Maverick’s Surf Contest Screening at AT&T Park (2/13/10)

I love good old-fashioned epic. And nothing fascinates quite like the invitation-only Maverick’s surf contest, in which 24 of the world’s top big wave riders compete on one of the largest known breaks.

The contest window spans November to March, when winter storms produce monster waves. And when conditions are right, the surfers vote whether to hold the contest.

I’d been diligently watching the Maverick’s watch all season. After rain and wind scuttled a few otherwise promising swells, the contest was finally called for Saturday, February 13. With 50,000 spectators expected at Pillar Point, a viewing area the size of my unsizable apartment, and the wave half a mile out to sea, I chose to brave the $25 entrance fee for the live broadcast at AT&T Park instead.

Arriving at AT&T Park

When I arrived, there were a few hundred other souls in the outfield upper deck. The sun had burned through the fog, and it quickly became apparent that my black turtleneck  was a huge mistake. (As was the lack of sunscreen.) I was tempted to buy a $20 Maverick’s tank top. But, with the crew raffling off t-shirts at half-hour intervals, I thought I’d take my chances, given my streak of wins lately (air plant, clown improv workshop).

The contest started at 8am, and I arrived during the third of four 45-minute quarterfinal heats. The picture was clear, though pretty far away. I probably would’ve had a better view on my laptop,  but it was nice to be outside in the sun with the others.

The epic swell produced waves with 40-50 foot faces. Commentators Ryan Buell and Randy Cohen claimed it was the biggest they’d seen in the last 10 years. Waves always seem smaller from the shore, but these were undeniably huge; I can’t imagine what they looked like from the water. The spectators didn’t have to guess; during high tide, a rogue wave crashed into the viewing area, resulting in 13 injuries.

Maverick’s breaks on rocks upheaved by the San Andreas fault, creating incredibly steep waves. The surfers looked like they were jumping off cliffs, skipping down the faces.

Evan Slater, top, surfs a giant wave over Darryl "Flea" Virostko during the first heat of the Mavericks surf contest. (AP Photo/Ben Margot via SF Chron)

The freezing, green waves were frighteningly thick. And when they finally crashed, the massive clouds of spray reached 4 stories.

Surfer Tries to Outrun the Break (SF Chronicle)

About half the time, the rides resulted in epic wipeouts; how the contestants managed to survive these is a feat in itself.

Apparently, I missed some good performances in the first two heats. But I did witness some inspired rides by Darryl “Flea” Virostko and Kenny “Skindog” Collins.

The sun burned on, and I continued to not win the raffle. Four hours and a Bloody Mary later, I was in a sort of daze. I fazed out the commentators’ surfer dude chatter, and glazed over at the relentlessly positive athlete talk. (Though I have to give it up for them for their perspective, and for keeping it lively for over six hours.)

The final heat one-hour heat was a bit anti-climactic. With a low tide creating even steeper faces, contestants let wave after wave go by. In the first 40 minutes, only one surfer even attempted a ride. (The authorities extended the contest by 15 minutes.) There were a few notable rides from Chris Bertish and Shane Desmond, who eventually took first and second places, respectively.

I’m glad I stayed. But, sadly, no great inspiration arose from the event, in spite of its epicness. Nor did I win the raffle.

So, in sum, something something about mother nature and man. Wow.

And next year, I’ll probably go down to Pillar Point to watch it in person. There’s nothing quite like being there.

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