Why Are Waves So Big At Mavericks?

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Mavericks is a surfing hotspot located in Northern California, just outside of Pillar Point Harbor and north of Half Moon Bay.During the winter months, this challenging surf spot attracts some of the most talented surfers in the United States and has thrown up some monster waves in the past.

The reason why the waves are so big at Mavericks is because Mavericks is prone to be attracting big swells that come out of deep water from the north in winter months which catch the reef at Mavericks and results in 30+ foot waves.

As with any other big wave location, however, Mavericks is not to be taken lightly and it can be incredibly dangerous even for experienced surfers.

What is Mavericks?

Mavericks has a unique rock formation under the surface of the water, and this leads to some crazy surf breaks.

When winter rolls around, it’s not uncommon to see waves in excess of 60 feet at this Northern CA location, and that’s why it has attracted so many big names over the years.

History of Mavericks

Mavericks is said to be named after a surfer’s dog.

The story dates back to 1967, when Alex Matienzo, Dick Notmeyer, and Jim Thompson were surfing the waves of Pillar Point.

Matienzo had taken his dog, Maverick, along for the ride.

The dog seemed to enjoy the water as much as they did and after they left him on the shore, he soon chased after them and followed them out.

Not wanting to expose the German Shepherd to harsh conditions, Matienzo tied him up on the shore.

The group spent the day surfing but ultimately finished disappointed, noting that only Maverick seemed to have enjoyed the occasion.

It’s a cute little story.

It’s also a story about a lovable dog where the dog doesn’t end up dead or injured (yes, we went there, but come on, as soon as you started reading this story you were expecting it as well), and that makes it infinitely better!

A few experienced surfers would visit the location in the decades that followed.

During the 70s and 80s, the general consensus was that there were no big waves in Northern California.

Locals like Jeff Clark began to change the minds of big wave riders when he regaled them with stories of tackling 20 ft+ waves.

Tragedies & Death At Mavericks

Mavericks has claimed the lives of two pro surfers, proving just how dangerous big wave surfing can be.

These stories are cautionary tales for anyone who heads out to these CA shores and proves that even the best aren’t safe.

Mark Foo

On the 23rd of December 1994, the high swells at Mavericks attracted numerous big wave surfers, including Mark Foo.

Foo wiped out on an 18-foot wave, falling face-first into the swell.

His body was later discovered by another surfer and it’s said that he only had a small mark on his face, leading them to speculate that he was knocked out and then became trapped in a rock formation.

His death highlighted some of the potential issues with early surfboard leashes, but the technology has since been adapted to allow for a quick release.

Sion Milosky

In February of 2011, Sion Milosky was named the North Shore Underground Surfer of the Year.

By the middle of March, the huge swells at Mavericks had claimed his life.

The 35-year-old Hawaiian went into a two-wave hold-down in the early evening and his body was discovered shortly thereafter.

Contests and Waves

The first official surf contest to be held at Mavericks was staged back in 1999. Known as the Mavericks Invitational (it would later be known as Titans of Mavericks) the one-day event was contested by many top big wave surfers.

However, it was only staged if the conditions were right, and after a couple of years of disappointments and cancellations, the World Surf League (WSL) eventually called time on Titans.

The biggest wave ever surfed here (officially) came in 2001, when Carlos Burle tackled a monster wave of 68 feet, earning him a place in the record books.

Notable Surfers

The very first champion of the Titans of Mavericks was Darryl Virostko, a Santa Cruz native who won the first three stages of the event.

Peter Mel, Grant Baker, Grant Washburn, Carlos Burle, Evan Slater, and the GOAT himself, Kelly Slater, also placed at Titans.