The San Mateo County Harbor District granted provisional approval for Mavericks Invitational LLC to hold its famed surf contest for the next three years. The multi-year approval, given at the commission’s June 5 meeting, is subject to review each year and marks a change from the year-to-year permitting of the past.
Commissioners also agreed sidestep their own policy and defer thousands of dollars in fees until sometime this fall. Organizers agreed to pay a $5,000 permit fee by July 1 and plan to pay a $6,800 event fee and another $4,800 fee for a water-related activity after sponsorship is in order. Under commission policy all of those fees are normally due at the time the permit is issued.
The Harbor Commission approved the permit and fee schedule by a 4-0 vote. Newly appointed commissioner Will Holsinger abstained from all voting in his first meeting. All agreed that Mavericks Invitational could be trusted to pay the fees before the event takes place and praised the way the contest has been handled in recent years.
The surf contest window opens Nov. 1 and runs through March 31 of the following year. Organizers, largely a group of committed Coastsiders, call the contest on short notice when optimal conditions approach the cold water off of Pillar Point. Waves of 25 feet or more are not unusual in the winter months.
The contest has existed since the late 1990s and is held only when world-class waves wash ashore. It has brought thousands of tourists to the coast and attracted five-figure prize money from sponsors.
It has also presented problems. In 2006, a woman on the beach suffered major injuries after being struck in the head by a rock that was dislodged by spectators on the bluffs above. In 2010, several spectators were injured when a wave washed out contest infrastructure and knocked more than a dozen people off their feet.
A power struggle ensued after that contest and the current operators emerged with a contest and associated event in 2012. Earlier this year, thousands of paying customers descended upon the grounds of the Ocean Hotel and Spa in Princeton to watch Peter Mel win the contest on big screens erected in a parking lot roughly a mile from the action. Mavericks Invitational has broken with past organizers by closing off the bluffs and beach area to spectators and now funnels fans into the for-profit festival.
Harbor Commissioners gushed praise over the event and the planning that has gone into recent contests.
Commissioner Robert Bernardo noted that he was once a planning commissioner in South San Francisco and yet had never seen a better proposal. “I have never seen this level of detail,” he said. “I fully support this application.”