Nothing screams 'CALIFORNIA!!' quite so loudly as surfing. I've spent my fair share of mornings watching the surfers on Ocean Beach and Rodeo Cove, marveling at their patience as they bob in the ocean, waiting for that perfect wave. Once a year, when those perfect waves comes along, the top 24 big wave surfers in the world descend on the small town of Half Moon Bay for a heck of a wild ride. The Mavericks Surf Contest was first held in 1999 and a young man from Santa Cruz was crowned champion: Darryl "Flea" Virostko. Darryl went on to win in 2000 and 2004. 2005 went to Anthony Tashnick (Santa Cruz), 2006 to Grant Baker (South Africa), 2008 to Greg Long (San Clemente) and this year, 2010 Chris Bertish from South Africa took the top spot.
For years I have wanted to attend the fabled 'Mavericks' surf competition but always seemed to either be out of town with no hope of a speedy enough return when the contest has been called or I waited the season only to find no suitable waves. This year they were sweet enough to call it in between trips and I found myself driving down highway 1 in the dark with two different sets of camera gear and my poor tired cousin in tow. I was fully prepared to climb the cliff with my 600mm and 2X teleconverter and hope for the best.
We arrived in Half Moon Bay and met up with a friend of mine, Jim Goldstein who tipped me off there might be room on one of the boats. Jim managed to score a spot on the media boat and was traveling light: two lenses, two camera bodies. Sure enough, I managed to get a spot on the Queen of Hearts. It might have been my imagination but she seemed a much less rolly ship than the Huli Cat but then again, EVERYTHING was rolling out there.
We saw a huge wave literally pick a guy off his jet ski and throw him into the water. I can only assume that was the wave that injured the people on the beach. It seemed to have a vengeful mind of it's own as it cut through the surf zone.
I had no idea what focal length would work best for the contest so I relied on my 100-400mm lens. Not the sharpest in my arsenal but you can't argue with the hand-holdability and flexibility a zoom can provide. I quickly abandon hope of being able to shoot with two cameras and stowed my second body in the main cabin for safety sake. One hand for the camera, one hand for the railing, or window, or desk.... or other passenger.... whatever is in reach when the boat gets knocked by a wave. The excellent light helped me keep my shutter speeds high enough to be able to shoot with less stability than I would think optimal and I captured many images that I am very pleased with.... not too shabby for a first timer. Next year I know what to expect and I'll be prepared!
While Chris Bertish did pick up top honors... I couldn't help but follow Kenny "Skindog" Collins. I mean, the guy had rainbows following him! One thing is for certain, the ocean runs deep in these guys veins and they love being big wave surfers - it showed in every run they made. As for me.... I'll stick to being below the waves with my trusty regulator delivering me O2 whenever I need it. Scuba Tuesday tomorrow!
1: A famed Mavericks wave breaks on it's way to Pillar Point.
2: Peter Mel is chased by a monster wave.
3: Kenny "Skindog" Collins glides effortlessly down the face of a giant Mavericks wave.
4: Champion, Chris Bertish is quickly engulfed by a breaking Mavericks wave.
5: Kenny "Skindog" Collins slides down a wave face while a rainbow trails behind.