image - mavs surfer
Mavericks is known to be one of the biggest breaks in the world, however, conducting the contest sometimes appears more difficult than surfing the wave. Review File Photo

Conditions on land are once again turning out to be just as important as those on the water when it comes to the Mavericks surf contest. Now the world-renowned contest has been scrapped before the season even begins.

In 2017, after years of political and permitting struggles surrounding the contest, the World Surf League signed on to host the event, purchasing the rights from a bankrupt Cartel Management and adding the spot to its Big Wave World Tour. But the company has yet to hold an event, and surf insiders say years without consistent management and onerous regulations made sponsorship opportunities unappealing.

As a result, on Aug. 30, the WSL released a statement detailing its new big-wave initiatives, and the company has decided to focus its efforts elsewhere, away from the waters around Pillar Point.

“Mavericks will not continue as a WSL Big Wave event due to various logistical challenges, as well as the inability to run the event the last two seasons. That said, the Strike Mission series and the Big Wave Awards will very likely feature Mavericks content,” the WSL said in the statement. Mavericks has always presented logistical problems for several surf contest organizers who stepped up to run the contest over the years. It requires a permit from the San Mateo County Harbor District as well as coordination with an alphabet’s soup of public safety and government agencies.

In turning away from Mavericks, the WSL is turning toward its video series known as Strike Missions, which will document big waves worldwide and feature behind-the-scenes footage and action shots of professional surfers. Professional big wave surfers will continue to compete on the tour at events in Hawaii and Portugal.

Harbor Commissioner Sabrina Brennan said the news is a loss for the men and women committed to surf Mavericks, both from a monetary and exposure standpoint. The WSL planned to run the first-ever women’s heat at Mavericks last season, as well as to provide equal pay across the entire league. That was a concept pioneered for the Mavericks event, although there has been no women’s heat to date.

“All kind of odd, considering they spent over half a million dollars to get a permit out of bankruptcy from Cartel,” Brennan said. “The competition has been plagued with challenges over the years with different organizers, and apparently the WSL is no different.”

It’s unlikely there will be a non-WSL contest at Mavericks this season, as the company still holds the only permit — which is good through 2020-2021 season — and it can take up to six months to acquire another.

Big-wave surfing has always operated on a limited budget when compared to the high-performance shortboard events. That is due in part to the limited timeframe of optimal conditions. The WSL now has just two 2019-20 Big Wave World Tour events, the Jaws Big Wave World Championships at Jaws, in Hawaii, and the Nazaré Tow Challenge in Portugal.  

The last Mavericks contest was in February 2016, won by Santa Cruz’s Nic Lamb. Since the competition’s origin in 1998, there has only been one other three-year gap in the contest’s history, from 2000 to 2003.

Brennan is also skeptical of the WSL’s new Strike Missions’ plan. While filming and sharing big-wave sessions may seem like a good offer, it might not necessarily pay as well as the contest, and Brennan believes this is a form of athlete exploitation on the WSL’s part. 

“They’re not going to pay the athletes for travel, hotel, food or their images,” Brenna said. “The athletes get zero pay. It doesn’t sound very sustainable.” 

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