Big Wave Invitational
Who to watch /// Where to watch /// Q&A with Ben Wilkinson and Carlos Burle
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BIOS OF THE CONTESTANTS PROFILES BY SPORTS WRITER AND BODY SURFING GOD,
PHOTOS COURTESY MAVERICKS INVITATIONAL
GRANT 'TWIGGY' BAKER
KEN "SKINDOG" COLLINS
NIC LAMB (SANTA CRUZ)
KOHL CHRISTENSEN (HAWAII)
DANILO COUTO (BRAZIL)
SHAWN RHODES (PACIFICA)
DEREK DUNFEE (SAN DIEGO)
MIKE GERHARDT (SANTA CRUZ)
BEN ANDREWS (SAN FRANCISCO)
GARRET MCNAMARA (HAWAII)
TYLER FOX (SANTA CRUZ)
ANDREW MARR (SOUTH AFRICA)
RUSSEL SMITH (SANTA CRUZ)
JOSH LOYA (SANTA CRUZ)
TRAVIS PAYNE (PACIFICA)
JAMIE MITCHEL (AUSTRALIA)
COLIN DWYER (PACIFICA)
ION BANNER (HALF MOON BAY)
FRANK SOLAMON (SOUTH AFRICA)
Take a close look at the man who has been surfing Maverick’s for 20 years. That’s the definition of a committed big-wave rider. He was there from the beginning, part of Jeff Clark’s original Pacifica-based crew in the early ‘90s, and if you want to know who rides the deepest, just find out where the 41-year-old Ambrose has positioned himself. Grant Washburn likes to joke that if there were no official contest, “We’d just hold the Matt Ambrose Challenge. Whoever gets the biggest, nastiest wave — an Ambrose wave — would win.” Once known as an underground warrior, Ambrose became an established name after reaching the finals in four consecutive Mavericks contests between 2000 and ’06. (Note on this invitee list: There have been no changes from last year. Only the heat assignments have been altered.)
Considering his relentless pursuit of big waves around the world and the savage beatings he’s taken, it’s amazing this 45-year-old Brazilian charger still has the stoke. His track record dates back to 1998, when he won the Reef Big Wave event at Todos Santos (Mexico) against a star-studded field. Burle has caught some of the biggest tow-in waves on record, including a kelp-ridden monster at Ghost Tree that earned him 2009 Billabong XXL award nominations for Monster Tube and Ride of the Year. He also won Biggest Wave honors in 2002 for a Mavericks wave measured at 68 feet on the face. He finished fifth in the 2010 contest and showed more brazen courage than anyone in the final, taking a couple of mid-face wipeouts on waves most surfers wouldn’t have gone near. And he reached a career peak that winter by taking overall first place on the Big Wave World Tour, a five-venue event organized by Mavericks head judge Gary Linden. (This winter, for the first time, Mavericks is part of that tour.) Highly respected in Hawaii, Burle is on the Eddie Aikau contest’s main list (Waimea Bay) for the sixth straight winter.
Kenny (Skindog) Collins
Other Santa Cruz surfers get more publicity, but Augenstein can match Mavericks water time with any of them. A well-established lifeguard in his home area, Augenstein got his first contest invite in 2005 and made a big impression, reaching the semifinals. And he’s drawn respect over the years by surfing one of the shortest boards (8’4”) ever ridden by the Mavericks regulars. In an interview with Surfing Magazine, Augenstein described his relationship with Mavericks as “a prearranged marriage. We were born to dance together.”
Whether it’s tow-surfing or paddling, Collins tends to stand out on the most fearsome days at Mavericks. He pioneered the Northern California tow-in movement with Santa Cruz partner Peter Mel in the late 1990s and was part of a titanic semifinal in the 2000 contest that will go down with the most memorable heats in surfing history. In the summer of ’06, he came out of a massive tube at Puerto Escondido — one of the most sensational performances ever witnessed at the famed Mexico break — to win both Ride of the Year and Monster Tube in the XXL awards. He also staged a spirited run to reach the finals of the 2010 Mavericks contest. Collins’ big-wave resolve was tested two winters ago, when his good friend Sion Milosky died during a free-surf session at Mavericks. Collins endured the horror of viewing Milosky’s body on the beach that afternoon, and several months passed before he felt prepared to attack big surf again. Back in form last winter, he was nominated for Billabong’s Monster Paddle Award for a massive, clean drop at Mavericks.
Grant (Twiggy) Baker
Nearly seven years have passed since Baker, at the time a virtual unknown, stunned the surfing world by winning this contest. He’d only been surfing Mavericks for a few weeks, but with his uncanny precision and wave knowledge, this unassuming South African mastered what some feel is the most difficult drop in big-wave surfing. In the words of fellow competitor Mark Healey, “Twiggy’s timing, when he’s paddling into big waves, is probably better than anyone else I’ve seen. He has a knack for putting himself as deep as possible and still making it.” One of the few surfers to dedicate his life to surfing big waves worldwide, Baker is a constant factor in the annual Billabong XXL big-wave awards, earning the 2010 Ride of the Year (from the Mavericks contest) and Biggest Wave and Best Overall Performance in 2009. Twiggy shared the experience of a lifetime with Long, Mike Parsons and Brad Gerlach, in January 2008, venturing out to Cortes Bank (off the California coast) to tow-surf waves still widely recognized as the largest ever ridden. There hasn’t been a more popular contest winner — anywhere — than Bertish at Mavericks in 2010. The 38-year-old South African is one of the most stoked, enthusiastic big-wave surfers on the planet, and he pulled out the victory after a frantic, 36-hour adventure to get to Half Moon Bay on time. He arrived to discover that his board didn’t finish the journey and the set waves were huge: 50-60 feet on the face, the largest ever for a paddle-in surf contest. In his first heat, Bertish was caught inside a giant set wave and held underwater so long that he felt he was close to drowning. Somehow summoning the energy and will power to continue, Bertish wound up having the day of his life. Riding a board borrowed from Mavericks pioneer Jeff Clark, Bertish called it “an honor and a privilege” to be invited, describing the day as “scary beautiful.”
Undoubtedly the most respected backside surfer in Mavericks history, having ridden the place with fearless abandon since the mid-1990s. Some say only a crazy man would consistently surf Mavericks with his back to the wave, but Desmond — a low-key bartender for years in his native Santa Cruz — has proven to be an extremely smart, calculating performer. He won the 2005 XXL Paddle-In Award for an astounding ride during the Mavericks contest, and he staged a dynamic performance three winters ago to finish second behind Chris Bertish. Hardly a big-wave specialist, Shane is an accomplished contest surfer on longboards when the waves drop to more normal levels.
In the break between the semifinals and finals of the 2010 contest, a few uninvited surfers hit the water. One of the day’s biggest sets blackened the horizon, and Dollar, a longtime Mavericks regular from Santa Cruz, successfully negotiated a 60foot drop that earned him Monster Paddle honors in the Billabong Awards and a spot on the alternate list of the Eddie Aikau contest for the first time. “Don’t know his name? You will soon,” wrote Surfing Magazine. Now a mainlist entrant for the first time, Dollar says, “Mavericks is the place where it all matters. The wave is so good, so challenging for paddling, and we haven’t seen its full potential yet. I love and fear that wave. It’s my obsession.”
Widely considered the best big-wave surfer in the world, he’s proven it beyond a doubt by spearheading the paddle-in movement at Peahi (“Jaws”) on Maui. Until recently, even the hard-core locals felt the place was suited only for tow surfing. Thanks to Dorian, Danilo Couto and an ever-growing crew featuring several young Maui surfers, an old-school movement is in full force. Dorian’s surfing earned him the Billabong 2011 Monster Paddle Award at Jaws, and he was nominated again last winter. Now we’re about to see him in his first Mavericks contest, although he has already approached legendary status in Half Moon Bay. Although there wasn’t a contest last winter, Jeff Clark gathered some local insiders to examine video footage and hand out the first annual Mavericks Awards. From a single session on Feb. 8, Dorian walked away with Barrel of the Year, Bomb of the Year, and Performance of the Year.
No visiting surfer has a more intense relationship with Mavericks than Fletcher, the man who discovered Sion Milosky’s lifeless body floating in the water in March 2011 during a ground-breaking session in wave faces up to 50 feet. The two Hawaii-based surfers were close friends and traveling partners, and Milosky’s death left Fletcher badly shaken. The youngest son in the noted Fletcher family from Southern California, Nathan shied away from surfing in his youth, only to emerge as a stunningly talented, fearless rider. He’s been a Mavericks standout on huge days, including the storied November 2008 swell described as the best ever for paddle-in conditions. And he was the star of last year’s Billabong Awards, winning Overall Performance as well as Monster Tube and Ride of the Year for a wave at Teahupo’o (Tahiti) many have called the heaviest they’ve ever seen. “He has a natural talent that exceeds any of the top guys,” claims Twiggy Baker. And Hawaiian underground standout Dustin Barca says Fletcher is “my favorite person to watch surf. (He) dances to his own beat. Nobody even sees half the crazy shit he does.” Yet another reason why this year’s field is considered the strongest ever. A living legend in Hawaii for his big-wave surfing and free-diving expeditions — along with a generous, humble nature — Healey has made a lasting commitment to Mavericks. “A true waterman,” says Greg Long. “He has taken some of the heaviest floggings and ridden some of the most terrifying waves in the past few years.” Healey won the Monster Tube award in the 2009 Billabong contest, at a mysto spot identified only as “the Pacific Northwest.” As Dorian put it, “I honestly think Healey is mentally prepared to paddle into waves that no one wants.” Even more impressively, he’s doing it backside. “I feel like I’ve got a lot to learn at Mavericks,” he says. “Even though I’ve been going there for three or four years, it’s a new relationship. I don’t feel like I’ve got it figured out.” Coming from Healey, that’s a strong statement. This is a man who seeks out deep-water Hawaiian diving locations to swim alongside and actually ride great white sharks.
You saw his stoic countenance as one of the featured surfers in “Chasing Mavericks,” and no one was more deserving of the role. This Southern California-based surfer has racked up a staggering list of big-wave accomplishments. At Mavericks, he finished second in the 2005 event and took first prize in 2008, memorably sharing his winnings with the other five surfers from the final. In December 2007, he surfed a single swell in Hawaii, Northern California and Todos Santos (Mexico) over the course of 72 hours, a feat of titanic endurance. In December 2009, he became the first Californian to win the prestigious Eddie Aikau contest, held in all-time conditions at Waimea Bay. He has won Billabong Awards for Biggest Wave (Dungeons, South Africa, 2006), Biggest Paddle-In (Todos Santos, 2008), Best Overall Performance (2007-08 winter) and Ride of the Year (Dungeons, 2009). Just this year, he won the Nike-sponsored Wave of the Summer Award for a giant right at Puerto Escondido, Mexico — and he gave his acceptance speech in Spanish. That’s typical of the studious, soft-spoken Long, respected as much for his spot-on surf forecasting as his performances.
It’s not easy being Greg Long’s brother, especially if you want to ride big waves, but Rusty pulls it off with aplomb. His low-key approach has kept him somewhat off the radar. He isn’t quite as well traveled as Greg, but he is widely recognized as a major player in any conditions. Rusty was nominated for the 2007 XXL Ride of the Year for a wave he scored at Puerto Escondido — and he was paddlesurfing that day, while most everyone else was towing. When it comes to Mavericks, “My relationship with the wave has been a good one over the years,” he says. “I always try to be tactical and pick off waves that I will really remember. I listen to my instincts about when to surf there too. Some days I don’t feel it, some days I really do.” He was definitely feeling it on the day of the 2010 contest, boldly pulling into the barrel of a 50-foot face during the early morning free-surf. That unforgettable sight, as much as anything, earned him a spot in this year’s event. He is also an alternate on the Eddie Aikau list in Hawaii.
Originally from Brazil, Martins moved to Northern California and established residence near Ocean Beach so he could surf that punishing San Francisco beach break with regularity. But that was just the start. Graduating to the Mavericks contest, Martins has become one of the most dedicated, respected surfers in the lineup. He had three separate photographs nominated for the 2009 Billabong Monster Paddle Award, all from a November session at Mavericks. And he drew a similar nomination in 2010 for a wave at the Mavericks contest, in which he reached the semifinals.
He had to be amused after this year’s paddle-in ceremony when he learned that Healey, Collins and iconic Kelly Slater, among others, would be in his heat. This Santa Cruz veteran was considered the most talented, influential Mavericks surfer for nearly a decade, but the contest title always eluded him. And his quest won’t be getting any easier. Mel did break through with his first big-wave contest victory in August 2011 at Pico Alto, Peru, on the Big Wave World Tour. He gave credit to his Santa Cruz mentor, the legendary Richard Schmidt, “who came to Peru in the early ‘80s and told me about this great big wave. I have dreamed about surfing Pico Alto. I feel really proud to have won here.” Mel helped launch the Northern California tow-in movement and ranks with Schmidt as one of the most well-known Northern California surfers in Hawaiian events (especially the Aikau contest) over the years. He got some nice props with a primary role in “Chasing Mavericks.” When it comes to this contest, however, it’s all about unfinished business. If for nothing beyond his peace of mind, Mel covets this trophy.
Out of San Francisco, where he hones his bigwater skills at the challenging Ocean Beach, Seelbach is no stranger to Mavericks chaos. He managed to advance out of his first heat in the 2005 contest despite having to retrieve his lost board from the distant lagoon. He missed much of the ’06 winter after breaking his foot during a tow-in session. But he has become a highly esteemed regular, reaching the semifinals five years ago and again in 2010, and he was a standout during the epic December 2007 tow-in sessions that marked some of the biggest waves ever ridden at Mavericks. He ranks right near the top of all entrants when it comes to high-performance surfing in waves of all sizes.
As if it wasn’t enough to lure Dorian and Healey into the mix, here comes the eleven-time world tour champion and, in most experts’ opinion, the greatest surfer who ever lived. You can read all about his tour exploits elsewhere. Not everyone realizes that Slater has been a dedicated big-wave surfer since his early days on the North Shore, often paddling to the outer reefs for epic, unheralded sessions with the locals. He’ll surf giant Pipeline with the best of them. He has excelled at Teahupo’o (Tahiti), the world’s most dangerous break. He won the Eddie Aikau event in 2002 and nearly did it again three years ago, losing narrowly to Greg Long after a series of masterful takeoffs at Waimea Bay. Slater has only surfed Mavericks twice in the past, including the 2000 contest, when he stunned everyone — including himself — by finishing second to Flea Virostko. Some felt the judges wrongly advanced Slater into the finals at the expense of Jay Moriarity, and, even now, Slater speaks of his good fortune that day. He was truly humbled and awestruck by Mavericks and the people who surf it. For Slater, that is quite a rare occurrence.
From his filmmaking to his work on the book “Inside Mavericks” to his constant presence in the lineup, Washburn is probably the leading spokesman on Mavericks. He has no problem surfing it alone, in contrary winds, in fearsome conditions that would scare most people away. It is widely believed that Washburn puts in more Mavericks time than anyone. And not since Greg Noll has any big-wave rider been so doubly proficient at performance and documentation. Grant has produced two surf films, and, with a massive personal collection of big-wave footage and interviews, he has much more in store. Always a standout at San Francisco’s Ocean Beach and the Red Bull/South Africa contest, Washburn was a Mavericks finalist in 2004, 2006 and 2008. After negotiating the swirl of lawsuits and political chaos at the organizational level for years, Washburn has stepped aside as a contest executive and is now concentrating strictly on the waves.
