pressure on event organizers to make sure the contest will be held. Mavericks may be one of the most prestigious surf competitions, but it is also one of the most unpredictable. The contest has not been put on for the past two years. City Council members and Mavericks organizers say this has been due to poor weather conditions resulting in small swells.

Twenty-four competitors (including famous surfer-turned actor Kelly Slater) and 17 alternates will be given 24 hours notice to race out to Mavericks point and compete sometime between now and March. Contest organizers say they have been monitoring weather conditions and are optimistic.

“We’re going to have a contest. We know that,” Raynor said.

In the recent past, it has been challenging for the festival to keep sponsors for longer than a year or two. This adds difficulty to funding the event each year. Past sponsors have been a unique mix of companies from Sony Ericsson to Jim Beam. Local resident Tom Mattusch, who is in the charter boat business, said he believes “the contest grew faster than the ability to bring in three, four or five sponsors.”

Some sponsors of the Mavericks Invitational for 2012-2013: Oceano Hotel and Spa, 1st to Know, GoPro and Sierra Nevada. The movie, as well as promising weather conditions, has allowed sponsors of the 2012-2013 Mavericks Invitational to be more financially assured this year.

Sierra Nevada Marketing Director Hunter Sasser said, “We think it’s a great event and want to help them to have it. We do what we can to get that going.”


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