The surf season has been revving up off the California coast, and fans should know that the Mavericks surf contest — the world renowned big-wave event that is more often than not a big bust — has morphed from a closely held venture run by officially licensed organizers to a free-wheeling adventure that more closely resembles the wave itself.
At least two contests of sorts have risen from the ashes of the plans the World Surf League abandoned at the legendary surf spot off of Pillar Point. The most ambitious of these may evolve from plans being presented by a Half Moon Bay native who is relatively new to the surf world.
Elizabeth Cresson is a senior at Georgetown University. While she grew up in the area, she is not closely tied to the close-knit local surfing community. She says she first starting thinking about running a surf contest at the Coastside break when she heard that Cartel Management was filing for bankruptcy. Cartel managed to host one contest — in 2016 — and then in the aftermath of a business meltdown WSL stepped in. The world’s most respected surfing organization promised to incorporate Mavericks into a Big Wave Tour, but those plans have been scaled down. For now, at least, the best Mavericks surfers can hope for from WSL is to submit video to qualify for the Jaws contest in Hawaii.
Meanwhile, contest organizer Jeff Clark announced last year that he was in talks with local entrepreneur Chris Cuvelier to produce the Mavericks Surf Awards, which would be given based on video evidence of waves ridden to completion over the course of the season. That contest is said to run from Nov. 1 to April 15.
One big advantage video-only contests have is they apparently would escape the bureaucratic nightmare that awaits organizers who try to get permits from local, state and federal agencies with an interest in the cold, sharky water.
But Cresson is wading into the deep water by envisioning a more traditional contest. That is largely because she believes an event can benefit the wider community, by attracting viewers to streaming coverage in area establishments and just the ambient attention the wave can bring to the Coastside.
“When done right, we believe this can have a positive impact on the community,” she said.
Cresson says she has three goals for her version of the Mavericks surf contest, and all of them go beyond the sport of surfing. As enumerated at mavsinvitational.com, she hopes the contest promotes environmental sensitivity, supports local businesses and establishes gender equity in a sport not always known for it. She promises equal prize money for 24 men and 10 women who would compete in accordance with standard WSL rules and conditions.
Last month, the California Coastal Commission issued Cresson a waiver for a Coastal Development Permit because her plans don’t call for closing or changing public infrastructure or open space. Because she has no plans to stage in Pillar Point Harbor, the San Mateo County Harbor District has little interest in her plans. She said there would be little if any notice to the public of a pending event to assure that crowds don’t descend on the surrounding bluffs. She hopes that will mean less need for security and other expensive extras.
She also thinks a contest run without the need for permits and an extensive staff will be sustainable year after year.
“The infrastructure is really just the right people,” she said.
Cresson acknowledges she has a late start on a contest for this season. Though the contest window has been open for more than two months, she had yet to finalize plans for the specialized rescue team that typically patrols the wave during high-surf days. And she hadn’t settled on whom to invite to participate. Plans for a live-stream were still coming together.
Then there is her last semester of college on the East Coast to think about. What happens if she is back at Georgetown when the right wave presents itself?
“Then I fly home,” she said.