One thing is certain: The Mavericks wave isn’t going anywhere.
Though there likely will be at least a four-year gap since the last Mavericks surf contest, the longest period without an event since its origin in 1999, this year, as in years past, large waves will draw men and women from around the world to test the dangerous waters off Pillar Point.
The World Surf League purchased the rights to a multi-year permit to hold the contest from a bankrupt Cartel Management in 2017. Rebranded as the Mavericks Challenge, the WSL has yet to host the event. On Aug. 30, lacking sponsorships and mired in the complications involved in getting permits from multiple agencies, WSL announced a new Big Wave Tour format that did not include Mavericks.
Since then there has been plenty of speculation about the future of the Mavericks surf competition, but, at press time, there are no official plans for the coming season. That is perhaps particularly troubling for female surfers who were set to participate alongside the men in the next Mavericks Challenge.
When the news was first reported by the surf forecasting website Surfline, WSL Senior Vice President of Tours and Competition Pat O’Connell said the league would not try to block another contest permit this year should another party attempt to get one. The league still holds the 2021 permit from the San Mateo County Harbor District. However, commission President Sabrina Brennan argued it would be difficult for any organizer to acquire a permit — which can take up to six months to get — before the end of February, when most contestable swells have already passed.
Mavericks will be on the minds of surf fans this year. It likely will be featured on the WSL’s “Strike Missions,” a new video series documenting various big-wave surfers in action and behind-the-scenes as they chase large swells around the world. As O’Connell said, “Basically, you’re going to see more big-wave surfing, jersey or no jersey. We want to build the profiles of these surfers, outside the two events a year that may or may not run. It’s a 365-day pursuit.”
The series may not bring the same prestige as a contest, but it could help with surfer exposure.
The WSL did not respond to requests for comment for this story. Here are a few potential scenarios regarding future competition at Mavericks:
Privately, many surfers on the Coastside believe this is most likely. The issue with an informal, unpermitted contest is the crowd. It would be impossible to regulate who shows up when the Mavericks swells occur. However, there is a silver lining. Without a permit, motorized personal watercraft, necessary for the safety of competitors, are not legal. However, Jet Skis are allowed during high surf warnings from the National Weather Service. This usually occurs only on the biggest and most dangerous days at Mavericks, meaning the crowd may be just the select few who can handle the conditions. That could create more space in the lineup for competitors to catch waves.
If a group of surfers, most of whom will already be on the big-wave tour, somehow organize and acquire a permit, sponsorship and prize money, Mavericks could see organized competition once again. Previously, the WSL did not allow Big Wave Tour surfers to compete anywhere other than a league-sanctioned event. The league has eliminated this rule, meaning more surfers will likely compete in prestigious events such as Red Bull Cape Fear, or in South Africa or the South Pacific.
Two-time Mavericks winner Grant Baker of South Africa told Surfline he and other surfers would like to organize a legitimate contest, and make Mavericks part of a world tour. But in an email to the Review, Baker said he was not sure what would happen at Mavericks in the near future.
“We are obviously disappointed that the WSL dropped Mavericks without giving us ample time to secure the necessary permits, but at the same time, it’s probably good to get away from an organization that seems to not have the best interest of their athletes at heart,” Baker wrote.
For nearly a decade, Surfline, the surf forecasting website, has hosted the popular video submission contest called, “Wave of the Winter.” In partnership with surf clothing brand O’Neill, Surfline has handed out checks annually worth upward of $20,000 to surfers who ride the best wave on the North Shore of Oahu from November through February. With the caliber and degree of difficulty of waves at Mavericks, a season-long competition would likely be popular, if the right ownership came forward.