bethmavericks.jpgPreviously: Beach At Mavericks Closed After Waves Injure Spectators



My friend Katherine has never had any interest in surfing but she “likes beaches.” So she decided we’d go to Maverick’s Surf Competition and all hell broke loose. Here’s what happened:

We left from Kat’s house at 6am. Yes. 6am. Katherine was convinced traffic and parking would be appalling, so we were up and on the road early, arriving in Half Moon Bay by 6:30. We parked in one of the lots that was charging $15, which was fine with us and took a big yellow school bus closer into town. From there, we followed the others up at this ungodly hour about half a mile towards the beach.

At one point on the way to Mavericks, you can either go up the hill and watch from the cliff or follow a side path to the beach.

You’ll remember that Katherine likes beaches. So we took the side path and followed it all the way around the lagoon until we got to the staging area. They’d set up t-shirt tents and food booth and there was a big two-story platform set up, which looked like a really big lifeguard tower everyone called “the jetty.” From there, someone sounding like Spicoli would make occasional announcements.

We walked out onto the beach laden with beach crap and it’s important to note that this beach isn’t a huge, loungy, beach volleyball kind of beach. It’s rugged, with a huge cliff wall on one side and not very long. The waves, which seemed normal not that I could see them before THE SUN ROSE, left about 20 feet of sittin’ sand between the water and the base of the cliff.

We were smack dab in the middle of the beach when we decided to put the blanket down.

The family next to us had a fancy camera set up which crashed into the water and their stroller (with a baby in it because babies love surfing) tipped in the water. People had set up there own little sections as we had, with children in strollers and complex cameras on tripods, but there weren’t THAT many people there. Everyone was hanging out, eating breakfast, drinking coffee or beer. Occasionally a wave would come really close and the crowd would go, “Oohhhhh!”

Above us, on top of the cliff were hundreds of people with more fancy cameras all poised out over the ocean to where the big waves and thus, surfing would go on. Volunteers kept coming by in Mavericks t-shirts telling us to be careful because someone hundreds of feet above us could shift a rock and then we’d die. Or something like that.

The sun rises. We drink coffee. I take dorky photos with the phone.

It’s clear the tide is coming in, fast, but only little hamlets of folks are affected each time. And since we were just watching other people get wet, it didn’t seem like a big deal. We’d overheard people say that high tide would be at 9:30, which didn’t bode well, and Kat and I wondered what to do.

With that, out little hamlet is hit. We leapt to our feet, grabbed our bags and held them in that air, our bodies pressed against the cliff as water covered us to our knees. The family next to us had a fancy camera set up which crashed into the water and their stroller (with a baby in it because babies love surfing) tipped in the water. The wave sucked back out and we stood there soaked and helping the family get all of their stuff back. The baby was fine. The whole thing lasted seconds.

We’d made a friend in a woman named Darlene and then three of us walked back to the mouth of the beach where the jetty/announcer’s booth was. We walked under the jetty and stood on a huge piece of concrete which separated the ocean from the Lagoon. Standing there with about 20 other people and looking down towards the beach as more and more people got soaked, Kat and I tried to come up with another plan.

Climbing up the hill seemed like a lot of dangerous work and our snazzy sneakers were soaked. But if high tide was at 9:30, the beach would only get worse. And the piece of concrete we stood on was up high, with rocks and crashing waves in front of us and rocks and food booths behind us. It wasn’t a good place to set up camp.

All of a sudden, this man comes up behind us and screams, “You guys might want to move. Waves are going to come through here and…”

CRASH!

I could see it was going to hit us. The waves weren’t stories high or anything. But every 10 minutes or so, a big one would knock a few folks over and I was about to be one of them. Some people ran.

No me.

It was only going to hit my legs, so I steadied myself. I looked like an old lady, holding my purse in the air and waving for balance. And I was up on this elevated, sidewalk-sized piece of concrete, so if I fell, I’d hit rocks on either side. The water, which didn’t feel that powerful, came up to my waist.

It sucked back out again and I made my way back under the jetty, off of the beach and down to where all of the booths were, some of which were now wet.

Some folks had definitely fallen down, and seemed soaked but fine. Frustrated, Katherine and I walked across the little village of food and clothing vendors and stood in front of a jumbotron that had been set up so you could watch the contest while you bought a hot dog. An old, bearded man with pukka shell necklaces sat on a pile of iceplant with his dog talking to a fisherman.

“Should we sit here for awhile?” I asked, desperate to take my shoes off.

Katherine, suddenly an environmentalist, was concerned for the iceplant. None the less we sat as the fisherman asked pukka shell his name.

“They call me Nomad.”

The patch of iceplant started to fill with folks. Everyone from the beach was retreating to the Jumbotron/iceplant area. But it was still really early and spectators were arriving in droves. Every once in awhile, the Jumbrotron would flash an image of people standing on the concrete under the jetty getting wiped out and the iceplant people would “Oooohhhhhh!!!”

Some chick screamed out, “Been there, done that!”

I was starting to hate these people.

And every 10 minutes or so, some poor injured person would pass in front of the Jumbotron/iceplant area on a golf cart with a bunch of paramedics and rangers screaming, “Make way! Move!”

I saw a guy with a gash on top of his nose giving interviews to the press and a woman with her foot shooting blood. And for each one of them, there were 20 or so just sopping from head to toe.

That went on for about 2 more hours, amid rumors of the beach closing and word that no one was allowed down to where we were.