Here’s just one example of the type of surfer who would draw Slater’s respect, a man with a long and successful commitment to Mavericks and all big surf in Northern California. A few winters back, people saw photos and videos of Smith riding the surrealistically large “Ghost Tree” break, in Monterey, and wondered, “Who is this guy?” They have found the answer in Mavericks contests, where the Santa Cruz-based Smith finished third in 2005 (sliding into the main draw as an alternate and surfing his way into the final), second in the 2006 event and fourth in 2008. Over the course of those contests, he was the only surfer to reach all three finals. And he did it all surfing backside.
Mavericks locals welcomed this longtime underground charger from Hawaii, where he serves as a North Shore lifeguard, ranks among the most respected members of the Pipeline crew, owns a cherished spot in the Eddie Aikau contest lineup, and won the 2012 Monster Paddle Award for a dramatically successful air drop at Jaws. His first-ever wave at Mavericks six years ago, a bomb from well outside the bowl, nearly gained him the XXL Paddle-In Award. He now makes Mavericks a priority, making the 2008 contest semifinals (after gaining entry as an alternate) and finishing a solid fourth in the life-threatening conditions of 2010. “You can’t compare this place to Hawaii,” he says. “It’s got cold water, giant sharks, giant waves and giant rocks. It’s like nothing else.” What separates Wassel from most Hawaii-based surfers is that he keeps coming back, as if drawn by a magnetic force. Deeply appreciated by the Mavericks regulars, Wassel won the Jay Moriarity Award at the 2010 event.
Bouncing back from a dislocated shoulder that sidelined him for several months, Sterling won the 2010-11 Big Wave World Tour — a worldwide circuit created by Mavericks head judge Gary Linden — on the strength of three solid performances: fourth place at Punta de Lobos, Chile, winning the Pico Alto (Peru) contest, then finishing third at Oregon’s Nelscott Reef. None of this is surprising to anyone who has followed Sterling’s career, back to the days when he broke into the big-wave hierarchy as a North Shore teenager. In the 2006 Billabong XXL Awards, he was honored for Best Overall Performance. He finished an impressive third in the 2008 Mavericks contest, after dominating his first two heats, and he won the Jay Moriarity Award that day for the spirit best exemplifying the late, great Santa Cruz surfer. At home in Hawaii, he’s a main-list entrant in the Eddie Aikau event.
With three-time champion Darryl (Flea) Virostko announcing his retirement from the event, contest director Jeff Clark had his choice of replacements. He went with this 30-year-old Australian hellman, saying, “Ben shows up every swell and stays in the water longer than most people, charging the biggest waves. His dedication makes him a real threat in the event.” Originally from Narabeen, New South Wales, Wilkinson now makes his living as a carpenter in Hawaii, where he’s been an alternate on the Eddie Aikau list for two years. “If you’re talking about underground big-wave guys who don’t get the recognition they deserve, it’s Ben,” said Mark Healey. Wilkinson still has crystal-clear memories of his first session at Mavericks in December of 2007, a day he got brutally caught inside a “swing set.” Proudly, and with a smile, Wilkinson says, “Pound for pound, Mavericks has handed me my worst beatings to date.”
When the “Chasing Mavericks” film crew needed a stunt double, someone who would take off on huge waves or take intentional wipeouts for the sake of a good shot, they made certain to include “Tazzy.” A legend at 16, when he stepped up to ride what many called the “wave of the winter” at Mavericks in 2001, Tashnick is now a mainstay in the world of big-wave riding. The latest in a long line of chargers from the West Side of Santa Cruz, he won the 2005 Mavericks contest in such dominant fashion, there was no question who would take home the trophy. Well-traveled in his thirst for big waves, Tashnick has made the alternate list of the prestigious Eddie Aikau contest six straight years. He finished third and won the Gnarliest Drop Award at the 2010 Mavericks contest — quite a distinction, considering the historic size — and was a finalist at the Pico Alto contest in August of that year.
Among the most respected of the West Side crew from Santa Cruz, Wormhoudt got some long overdue recognition in 2004, when he won the Billabong XXL Award for the biggest paddle-in wave of the winter. He is among the most accomplished tow-surfers in the world, earning a Biggest Wave nomination in the 2009 XXL Awards for a ride at Nelscott Reef. But he is most true to his paddling and is among the most consistently solid performers in the history of the Mavericks contest, having finished eighth in 1999, fifth in 2000 and fourth in 2005. Zach and his brother, Jake, represent Old Mavericks in the most positive sense, having ridden the place responsibly, time and again, and lived to tell about it. Longtime Northern California surfers were stoked to see Zach alongside Greg Long and Peter Mel as the featured big-wave surfers in “Chasing Mavericks.”
listed in order of priority:
A standout at Mavericks but best known for a mind-blowing performance at Ghost Tree during the giant swell of December 2007, when one of his rides earned him a Billabong nomination for Biggest Wave. Fox cracked the alternate list four years ago after his consistently solid performances at Mavericks.
