The most dangerous surfing conditions of the year are also the most beloved surfing conditions of the year for the world’s most elite surfers, who’ve descended on Half Moon Bay for the legendary, unscheduled Mavericks surfing festivities.
We noted earlier this morning that high surf and flood warnings are in effect today for pretty much the entire Bay Area coast. The Chronicle points out that massively dangerous waves are making the ocean incredibly dangerous and deadly to go into, or even near. “We really want to hammer home that beaches will be very dangerous,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Nicole Sarment told the Chronicle. “People should really not even go.”
But that is music to the ears of surfers who converge from around the world to participate in the Mavericks surfing festival in Half Moon Bay. They started arriving around Christmas, but Thursday is the day they’re expecting the biggest waves, with KGO reporting via the National Weather Service that the waves are expected to be as high as 30 feet. (The Chronicle notes that the notorious break at Mavericks, in these conditions, can see waves of 50 feet or higher.) Mavericks does not have a set calendar date, it can generally happen anytime between November 1-March 31, whenever those tasty waves hit their highest highs — no matter how dangerous the conditions.
TONIGHT: Pro surfers have traveled from all over the world to ride massive & powerful waves at Northern CA's legendary Mavericks. The wave height is forecasted to peak from 6am to 6pm on Thursday. @NWSBayArea predicts waves could reach up to 30 ft.@abc7newsbayarea pic.twitter.com/gsGO9O78GZ— LaurenABC7 (@LaurenABC7) December 28, 2023
"I mean they're deadly waves,” Mavericks Rescue Team member Drake Stanley tells KGO. “A few people have passed away here at Mavericks." Indeed, Stanley has saved surfers’ lives on his jet-ski, not only saving them from the enormous, deadly waves, but also from great white sharks.
Mavericks is no longer a surfing competition. It used to be, once known as Titans of Mavericks and at one point sponsored by Red Bull. But Titans of Mavericks went bankrupt in 2017, and canceled the competition that year. So now it is simply an informal event, but the top big-wave surfers from around the world still descend on Half Moon Bay for what are considered some of the best and most challenging surfing conditions on earth.
"We spend our lives to be here for these moments, and all the training and the work and the practice and the backup safety networks that we create are all for these moments,” Stanley said to KGO. “And it's amazing when we get to experience that."
If you want to watch the Mavericks surfers, you’re free to head to Half Moon Bay and do so, but you’d better take some binoculars. Regular civilians are not allowed too close to the beach because of the dangerous conditions — and the break actually occurs quite a distance offshore, requiring jet skis to get to it. But if you want to scope out a spot to watch, it’s actually a little north of Half Moon Bay near Pillar Point Harbor in a village called Princeton-by-the-Sea. (If you need a landmark, look for the Half Moon Bay Brewing Company.)
Image: HALF MOON BAY, CA - JANUARY 24: Tyler Fox rides a wave during the second heat of round one of Mavericks Invitational on January 24, 2014 in Half Moon Bay, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)