Never having cared about Mavericks nearly this much in the first place, Katherine and I gave up, put our dripping shoes back on and hiked out of there.

Traffic was backed up all the way to Pacifica.

I am now home in San Francisco, my clothes are in the dryer, my hair is wrapped in a towel and my beloved friend and editor, Eve can rest in knowing I’m not fish food.

And how was your morning?

Photo: Beth Spotswood

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  • sfmike

    Not half as interesting as yours. How great that you were there for The Infamous Mavericks Rogue Wave. And way to keep your cool, not to mention getting the hell out of there in time.

  • sfmike

    Not half as interesting as yours. How great that you were there for The Infamous Mavericks Rogue Wave. And way to keep your cool, not to mention getting the hell out of there in time.

  • cv

    I actually surf (I’m a complete barney — I surf Linda Mar on smaller days) so I am *well* aware of the danger at Maverick’s, even on the beach. I have been there on big, non-contest days, and you cannot turn your back to the water.

    It’s not really worth going to see the contest. The traffic and crowds alone are enough to make it a dealbreaker for me. Plus, you really can’t see much, unless you have some really powerful binoculars.

    In any case, there are plenty of other days where there are no crowds and equally gigantic waves with world-class surfers.

    The National Weather Service issued a high-surf advisory, effective until 8am tomorrow (Sunday). This is serious stuff.

    I enjoyed watching the contest from the comfort of my living room: better vantage point. I watched the mayhem unfold this morning on the live streaming video from Ustream.

    At least you didn’t break any bones or lose your phone.

  • cv

    I actually surf (I’m a complete barney — I surf Linda Mar on smaller days) so I am *well* aware of the danger at Maverick’s, even on the beach. I have been there on big, non-contest days, and you cannot turn your back to the water.

    It’s not really worth going to see the contest. The traffic and crowds alone are enough to make it a dealbreaker for me. Plus, you really can’t see much, unless you have some really powerful binoculars.

    In any case, there are plenty of other days where there are no crowds and equally gigantic waves with world-class surfers.

    The National Weather Service issued a high-surf advisory, effective until 8am tomorrow (Sunday). This is serious stuff.

    I enjoyed watching the contest from the comfort of my living room: better vantage point. I watched the mayhem unfold this morning on the live streaming video from Ustream.

    At least you didn’t break any bones or lose your phone.

  • Nina

    Like, totally tubular!

  • Nina

    Like, totally tubular!

  • Erik

    It wasn’t a rogue wave it was a perfectly predictable high tide with a high surf warning that the NWS announced on Friday.

  • Erik

    It wasn’t a rogue wave it was a perfectly predictable high tide with a high surf warning that the NWS announced on Friday.

  • cv

    OMG, the winter ocean behaving like the winter ocean!

    Spot on, Erik.

  • cv

    OMG, the winter ocean behaving like the winter ocean!

    Spot on, Erik.

  • Richmondsfblog

    So glad you’re ok!

  • Richmondsfblog

    So glad you’re ok!

  • Da Truff

    Going to a crowded beach in the middle of winter to “see” a surfing contest that can’t be seen from that beach is my definition of stupidity. Washing these people out to sea would have increased our state’s average IQ dramatically…

  • Da Truff

    Going to a crowded beach in the middle of winter to “see” a surfing contest that can’t be seen from that beach is my definition of stupidity. Washing these people out to sea would have increased our state’s average IQ dramatically…

  • KG

    I don’t believe those organizing the event thought the tide would have come in just as far as it did. About 9am, when the waves started coming really high, a wave took out the awards stage area, part of a food stand, and the announcers audio equipment. I don’t think any of those things would have been placed there, if they thought a wave would come and flood them.

  • KG

    I don’t believe those organizing the event thought the tide would have come in just as far as it did. About 9am, when the waves started coming really high, a wave took out the awards stage area, part of a food stand, and the announcers audio equipment. I don’t think any of those things would have been placed there, if they thought a wave would come and flood them.

  • cv

    “I don’t believe those organizing the event thought the tide would have come in just as far as it did.”

    This is why Jeff Clark should be running this event.

    If you know this break, you’d know that a 5.8 ft. high tide + NWS High Surf Advisory + new moon = big shore pound. The guy that runs the Mavericks surf contest is an East Coast lawyer who doesn’t even surf. Yes, the waves don’t always do that, but sometimes they do. Anyone who regularly walks along this beach has seen it like yesterday. Some of us have seen it far worse.

    If you are going to safely enjoy the coastline, you really must have a tide table handy. Before I got an iPod touch, I used to keep a tide table in the glove compartment of my car.

    The contest organizers were fools. The spectators who got caught in the shore pound were fools. Mother Nature was just doing her thing; this was not extraordinary behavior.

  • cv

    “I don’t believe those organizing the event thought the tide would have come in just as far as it did.”

    This is why Jeff Clark should be running this event.

    If you know this break, you’d know that a 5.8 ft. high tide + NWS High Surf Advisory + new moon = big shore pound. The guy that runs the Mavericks surf contest is an East Coast lawyer who doesn’t even surf. Yes, the waves don’t always do that, but sometimes they do. Anyone who regularly walks along this beach has seen it like yesterday. Some of us have seen it far worse.

    If you are going to safely enjoy the coastline, you really must have a tide table handy. Before I got an iPod touch, I used to keep a tide table in the glove compartment of my car.

    The contest organizers were fools. The spectators who got caught in the shore pound were fools. Mother Nature was just doing her thing; this was not extraordinary behavior.