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Mavericks officially kicks off
November 10, 2012, 05:00 AM By Samantha Weigel Daily Journal correspondent

Samantha Weigel /Daily Journal With the opening of the window for the big-wave surf contest at Mavericks near Half Moon Bay Friday, the surfing competitors marked the start of the season with an opening ceremony.

Samantha Weigel /Daily Journal With the opening of the window for the big-wave surf contest at Mavericks near Half Moon Bay Friday, the surfing competitors marked the start of the season with an opening ceremony.

As Friday’s midday sun began to set off the coast of Half Moon Bay, this year’s Mavericks Invitational surfers, family, supporters and locals gathered for the opening ceremony marking the start of the waiting period for this year’s competition.

The contest relies on big and consistent 30- to 50-foot waves that must occur between now and March 31.

As the crowd grew along the beach and on the cliffs, several of this year’s competitors arrived and began to line up their surfboards.

Some of the invitees included Santa Cruz’s Shane Desmond, San Clemente’s Greg Long, Australia’s Ben Wilkinson and South Africa’s Chris Bertish. As they chatted amongst themselves, comparing new boards and telling tales of their summer surf, Mavericks pioneer Jeff Clark showed up in a wetsuit and with his surfboard in tow.

The competitors, family members and locals lined up against their 9-foot boards standing straight in the sand to commence the ceremony. Clark introduced each surfer as his children began to pass out tea leaves, a tradition he learned from Hawaiian surf ceremonies.

Clark gave tribute to the men who dare to brave Mavericks; informing the public, and indirectly reminding the surfers, that each person goes out there with the knowledge that if anything were to go wrong, they must do all that is in their power to keep their fellow men safe, "to keep this family together,” Clark said.

As they stood and bowed their heads, Clark led the group in a prayer.

"We’re asking our father in heaven to watch over us as we put it all on the line. Watch over us and our families,” Clark said.

The men gave thanks and commemorated their fellow surfers who have passed at the hands of the daunting waves. But they also prayed for the elements to align and provide a competition. They prayed to Mavericks, Clark said.

Grant Washburn, 44, resides in San Francisco and has battled the winter swells at Mavericks for 20 years. As the oldest competitor, he has competed in every Mavericks competition stemming from its beginning in 1998. He knows that even with his legacy of experience, Mavericks can expose a professional at will.

"This is a place that is very challenging; the best in the world can sometimes fall to it. So we all know that; and guys are not silly and crazy daredevils, but very calculated. It’s easy to get excited, cause you’re having fun out there, and let your guard down. But we have to always keep in mind that even on a small day, this place could kill you,” Washburn said.

Santa Cruz’s Peter Mel, 43, was crowned the champion of the international Big Wave World Tour in the 2011-12 season. Although Mavericks was added to the list of the tour’s destinations last year, the swells failed to arrive.

Mel’s 20 years of experience and respect for the power that is Mavericks aided him in last year’s competition, but he’ll never overlook the dangers of big wave surfing.

"We’ve lost a lot of close guys out here. I hope for a safe event,” Mel said.

 The son of a surfboard shaper, Mel grew up inundated with surf culture. He can’t imagine doing anything else and jokingly said he doubts he could. But the previous competition, now two years past, held waves to which he aspires.

"We had perfect glassy waves at the last competition. I’m hoping for more clean big waves and a safe event,” Mel said.

Mel and Washburn, along with the other competitors, hope this year will afford an event. Washburn is encouraged by the beginning of this year’s season.

"We had one swell early in the year so everyone’s getting excited. So now you got to hold your breath and wait,” Washburn said.

The ceremony progressed as they burst into the 53 degree water and paddled out a few hundred yards from shore. A few dozen competitors and locals sat atop their boards and gathered to hold hands.

"We make a circle out there and pray for waves,” Washburn said.

 At the ceremony’s closing, the competitors retreated to land, meeting at the Yacht Club where names were drawn to determine heats and competition order; assuming there is a competition. So for now, all they can do is pray for waves.

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