Why are the surfing waves so big at Mavericks?

Maverick's Waves (photo by jurvetson - CC-BY)

Mavericks' Waves (photo by jurvetson - CC-BY)

There is a legendary surfing spot that hosts a world famous big wave surfing contest every winter. The Maverick’s Surf Contest brings world champions to the small town of Half Moon Bay just a short distance down the coast from San Francisco. The surfing circuit eagerly awaits the announcement that conditions are right for the arrival of the spectacular waves that make Maverick’s so attractive for the best of the best surfers.

The big waves at Maverick’s are not easily visible from the shoreline since they break on a reef about a quarter mile outside Pillar Point Harbor. The surfing spot is a fairly recent discovery and started getting popular in the early nineties. As more and more surfers tested the swells, they discovered that Maverick’s offered world class surfing. It is also extremely dangerous because of nearby rock outcrops. Several experts surfers have lost their lives while pursuing the dream of earning the title of winner at Maverick’s.

As the word spread about Maverick’s the location’s fame led to coverage by the press and gorgeous photo spreads in surfing magazines. Movies and documentaries followed that captured the drama of Maverick’s.

As Maverick’s got more famous there were more and more questions and theories about why the waves were so big at this particular spot along an otherwise fairly placid coast. The science of predicting ocean conditions has grown more precise as monitoring technology improved. Tracking weather conditions and the rise of swells and the waves they produced helped predict when the big waves would arrive at Maverick’s. The big breakthrough in understanding the breaks at Maverick’s came from the results of mapping the sea floor off the coast of California by the US National Oceanic and Space Administration in 2007. Having an accurate map of the seafloor made it possible to model wave formation to understand the wavefronts and wavebreaks Maverick’s.

You can learn more about Mavericks and wave formation.

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  • czh says:

    The Opening Ceremony for the 2009 Maverick’s Surfing Contest was held on Wednesday, January 9. The 24 invited surfers have assembled and the heat assignments have been made. Now it’s just a matter of waiting out the arrival of the big waves. There were some rumors that the contest would start this weekend, January 17 but the organizers decided to wait for bigger swells. The possible contest period runs from January 1 to March 31.

  • czh says:

    Saturday, 2/13/10
    The 2010 Mavericks Surfing Contest just concluded with the $150,000 prize, the richest ever, awarded to Chris Bertish of South Africa. The contestants had just two days to assemble for tournament. The waves were huge and tricky to the point that some spectators were swept of the seawalls by rouge waves.

  • czh says:

    Just checked. The 1st prize was $50,000. The news reports also say that the waves may have been the biggest ever for a board competition.

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