This year’s contest saw a sleeping giant reawakened
After a long two-year hiatus Maverick’s finally unloaded, delivering ego- and bone-crushing surf renowned for registering on the Richter scale.
In deceptively clean, sunny and photogenic conditions the watershed big wave contest was nearly more than the 24 invitees could wrestle with their bare hands. Even spectators found themselves unwittingly in the crosshairs of a mean west swell that peaked at 22-foot and 17-seconds, cruelly right in sync with a 9:20 a.m. high tide. Surfers met the 50- to 60-foot faces head-on, with respected alternates such as Rusty Long, Mark Healy and expert waterman Shane Dorian freefalling into a few gaping bombs even before the contest began.
Half-way into Heat 2 the dirty little secret that you can’t really see much from the beach became wickedly apparent, especially when obscured by early fog and a massive swell. As Peter Mel, Shane Desmond, Zach Wormhoudt, Nathan Fletcher, Matt Ambrose and Anthony Tashnick flirted with the bowl and made the plunge into waves that had previously only been in the realm of PWC assisted tow-in surfing, the mob of rabid surf fans surged onto the beach, cliffs and jetty rocks to catch a glimpse. The old axiom that “you have to watch what you wish for” was validated as spectators were swept from their fragile perches by several surges into a funnel between the rocks and the cliff, and then on into the Princeton Harbor. Fifteen were injured on that fateful day of Feb. 13. None of them were surfers.
Spectators had been lulled into complacency by the proximity of the contest apparatus (grandstand, contestant staging area, etc.) to the water, despite barricades put in place and strategically placed signs warning to stay off the rocks and exercise extreme caution. Maverick’s had other plans, however, washing aside fans, stages, equipment and incurable human curiosity in several rare mini-tsunamis. Waves that had been ridden by the best watermen in the world only minutes before flooded the area, broke bones, bruised civilians and restored the balance of man versus nature.
The carnage was well-documented, given the massive media presence. The commentator tower tilted toward the ocean, awkward witness to the surreal scene as some fans even trickled back into the flood zone. Veteran Randy Cone wryly noted from the scaffolding that “maybe it’s time to put on my wetsuit … seems safer in the line-up.” The anchormen lost video feed of the event at one stage, which shorted out in the flood. Cone improvised by using binoculars to spy the Jumbotron as they headed toward the ocean, determined to “go down with the ship.” Not to diminish the unfortunate accidents on land, contest co-director Katherine Clark observed in frustration, “If you go to the beach, you’re going to get wet. The spectator ordeal just way overshadowed the performance of those men … they are heroes!”
Indeed, for every wave successfully ridden to the channel that day, several were passed up and others swatted surfers into the pit with indifference to youth or experience. Tales of hitting bottom, two-wave hold-downs, washing through the rocks were all-too-common. Just ask water patrol Captain Vince Broglio who, along with the rescue team organized by Shawn Aladio, snatched several dazed surfers just before perilous trips into the lagoon.
Santa Cruz was well-represented in the finals by Shane Desmond (second), Anthony “Tazzy” Tashnick (third) and Kenny “Skindog” Collins (sixth), who were joined by international chargers Dave Wassel (fourth) from Hawaii, Brazil’s Carlos Burle (fifth) and eventual winner Chris Bertish from South Africa. The final became a titanic battle of wills and stamina between regular-footer Bertish and backsider Desmond, both of whom owned the last stage. Burle hucked himself over the ledge four times, only once successfully completing his ride. Tazzy, Collins and Wassell appeared to run out of gas (or came to their senses after a couple long hold-downs), posting mid-range scores after superhuman efforts to make it into the final.
The “Gnarliest Drop” award went to Tazzy, while the Jay Moriarity award went to Wassel for the surfer who “best exemplified Jay’s spirit and passion.” Former champion Grant “Twiggy” Baker failed to advance without a second backup wave to the only perfect 10-point ride of the event—an impossibly gargantuan roll in to an assured close-out before popping out from the foam into the channel in disbelief. His buddy and champ Greg Long hit bottom on his first wave in Heat 3 and never quite recovered.
Each and every heat at this year’s contest could well have been a final, with heroic rides and brutal wipeouts in abundance. Some of the most hideous spills were taken by Ion Banner, Twiggy, Burle, Tim West, Ben Andrews and Shawn Rhodes, while those who played a more cautious game under the extreme circumstances deserved just as much respect as those who displayed more bravado.
In the end, though, Maverick’s was the real winner.
Photo 1: "Shane Dorian exiting barrel of pre-event bomb." Credit: Brian Overfelt
Photo 2: "Tim West draws out long backside turn." Credit: Seth Migdail
Photo 3: "'Gnarliest Drop' award winner Tazzy." Credit: Brian Overfelt
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