This West Side/Santa Cruz veteran has admitted to a fear of heights, but staring down the ledge of a Mavericks beast doesn’t seem to bother him. Respected worldwide for his grace and elegance in any conditions, Loya has been surfing Mavericks for decades, graduating effortlessly into the tow-in movement while keeping in touch with his paddle-in skills. He was a finalist in the very first contest, back in 1999.
A Pacifica-raised son of Northern California big-wave mainstay Steve Dwyer, Colin has won a number of local contests and is making his name in the big-wave arena. He proved his worth by catching some bombs during the storied November ’08 swell at Mavericks and has been a committed presence at the break since then.
Clearly the best of the new generation of Santa Cruz surfers braving Mavericks. Says fellow West Sider Kenny Collins, “He’s one of the top 20 big-wave riders in the world, and he’ll be in the top five in a couple of years.” Added Collins, with a smile, “Nic has an incredible talent to irritate people. You like him or you hate him.”
Emerging from the shadow of Brazilian countryman Carlos Burle, Couto has built a reputation for riding giant waves backside. In March of 2010, he became one of the few surfers ever to paddle into “Jaws,” the feared break on Maui known mostly as a tow-in venue, and he returned to the spot to win Billabong’s 2011 Ride of the Year for an air-drop paddle-in.
The regulars took notice in November 2008 when Dunfee, from the San Diego area, caught a Mavericks wave that earned him the Monster Paddle Award. Not concerned with being photographed, or even joined by friends, Dunfee is known for his solo big-wave missions around the world, “places where there’s no one around,” he says. He and Couto have both been chosen as alternates on the Eddie Aikau invitee list.
This San Francisco-based surfer made a name for himself by catching a huge Mavericks wave in December 2006, earning him a nomination for the Monster Paddle-In Award. Andrews came back to earn a similar nomination four years ago, an unforgettable image that saw him make a nearly impossible Mavericks drop before getting buried by an avalanche of whitewater.
Work and family commitments have become recent priorities for the 42-year-old Rhodes, who was on the contest’s main list from its inception (1999) through 2010. Around Pacifica, where veteran Dick Keating is king, Rhodes and Matt Ambrose are considered the pillars of modern times.
Santa Cruz veteran and a respected underground charger, he has been a main-list entry in the past but was slowed by a number of injuries, including a broken arm and torn rotator cuff. Mike’s big-wavesurfing wife, Sarah, is the subject of the heralded film “One Winter Story.”
This talented South African spends most of his winters in Hawaii, but he has been part of several memorable sessions at Mavericks. Countryman Grant (Twiggy) Baker generously calls Marr “the best and most dedicated big-wave surfer in South Africa and, therefore, one of the best in the world.”
Surfers often talk about jetsetting their way through the big-wave universe, but the Hawaii-based McNamara truly lives the dream, with a staggering list of accomplishments at the world’s heaviest breaks. In November 2011, McNamara showed up at Nazare, Portugal, and was towed into a wave acknowledged by the Guinness Book of Records at 78 feet, the largest ever placed on record. That earned him the Billabong Biggest Wave Award.
Has joined Dwyer and Lamb as one of the most talented, respected big-wave surfers of Northern California’s new generation. He’s been devoted to Mavericks and has notched some epic tow-in sessions along with his paddling.
This long-respected Half Moon Bay local has been charging huge waves along the coast for years. Always a watchable entry in past contests, Banner gained singular recognition in 2008 for his amazing air-drops and whimsical switch-stance maneuvers.
For years a standout on the North Shore, where he rode huge waves without the slightest interest in being recognized, Christensen is starting to make himself known. He surfed huge Mavericks waves over the past three winters, stood out in the 2009 Eddie Aikau contest, and won the 2011 Nelscott Reef contest in Oregon. He was a Billabong XXL nominee for Best Performance over the 2010-11 winter, an award won by Sion Milosky, and he was nominated again for 2012 in the Monster Tube category for a ride at Cloudbreak (Fiji).
One of the 2006 semifinals found Russell in the same heat with his brother, Tyler. Based on their performances at Ghost Tree and Mavericks, it won’t be long until the Smiths find their names alongside Malloy, McNamara, Keaulana and Long, among the top brother acts in big-wave surfing.
Known as unquestionably the best openocean paddler in the world, Mitchell has won a record 10 titles in the challenging Molokai-to-Oahu event in Hawaii. This dignified Australian waterman has made a recent commitment to Mavericks and has ridden some giant waves during tow-in sessions. He was a nominee in the Monster Paddle category for a ride at Todos Santos, Mexico, in January 2012.
Grant Washburn first noticed this goofy-foot charger in South Africa, where Solomon, a Dungeons local, “paddled out through the rocks and shark pit, by himself, while everyone else was heading out by boat.” Since then, Solomon has dedicated extensive time each winter to Mavericks, including a three-month stay last season.
