Mavericks, California

For the Apple Macintosh operating system, see OS X Mavericks.
For other uses, see Maverick.
Mavericks is off the coast of Pillar Point (pictured).

Mavericks is a surfing location in northern California about 2 miles (3 km) from shore outside Pillar Point Harbor, just north of the town of Half Moon Bay at the village of Princeton-by-the-Sea. After a strong winter storm in the northern Pacific Ocean, waves can routinely crest at over 25 feet (8 m) and top out at over 60 feet (18 m). Routinely, waves that break can be recorded on the Richter Scale. The break is caused by an unusually shaped underwater rock formation.

Mavericks is a winter destination for some of the world's best big wave surfers. Very few riders become big wave surfers, and of those, only a select few are willing to risk the hazardous, sometimes deadly, conditions at Mavericks. An invitation-only contest is held there most winters, when the waves come.

Origin of the name

2010 competition

In early March 1967, Alex Matienzo, Jim Thompson, and Dick Knottmeyer surfed the distant waves of Pillar Point. With them was Matienzo's roommate's white-haired German Shepherd, Maverick, who was accustomed to swimming with his owner and Matienzo while they were surfing. The three surfers left Maverick on shore, but he swam out to them. Finding the conditions unsafe for the dog, Matienzo tied him up before rejoining the others. The riders had limited success that day as they surfed overhead peaks about 1/4 mile from shore, just along the rocks that are visible from shore; they deemed the bigger outside waves too dangerous. The surfers named the location after Maverick, who seemed to have gotten the most pleasure from the experience.[1]


A long ramp slopes up toward the surface at Mavericks

Sea floor

Sea-floor maps released by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in 2007[2] revealed the mechanisms behind Mavericks' waves. A long, sloping ramp leads to the surface. The ramp slows the propagation of the wave over it. The wave over the deep troughs on each side of the ramp continues at full speed forming two angles in the wavefront centered over the boundaries between the ramp and the troughs. The result of this is a U-shaped or V-shaped wavefront on the ramp that contains the wave energy from the full width of the ramp. This U-shaped or V-shaped wave then collapses into a small area at the top center of the ramp with tremendous force.[3]

Left Hander

The left at Mavericks is rarely ridden, as the wave tends to be unreliable. It can be a much faster ride than the right, shooting riders down a quicker pipe barrel. Surfline says the left is "a short-lived explosion of hell and spitfire."[4]


Jeff Clark grew up in Half Moon Bay, watching Mavericks from Half Moon Bay High School and Pillar Point. At that time the location was thought too dangerous to surf. He conceived the possibility of riding Hawaii-sized waves in Northern California. In 1975 at age 17 and with the waves topping out at 20–24 feet (6–7 m), Clark paddled out alone to face the break. He caught multiple left-breaking waves, thereby becoming the first documented person to tackle Mavericks head-on.

Effect of bathymetry on Mavericks' waves

Other than a few of Clark's friends who had paddled out and saw Mavericks themselves, no big wave surfers believed in its existence. Popular opinion held that there simply were no large waves in California.[5]

Dave Schmidt (brother of big wave legend Richard Schmidt) and Tom Powers, both from Santa Cruz, were two of the next people to surf at Mavericks, surfing with Clark on January 22, 1990. John Raymond, from Pacifica, Johathan Galili, from Tel Aviv, Israel, and Mark Renneker, from San Francisco, surfed Mavericks a few days later.


NorCal surfer Peter Mel at Mavericks

In 1990, a photo of Mavericks taken by Clark's friend Steve Tadin was published in Surfer magazine. This triggered interest in Mavericks. More photos of Mavericks appeared in surfing magazines, and before long, filmmaker Gary Medeiros released a movie, Waves of Adventure in the Red Triangle. As news of Mavericks spread, many big-wave surfers came and surfed there.

