The beach at Pillar Point was brimming with colorful surfboards and vibrant personalities Monday afternoon at the much-anticipated The Jay at Mavericks Big Wave Invitational opening ceremony. A golf cart whipped around the beach and cameramen toting expensive gear were chasing the perfect shot of the squinty-eyed surfer in a salty wetsuit dappled with early evening light.
Off at the fringes of the hubbub, right at the water’s edge, were about 10 surfers wearing slightly smaller wetsuits and carrying boards unmarked by corporate sponsorship.
“I got a call from Jeff Clark asking to put together a group of surfers,” said Half Moon Bay Surf Club middle school coach and parent Rocky Raynor, looking out over the five girls and four boys who make up part of the 54-member club for middle and high schoolers.
The club has a few surfers it’s grooming to ride Mavericks. These are the strong paddlers and swimmers, the “on the edge” surfers who are learning to handle what Mavericks dishes out, Raynor explained.
“(We) wanted to bring all the kids out there to paddle out and bring spirit and energy,” said Clark, adding that the kids look up to the big-wave contestants as heroes.
“To have (the kids) out there in the circle, they get to be with (the invitees) and realize they are people too.”
Clark and past contest winners opened the ceremony, mentioning how happy the local surfing community was that the contest was “back with us.” Clark introduced the invitees by name and hometown, while Half Moon Bay Surf Club senior Michael Joshua placed plumeria leis over each contestant’s head. This is the second year Joshua has been surfing Mavericks, and he is widely expected to be the next local big-wave surfer Mavericks will churn out.
The contest’s namesake — Jay Moriarity — was on the minds of many; as was the contest’s mantra — “Live like Jay.”
“What you see before you is the most awesome assembly of big wave surfers ever gathered,” Moriarity’s mentor, Rick “Frosty” Hesson, said to the crowd.
Moriarity’s widow, Kim Moriarity, spoke, as did his father, Doug Moriarity.
“Jay would have been so honored to know this was in his name,” said Doug Moriarity, thanking those gathered and wishing them a safe contest. “I’ve lost one son and don’t want to lose any more.”
The half-hour ceremony ended with a prayer and then everyone hit the water.
“I’m really excited because I’ve never been out there,” said Helen Fisher, a seventh-grader on the Half Moon Bay Surf Club who last year ranked as best female surfer and second-best all-around for the middle-school bracket of the Core Scholastic Surf League.
The invitees were joined by local surfers in a ceremonial paddle out. Joshua’s mom, Marye Joshua, watched as her son joined the surfers forming a large circle out in the water.
“The water transformed him,” she said. “He used to always be moving — always touching things — but surfing mellowed him out … he has the right personality for this.” The older surfers call him up to go surf Mavericks, she said. “He’s a smart surfer — he listens to the guys, practices his breathing and does a lot of studying.”
Once the circle disbanded, the surfers hit the break inside of Mavericks for gentle wave riding and paddle boarding.
After about 45 minutes in the water, the surfers started trickling back in. Contestants coming out of the water were met by media eager for pictures and choice quotes. A gaggle of seventh-grade girls in the surf club emerged from the water exhausted but giddy with excitement.
“I caught a wave!” one of them said. Raynor extended his hand to the girls for high-fives.
“Six months ago they were scared to paddle out at Dunes,” said surf coach Marty Phelps as he exited the water behind them.
One of the last to leave the waves was Joshua, who carried a big Jeff Clark board the surf legend recently gave him. “(Surfing) has calmed me down and humbled me — humbled me for sure,” Joshua said, adding that he hasn’t “taken a big pounding yet.”
“Seeing other people out there training and chasing it … all the drama at school …” Joshua trailed off, shaking off the rest of the sentence while looking out at the water.