Big Ben on Big Waves B
Interview by Sonia Myers
efore Ben Wilkinson was off to Hawaii, after coming into town for the Mavericks Invitational Opening Ceremony, I managed to meet up with him at the Half Moon Bay Brewing Company. He has been dubbed “Big Ben” for his 6-foot-3-inch, 250-pound, large, rugby-style build. But besides his stature, he is best known for his big heart.
Wilkinson is originally from New South Whales, Australia, where he grew up surfing North Narrabeen, his home break. He now resides in Haleiwa, Hawaii, where he works full time as a carpenter. In 2011 he was invited to the Mavericks Invitational contest as a competitor, and it couldn’t have happened to a more strong-willed and generous man. Photo: Sonia Myers
You are well-traveled, what’s your favorite wave? I love Mavs. It’s always changing. It’s always challenging and it’s really heavy. You have to pay your dues type of thing. It doesn’t really come easy, and I like the challenge.
It’s a relationship too, so it can be good and bad. You can go out to Mavs and have an awesome session — no wipe-outs, catch the best wave of your life — or you can get caught inside and not even catch a wave and have the worst session of your life. I have a really good relationship with it and I respect it. It’s always a challenge and I really enjoy it.
How does Mavericks stack up against other big waves around the world?
What prepared you in your hometown and in your youth for surfing big waves?
I just went to Jaws (Maui, Hawaii) and it just blew me away. It was really beautiful and picturesque. It is a little more perfect than Mavs. People get barreled out at Mavs, but it’s not as consistent as Jaws. But, I am an ocean person and I really enjoy the challenge that the ocean gives to me.
My Dad surfed big waves and I was always following him out there. I wanted to be with him and go surfing with him, so I had to push myself to keep up with him. Some of the older, local guys would go to Hawaii and come back telling big stories about Waimea and it always intrigued me. I
would trip on their experiences and I would want to experience it as well. Did following your dad make you want to pursue big waves? My dad got ill and I had to care for him. He passed away from Lou Gehrig's disease in 2005. One thing that helped me get through the depression and the heartache was having the goal of getting in the Eddie and in Mavericks. So, I planned the trip in 2005. I went to Tahiti and then I went to Hawaii, and from there I started coming up here more. My dream to be a big wave surfer helped me get through, as it was such a big goal for me. It was heavy — losing someone and being depressed about it. I wish he were here, having a beer with us. He’d be surfing out there.
Do you think your Dad would go out at Mavericks?
No. Not really.
Oh, yeah. He’s a salty old guy. He would wait all day for one wave and pick a bomb.
Really? You’re not scared? Let’s say it’s a huge wave, like 50 feet, and you’re looking down as if you are on the top of a tall building ready to hit rock. That doesn’t scare you at all?
Your dream is essentially where you are now, in the Mavericks contest? I know, it’s crazy. Last year, because of the movie, it didn’t sink in. It was different. But this year there seems to more going on with the Big Wave World Tour, and it seems be jelling together. It seems more of a reality this year. There is more of a focus and my life is kind of changing. I turned 30 this year, and I’m stepping up into a realization of what I have achieved. When you got the call that you were one of the 24 competitors, what was going through your head?
There are moments, but it’s not like I’m scared. It’s just being excited. The adrenaline takes over and it kicks you in. You know what you are in for. Everything starts going slow, you start reading what the wave is doing. You’re pushing deep and trying to get the most critical wave you can, so you’re concentrating hard on making that wave. When you complete the wave, that’s when it all comes rushing in and you’re stoked, especially if you made a sick drop.
make all the money. I want the company to do well, of course. We have been doing our research. We want underground athletes, good people. We want to try to help them achieve their goals. I’m all about achieving dreams and aspiring to go forward. That’s just what I want to do. You were part of the action crew of the film "Chasing Mavericks," what was that like? It was pretty cool. I was pretty stoked. It kicked a little switch in me. I want to start pursuing different things after seeing what was done in the movie. I want to get into filming, get some different angles. What I see in the water, no one else can see. It was a good experience. It was pretty ridiculous, the amount of talent out there, too. Have you seen the film?
What kind of physical training do you do to prepare yourself for the winter season?
No, I haven’t. I’ve been so busy.
I have been canoeing with the Manu O Ke Kai Canoe Club, Monday, Wednesday and Friday, with a race on another day of the week. It’s a pretty big commitment and I have been doing it for three years. The group of mates I have made through the sport are my family now. I try to do some swimming and body surfing. I do breath-holding exercises, reassuring myself I can hold my breath for a couple minutes. I have my work, too. But, my main form of training is being mentally ready. I used to be in Southern California for six months and not surf at all. And then the first winter swell would come up and I would come up here and I was mentally ready. I could take the beating and come back out, because I knew I could do it. Are you sponsored? I have some sponsors: Katin and Dizm sunglasses. I just get product. It’s cool, I don’t have to go shopping.
Photo: Curt Myers
Mavericks is one of those waves that needs all your attention.
The contest and all big swells are on last-minute notice. How do you manage to travel like that? How do you make that happen?