Death of Mark Foo

On December 23, 1994, during a week of huge swells, notable Hawaiian big-wave riders Mark Foo, Ken Bradshaw, Brock Little, Mike Parsons, and Evan Slater visited Mavericks. In the late morning, Foo rode on a late takeoff into an 18-foot (5 m) wave, caught the edge of his surfboard on the surface, and fell forward into a wipe out near the bottom of the wave. A few hours later, a fellow surfer traveling back to shore on a boat noticed a body in the water, which was identified as Foo. The only visible injury was a small cut on the forehead. Many surfers believe that the fall knocked the wind out of Foo and he was tied down by his leash to a rock formation.

News of Foo's death traveled quickly to the far reaches of the surfing community. The accident afforded Mavericks greater notoriety and prompted the formation of the Mavericks Water Patrol by Frank Quirarte and Clark.[5] The accident also triggered a continuing discourse around the safe use of surfboard leashes while surfing extreme waves. Many believed that Foo's surfboard leash may have contributed to his death.[6] Leash proponents defend it as a useful convenience and as insurance against losing the surfboard, a form of flotation device, a means for a fallen surfer to find the surface by following the leash cord to the buoyant board. Opponents argue that a leash can cause the rider to collide with his board in a wipe out and that the leash can also loop around the surfer's arms, legs or the neck when underwater. Quick-release velcro leashes have since become standard surfing equipment to address some of these risks.[5]

Death of Sion Milosky

Sion Milosky, an accomplished big-wave surfer, died at Mavericks on March 16, 2011. Milosky, 35, of Kalaheo, Kauai, Hawaii, apparently drowned after enduring a two-wave hold down around 6:30 PM. Twenty minutes after the incident, Nathan Fletcher found Milosky's body floating at the Pillar Point Harbor mouth.

Milosky had been named the North Shore Underground Surfer of the Year in February 2011. He used some of his $25,000 prize[7] to travel to Half Moon Bay to catch one of the last big swells of the season at Mavericks.

Invitational Surfing Contest

The first surfing contest at Mavericks, now known as Titans of Mavericks,[8] was held in 1999, and has been held nine times through 2014. The organizers invite 24 big wave surfers annually to compete in the one-day event, but it is only held if wave conditions are favorable during the competition season (currently November 1-March 31).

Darryl Virostko ("Flea") won the initial contest in 1999, while Richard Schmidt, Ross Clarke-Jones and Peter Mel took second, third and fourth places, respectively. The following year put Virostko, Kelly Slater, Tony Ray, Peter Mel, Zach Wormhoudt, and Matt Ambrose in first through sixth places. In 2004, Virostko, Ambrose, Evan Slater, Anthony Tashnick, Mel and Grant Washburn placed in spots first through sixth. Tashnick came first in 2005. In 2006, Grant Baker, from South Africa, won first place, with Tyler Smith and Brock Little in second and third. The 2007 contest was called off because unusually mild weather resulted in no days with suitable waves by the end of March, the usual cutoff time for holding the competition. In 2008, Greg Long was crowned Mavericks Champion, Baker won second and Jamie Sterling won third place, followed by Smith in fourth, Washburn in fifth and Evan Slater in sixth. The contest was canceled again in 2009.[9] In 2010 South Africa's Chris Bertish took first place; winning a surfing prize purse of US$150 000, sponsored by Moose Guen, Jane Sunderland and Barracuda Networks.

In the fall of 2010 a group of surfers, community leaders and contest organizers formed the Half Moon Bay Surf Group, Inc., with the aim of controlling the contest. In October, the San Mateo Harbor Commission granted them the permit and official planning of the inaugural “The Jay at Maverick’s Big Wave Invitational" (as it was then called)[10] began.[11] Invited competitors included 11-time ASP World Champion Kelly Slater and 23 others.[12] However, the contest was not held due to lack of waves in 2011 and 2012. The most recent contests were held in 2013 (won by Peter Mel) and 2014 (won by Grant Baker).[8] The newly branded "Titans of Mavericks" contest is now governed by five prestigious Mavericks riders known as the "Committee 5" . The most recent Mavericks Surf contest was held on February 12, 2016.

