Half Moon Bay, California - The spectators got more than they bargained for when they gathered to watch 24 surfers compete for fame, glory and a $50,000 purse in some of the best surf conditions seen in years. The incoming tide created waves waves
thought to reach 40 to 50 feet in height. Those in the know said the surfing conditions were excellent with the big surf but low wind. Those great conditions also created early morning chaos for spectators after the waves swamped people, resulting in injuries for at least 13. Three suffered broken bones after the waves breached a sea wall. No one was swept
out to sea.
Beth Spotswood, who was on the beach Saturday morning, wrote about her experience.
"... 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 ... left about 20 feet of sittin' sand between the water and the base of the cliff ...
... 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.
... and then [we] ... walked back to the mouth of the beach where the jetty/announcer's booth was ... 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 ... But if high tide was at 9:30, the beach would only get worse. And the piece of concrete we stood on ... 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..."
The blogger noted the wave events occurred repeatedly for a few hours, with a few people suffering more serious injuries with each event, and most people just getting a good soaking. The waves and injuries continued
for approximately 2 hours before contest organizers closed the area of the beach where people were getting injured by the continuing succession of 'rogue' waves. There were an estimated 20,000 people out to watch the surfing contest, many of whom watched from on top of the cliff at Half Moon Bay.
Of course the surfers, who had waited two years for these waves, carried on, and by the end of the day's gruelling competition, which saw all the surfers battered by the big waters, Chris Bertish
of South Africa was the winner. The day ended in disappointment for surfing champion, Greg Long
, who just won an extreme wave
event, the 'Big Eddie' in Hawaii in December. Long won
the Maverick in 2008.
Competitor Ion Banner talked to the San Fransisco Chronicle
about his experience trying to stay in the contest.
"It was crazy, super-big and pretty much the real deal... It was brutal. I free-falled 10 or 12 feet. I never even connected. My board was doing a wheelie. It was one of the 10 worst wipeouts I've ever had."
The Chronicle noted that Banner emerged from the accident with a bloody nose, a bruised right eye and possible concussion.
It was the 7th time the contest has been held since 1999. Not for the faint of heart, the contest usually gets called with only 24 hours notice, depending on Mother Nature to produce the waves required for the event. The Maverick
describes the contest like this:
"Mavericks is a world-renowned big wave break located one-half mile off the coast of Half Moon Bay, California.
Since the early 1990s, when the local spot was introduced to the world, Mavericks has become an epicenter of modern big-wave surfing, attracting elite riders to test its limits (and theirs) each time it rears its awe-inspiring head. With waves cresting as high as 50 feet, ridiculously strong currents, dangerous rocks, perilously shallow reefs, and bone-chilling water temperatures, Mavericks is like no other place on Earth.
Each winter, during a waiting period typically set for sometime between November and March – if and when conditions are perfect, and giant swells roll in from far across the Pacific – The Mavericks Surf Contest® is held. On just 24 hours notice, two dozen of the surfing community’s bravest and most skillful souls assemble to confront the thundering mountain of salt water many consider to be the most dangerous wave Mother Nature has ever concocted."