It was pretty emotional. It was something I worked so long and hard for and sacrificed so much. It’s a lot of mental energy and a lot of want. It was a huge relief to just get the nod. It’s so humbling. You look at all the guys that are here and that have been here and everyone involved, too, like Powerlines Productions. They have put in so much time and energy and I really respect that. They are the guys that got me in. How does one go out and surf Mavs for the first time? Do you have to ride the shoulder the first few times to get the hang of it before you are dropping in the bowl? I didn’t ride the shoulder. You picture something for so long and you have to have confidence in yourself. I have confidence in my ability and I have confidence even if I don’t make the wave. I have a big respect for the wave and its power and all the local guys as well. You are going to wipe out. It’s not an easy wave to surf. I think coming with that attitude is a good place to be. You have to kind of go hard, too, because if you hesitate, that’s going to cause you to maybe miss a wave and get caught inside or maybe get hung up on a lip. Mavericks is one of those waves that needs all your attention. So, does Mavericks scare you?
I do get help from friends. I barter with people. I will do work for someone and other favors. Sometimes people want to buy me a plane ticket. Down in South America, some friends of mine bought my ticket the last couple years, but I always try to come back to do a job for them. I will give back my skill. I redid my friend’s entire kitchen. They want to support me. I give them updates from my trip. They are part of my team. Without guys like that I wouldn’t be able to do what I do. I do miss swells, like Fiji. I could call them and they would pay, but I don’t feel comfortable. That’s why I work so hard to build my reputation, so I can do it for a living. I would always do work on the side still, like I have been building all my own furniture lately. Pit Move is your brand you are getting started. How did Pit Move originate? From coming up here year after year, we came up with a couple sayings: “Spend it at the bar, sleep in the car.” Pit Move was conceived here around the fire pit. Matt (business partner) was single at the time and he was making moves and we were sitting around the fire pit and then we would go out to Mavs and sit in the pit out there. Through travel time, we started using Pit Move for everything in life — making a Pit Move. You have to do what you got to do to get where you want to go. We talked about it and then we came up with the shirt. We just came up with a new black and orange shirt — Giants inspired ... I appreciate sports and I watched the Giants come back after those losses in the beginning. What is your hope for Pit Move? I want to be able to set up a platform for the company to evolve and pay the athletes. I don’t want the athletes to get product and the company to
Photo: Curt Myers
I am an ocean person and I really enjoy the challenge that the ocean gives to me.
Do you think more people are going to want to head out to Mavericks after seeing the film?
You can’t. It’s hard. The paddle is long. Not anyone can get out there. Maybe it will put a different angle on the Big Wave World Tour. Giving it a bit more prestige having Hollywood focusing on the big wave. The storyline is great too. It teaches you about life: young and old. I teach the older guys and at the same time they are teaching me something. It reflects good on the big wave community and how everyone performs... because we are not just a bunch of surfers, we are professional athletes. Hopefully, it brings more opportunity, more support, more people to be open to the fact that we are not dummies. Where do you go from here? I’m going on. Anyone can win. I want to win. Anyone can win on the day, depending on the ocean. But I want to win. I want to make this a career. I want to give something to the sport that it doesn’t really have at the moment. Hopefully teach some younger guys and progress. Pulling into big barrels has raised the level so much. I’m excited. It’s making me hungry and I like the challenge.
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San Mateo County Harbor District: Serving San Mateo County for 80 years! Best of luck to the contestants ...
BE SAFE OUT THERE
Mavericks Invitational Marine Branch Team
Enjoy your ocean and bay at these facilities. Pillar Point Harbor 650.726.4382 One Johnson Pier Half Moon Bay, CA 94019 www.smharbor.com/pillarpoint
Oyster Point Marina/Park 650.952.0808 95 Harbormaster Road South San Francisco, CA 94080 www.smharbor.com/oysterpoint
Top Left: Zach Wormhoudt of Santa Cruz drops in as safety and photography crew observe. Photo by Brian Overfelt. Top right: Mavericks surfers and their guests gather for a prayer circle after opening ceremonies at Pillar Point Photo by Charles Russo. Bottom left: Surfers line up and face the famous break during the 2012/2013 opening ceremonies. Photo by Charles Russo. Bottom Right: Wyatt Fields takes off amongst a flurry of other surfers. Photo by Brian Overfelt.
Perennial big wave surfer, Carlos Burle of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil says being a paid surfer means a constant professionalism, being ready to go at a moment's notice and unfortunately missing Christmas with family sometimes.Â
At home in the glamorous beach breaks of Rio de Janeiro, Burle keeps a constant eye on swell charts for his favorite big wave spot: Mavericks, where he has had some of his best performances surfing big waves since he first came out in the winter of 1999. What was your first experience like?
experience the wave, you've got to take off from the bowl!
Amazing. I'll never forget that day. We had a very clean day with no wind and 20 footers on the set. I had so much adrenaline in my body from the anxiety related from all the stuff that was out on the news about the swell. Good times!
What kind of training do you do to get into shape for Mavericks? What does it take to surf Mavericks?
What made you want to charge big, possibly fatal waves?
Definitely you have to be able to charge big waves in cold weather. Apart from that, I like to do cardio and keep myself busy surfing big waves around the world.
I like to feel intensely alive! I guess when you get close to death you end up enjoying life more.
How does Mavericks stack up against other waves around the world?
What has is been like to be part of the Mavericks family, coming here year after year?