AT&T Park in San Francisco hosts live broadcasts of the event on its giant (110 foot wide) video display.[13]

In October 2006, the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary proposed banning personal watercraft from Mavericks, which led to disputes within the sport.[14]

Mavericks Contest Results

The following is a list of past Mavericks invitational competitions and winners.

Season(s) Date Held[15] Champion 2nd Place 3rd Place 4th Place 5th Place 6th Place
1998-1999 February 17, 1999 California Darryl Virostko California Richard Schmidt Australia Ross Clarke-Jones California Peter Mel
1999-2000 March 3, 2000 California Darryl Virostko Florida Kelly Slater Australia Tony Ray California Peter Mel California Zach Wormhoudt California Matt Ambrose
2000-2003 No contest held
2003-2004 February 7, 2004 California Darryl Virostko California Matt Ambrose California Evan Slater California Anthony Tashnick California Peter Mel California Grant Washburn
2004-2005 March 2, 2005 California Anthony Tashnick California Greg Long California Tyler Smith California Zach Wormhoudt California Shane Desmond California Matt Ambrose
2005-2006 February 8, 2006 South Africa Grant Baker California Tyler Smith Hawaii Brock Little California Matt Ambrose California Grant Washburn California Evan Slater
2006-2007 No contest held
2007-2008 January 12, 2008 California Greg Long South Africa Grant Baker Hawaii Jamie Sterling California Tyler Smith California Grant Washburn California Evan Slater
2008-2009 No contest held
2009-2010 February 13, 2010 South Africa Chris Bertish California Shane Desmond California Anthony Tashnick Hawaii Dave Wessel Brazil Carlos Brule California Kenny Collins
2010-2012 No contest held
2012-2013 January 20, 2013 California Peter Mel California Zach Wormhoudt California Greg Long Brazil Alex Martins Hawaii Mark Healey California Shawn Dollar
2013-2014 January 24, 2014 South Africa Grant Baker Hawaii Shane Dorian California Ryan Augenstein California Tyler Fox California Greg Long California Anthony Tashnick
2014-2015 No contest held
2015-2016 February 12, 2016 California Nic Lamb California Travis Payne California Greg Long California Tyler Fox Australia Jaime Mitchell Brazil Carlos Brule


The first videos were shot by Eric W. Nelson in February 1990, catching Clark, Schmidt and Powers. Eric was shooting for his community access television show "Powerlines Surf-Spots". This was the origin of the Powerlines Productions company that showcases big wave surfing around the world.

Nelson's first film was High Noon at Low Tide 1994/1995. In 1998 he produced another big wave documentary Twenty Feet Under. Local filmmaker Curt Myers, produced Shifting Peaks and Heavy Water 1994/1995.

On December 11, 1998, they combined their efforts and produced the mini documentary twelveleven.

Clark and Mavericks are featured in the 1998 documentary Mavericks, a one-hour PBS film that chronicles the early years, and the 2004 film Riding Giants, which documents the history of big wave surfing. Directed by skateboarder turned documentary producer Stacy Peralta (best known for the skating documentary Dogtown and Z-Boys), Riding Giants includes interviews and commentary materials with many of the surfers mentioned in this article.

In the film Zoolander, Owen Wilson's character's entourage includes a big wave surfer from Mavericks.

The surfing documentary film Discovering Mavericks, executive produced by Jeff Clark and directed by Joshua Pomer, features surfers like Jeff Clark, Peter Mel, Flea, Shane Dorian, Nick Lamb, Zack Wormhout, Brock Little and Mike Parsons, and also honors Mark Foo and Jay Moriarty.

