Mavericks, the wave, will continue. Mavericks, the golden ticket, could be underwater for a while if not forever. Whether you consider the end of the profit motive there to be a good thing is likely a matter of whether you stood to make money off the contest.
The art and sport of surfing is rightly intertwined with enviable ideals embodied in the environmental movement and communing with nature generally. Prime surf spots differ from, say, football stadiums and hockey rinks precisely because they don’t “belong” to anyone. They are natural phenomena — created by kinks of geography, the alignment of atmospheric conditions, unseen underwater currents — and therefore much more difficult to manage and predict. They are the province of a force higher than Nike, if you can imagine such a thing.
It’s easy to see why surfers find a place like Mavericks to be holy.
It is harder to see why they should profit from it and harder still for them to actually do so. Over the years, big-name sponsors have included a wetsuit maker, an internet networking giant, even a bourbon maker in what must be the most ill-suited sponsorship deal in memory. All were presented as saviors of the contest; all bowed out in short order having poured money into the ocean only to end up all wet.
Last week, the World Surf League indicated Mavericks didn’t fit into its plans. Whatever the official reason, you can bet that decision has everything to do with the league’s inability to market a tour stop off of Pillar Point as well as the always-vexing permitting process. If a Mavericks surf contest penciled out, there would be a Mavericks surf contest.
This winter will be the fourth in a row without an official big-wave contest at Mavericks. There may well be a fifth and sixth season without a contest, too. Perhaps that is the way it should be.
For one thing, the “contest” is not synonymous with “the wave.” There will be massive waves at Mavericks this winter, just as there have been in other recent contest-free years. The best big-wave surfers on the planet will still come. The legend will endure in Instagram posts and online surf forums and through word-of-mouth across the worldwide web of surfing fans. It would not surprise us if the athletes themselves were to arrange a loosely organized contest of sorts, with the winner grabbing bragging rights rather than a sponsored trophy.
Nor would we be surprised by the appearance of some new charlatan, promising the world to a handful of people who claim some ownership to the place and proposing a new, improved, even more “epic” Mavericks contest. Goodness knows that has happened before.
Whatever happens at Mavericks this winter, we hope those who have sold out before have learned their lesson. We also hope the surfers themselves stay safe and have moments of bliss that only a very few know. Contest or no, riding Mavericks remains an unequaled feat.