For me Mavs is the most perfect big wave spot. It can handle any size with a smooth shape.
A gift. Something very special that definitely can't be bought on the shelf. I love the people, the place and the atmosphere.
The contest is all about the 24-hour notice, how do you manage to travel on last minute notice?
How have things changed since you first started surfing Mavericks?
Logistics and map reading. You've got to be ready all the time. Also, I've been working with Jeff Clark and I have a couple of boards that I leave in Half Moon Bay. That helps a lot.
I've become more respected by the surfing community all over the world and became more comfortable on surfing big waves all over. Mavericks has helped me a lot in terms of opening new doors. What is the difference from riding the shoulder to taking off in the bowl? Mavericks it's so perfect they allow the riders to surf it from the peak to the shoulder. Of course, in certain conditions, you cannot do it. And if you try, you have to be willing to pay the price. If you want to really
It is considered by some that you set new judging criteria from your bold and risky 2010 Mavericks contest performance, can you tell me a little about that? I'm happy to hear that. That season the top guys were intensely talking about paddling in any size of swell. That day, in terms of size and perfection, was what we were waiting for to give it a try. I'm always happy to help my community to improve the limits. I did what I was ready to do. I've heard rumors that you are looking at retirement, what does that mean exactly? Will you stop surfing big waves? How is that possible? There's one side of big wave surfing that I think is the worst part. When your life is focused on surfing the biggest swells around the world and also you're committed to a big wave tour, it's like thereâ€™s no open space on your agenda. No birthdays parties, Christmas with family. I don't like that feeling. I don't want to stop surfing big waves right away. I'll just move on with another pattern. I'll surf some special events and do some special projects. That feeling for me is very close to retirement.
Being a professional, paid surfer seems like you're living the dream, what is that like and how did you get to where you are?
Are you content with your accomplishments? Did you set goals that have been achieved?
Well, it's a very good life for sure. But to be able to do it well, you've got to be super professional. There's no space for excuses. You have to be ready when Mother Nature makes the call and be ready to give back to your sponsors more than they're expecting.
Yes. I've accomplished much more that I've ever expected. When I was out of the Mavericks main event list (2008), I wanted to get back so badly. That was one example of a very important goal that I've accomplished.
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Ion Banner at Mavericks Photo by Brian Overfelt
To san francisco airport
updated details and info about the contest found at mavericksinvitational.com
> + + to half moon bay
festival oceano hotel
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air force base
pillar point harbor
This Area Closed
Mavericks The wave breaks way out here
how do i see it? Parking Pass Parking is available at the Half Moon Bay airport for $15. Proceeds benefit the Boys & Girls Club of the Coastside.
When is the contest? That depends on Mother Nature and some years there is no contest at all because the right waves never materialize. Contest organizers monitor the weather closely and will give contestants and the rest of us 24 to 48 hours notice when the right swell is approaching. Organizers expect to begin the first heat at 8 a.m. on the contest day. Follow the Review on Twitter, @hmbreview, for the latest. Also keep an eye on hmbreview.com and mavericksinvitational.com.
Public transportation is limited on the coast. There is some bus service and you can find schedules at samtrans.com. If you are close enough to bike along Highway 1 or the Coastal Trail, that may be your best option. Paid parking will be available for $15 a car at the Half Moon Bay Airport and the entrance to the lot is off of Capistrano Road. Proceeds benefit the Boys & Girls Club of the Coastside. Beyond that, your options are extremely limited. The San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office plans to ban parking on Highway 1 in the vicinity of the harbor and spectators will not be able to park in Princeton. In fact, some streets in the area will be closed. We’re told to expect law enforcement to monitor parking in El Granada and access may be limited to residents.
What if I’ve paid and there is no contest? Tickets are non-refundable. If there is no contest, your ticket will grant you access to a festival to be held at the end of the contest window. Again, visit mavericksinvitational.com for more details.
Review File Photo
There are some blackout dates that the event can't be held due to logistic problems with the authorities. They are 21-26 Dec 2012, 28 Dec 2012-1 Jan 2013, 22 Jan-1 Feb 2012, 10-13 Feb 2013, 27-28 Feb 2013, 16-18 Mar 2013, and 27-29 Mar 2013. All other dates are fair game. So be ready!
Where do i park?
In years past, spectators crowded the bluffs overlooking Mavericks for a glimpse of the action a half-mile to the west. That has never worked well. The bluffs are environmentally sensitive and some spectators have been injured by unexpected waves and rocks falling from the bluffs. This year organizers are adamant that the bluffs and beaches will be closed to spectators. Instead, tickets will be available for the Mavericks Invitational Festival. They plan a live stream of the contest, music, food vendors and more on the grounds of the Oceano Hotel and Spa in Princeton. The cost is $10 in advance or $20 on the day of the contest. Prices go up from there for VIP treatment. See mavericksinvitational.com to order tickets.
Expand your universe Northern Lights Blue Planet
Wave Black Hole
Cool Pool Phantom of the Sea
Glass art paperweights reflecting elements of our solar system.
524 Main Street, Half Moon Bay • (650)712-8457 • Open Daily 10-6
Good Luck to all of this year’s Mavericks competitors!