Chasing Mavericks, a 2012 biopic about Mavericks surfer Jay Moriarity, starred Gerard Butler as Frosty Hesson, Abigail Spencer as Brenda Hesson, Frosty's wife. Jonny Weston as Jay Moriarity, Elisabeth Shue as Christy Moriarity and Leven Rambin as Kim Moriarity. Maya Rains plays Roque Hesson, while Patrick and Asher Tesler (twins) portray Lake, son of Frosty and Brenda. Moriarty's spectacular wipeout in 1994 had landed the 16-year-old surfer in the pages of The New York Times and on the cover of Surfer magazine. On December 19, 2011, film star Butler survived a near-death accident, pounded by 12–16 foot waves. Butler was held underwater for several waves and dragged through rocks until rescued by a safety worker on a jet ski.[16] According to, "Butler was knocked off his board by a freak wave. He was trapped underwater as two more waves went over him, and witnesses say he took the force of four or five waves to the head. He was also dragged through rocks before rescuers managed to reach him and get him to the shore. Butler was conscious when pulled from the water and has spent the next sixteen hours in Stanford Medical Center."[17][18]

A memoir, Making Mavericks by Frosty Hesson with Ian Spiegelman, was released by Zola Books in October 2012. The book recounts Hesson's time as one of the first to conquer the massive break at Mavericks and his mentoring of Moriarity.

On June 10, 2013, at its Worldwide Developers Conference, Apple announced that the latest version of its Mac operating system OS X (version 10.9) would be entitled Mavericks. Apple said their new operating software generations would be named after places in California that have inspired them.[19]


  1. Matt Warshaw, Mavericks: the story of big-wave surfing, 2000, Chronicle Books, ISBN 0-8118-2652-X
  2. "Mavericks maps and flythrough animation". 2007-04-17. Retrieved 2013-01-29.
  3. McKenna, Phil (April 19, 2007). "Map reveals secret of awesome Mavericks waves". Retrieved April 19, 2007.
  4. "Beta Mavericks Travel Guide and Directory". Surfline.Com. Retrieved 2013-01-29.
  5. 1 2 3 "Sony Pictures Classics: ridingGiants". Retrieved October 20, 2011.
  6. "Mark Foo'S Final Moments". Surfline.Com. 2001-02-21. Retrieved 2013-01-29.
  7. Wong, Kristine (March 18, 2011). "Etches in the Sand: Sion Milosky Remembered at Mavericks – Half Moon Bay, CA Patch". Retrieved October 20, 2011.
  8. 1 2 "Titans of Mavericks - History". Retrieved August 23, 2015.
  9. "The 2009 Mavericks Surf Contest is canceled due to lack of waves". October 16, 2011. Retrieved October 20, 2011.
  10. "Barracuda Networks". Retrieved 2013-01-29.
  11. Julia Scott (October 21, 2010). "Newcomer ousts longtime Mavericks surf event promoter". San Jose Mercury News.
  12. Mark Conley (November 5, 2010). "Mavericks surf contest adds Kelly Slater's name back to list". San Jose Mercury News.
  13. "Mavericks Surf". Mavericks Surf. December 3, 2009. Retrieved October 20, 2011.
  14. Ashley Powers (November 25, 2006). "Proposal could have surfers cooling their jets". Los Angeles Times.
  15. "Mavericks Surf Winners".
  16. "Gerard Butler's 'near death' surfing mishap". USA Today. December 20, 2011.
  17. Jennie Kermode (December 20, 2011). "Gerard Butler hospitalised after surfing accident". Eye For Film.
  18. Frank Quirarte (December 19, 2011). "Gerard Butler survives two-wave hold-down at Mavericks". ESPN.
  19. "Apple announces OS X Mavericks". iDownloadBlog. 2013-06-10. Retrieved 2013-06-10.
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Coordinates: 37°29′29″N 122°30′30″W / 37.49149°N 122.508338°W / 37.49149; -122.508338

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