Saturday, November 25, 2006

Big Wave Surfing at Maverick's May Be at Risk

A proposed ban on jet skis at Maverick's in Northern California is threatening the future of giant wave riding at the Half Moon Bay hot spot. This Los Angeles Times story has the background:

A proposal to protect marine life by banning tow-in surfers who zoom onto mountainous swells at the famous break Maverick's has the international surfing community wondering if California has seen the last of its mega-wave riding.

In a draft management plan released last month, managers at the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, which hugs 276 miles of coast from Marin to Cambria, proposed barring personal watercraft from Maverick's, a spot near Half Moon Bay whose winter 40- to 60-foot waves draw surfers from around the world.

Officials considering the plan to protect gray whales, sea lions and other marine life could opt for a permit process for tow-in surfers at Maverick's. The proposal could also nix tow-in surfing at Ghost Tree near Pebble Beach.A series of public hearings in several Northern California coastal towns set to begin next week has inflamed the intra-surfing spat over tow-in surfing, a relatively new innovation in a sport whose origins stretch back centuries.

Among the Monterey Bay sanctuary's chief allies are surfing purists who grumble that surfers pulled into the waves by jet-propelled watercraft hog their swells and threaten harbor seals that rest near Maverick's, named after a local surfer's dog."

Jet Skis are a form of strip-mining a surf spot," said Mark Renneker, a family practice doctor at UC San Francisco who has surfed Maverick's for more than a decade. "They behave like the Wild Ones, whipping and spraying fumes.... I just find them so appalling and so disruptive to the near-shore environment and the peacefulness that I was out there for."

Beginning in the 1990s, surfers using personal watercraft to reach steep swells revolutionized big-wave riding. Harrowing waves once deemed uncatchable and unridable were suddenly accessible — and the watercraft also allowed for quick rescues after wipeouts."

It's virtually impossible to save a surfer in waves of that size without a Jet Ski," said Bill Sharp, event director for Billabong's big-wave contests. The 2002 award went to a Brazilian surfer for riding a 68-footer at Maverick's.

The safety argument has been brushed aside in the battle for Maverick's, said Don Curry, a spokesman for the Assn. of Professional Towsurfers, because personal watercraft are saddled with "a bad reputation, like a motorcycle in the water. So they're being dealt with in the form of 'Let's just ban them so that there are no conflicts.' "
Check out the whole thing. The suggestion for tow permits sounds like a reasonable solution to the controversy, although I fully understand the concerns of the surfer purists. I was a big wave bodyboarder in high school. I used to go out with some of my buddies in 8-10 foot surf at "The Point" at Newport Beach, a spot known for a quick break and super steep faces, unlike Huntington Beach's more rolling waves.

I first heard about Maverick's when I was in graduate school in Santa Barbara. I picked up a copy of Surfer Magazine, which had the story of the Maverick phenomenon, and especially the drowning of surf pro Mark Foo. (
Foo's last ride is discussed in this article by Jon Krakauer in Outside Magazine).

Be sure to check out Dana Brown's recent surf film classic, "
Step Into Liquid," which covers the Maverick's phenomenon. I first saw it during its theatrical release, at The Lido Theater in Newport Beach, a cool 1950s-era movie house now showing both mainstream and cinema art productions.

No comments: