Contest window running out on new look Mavericks Big Wave Surfing Contest, large swell caused near death injury to surfer last weekend

By Jon Swenson - Last updated: Friday, January 28, 2011 - Save & Share - Leave a Comment

Mavericks continues to teach harsh history lessons. No stranger to harrowing occurances, a 25-30 foot set of rogue waves at Northern California’s largest break last weekend battered 30-year old surfer Jake Trette. After being caught out of position and sucked over the falls, subsequent heavy waves broke on top of Trette and rendered the southern Californian unconscious. Australian surf photographer Russell Ord engineered a rescue using a jet ski. “All I remember is being spun around, and then darkness. I’m a pretty tough guy. Usually, nothing can stop me,” Trette told the Orange County Register. “I must have gotten knocked out by the wave. I just blacked out. That’s all I remember.”

Trette was airlifted 30 minutes north to the Stanford Medical Center in critical condition. According to reports, he spent 2 days in a medically induced coma before recovering enough to be released on Wednesday. The incident has reinforced the dangers of the Mavericks big wave break, named in 2008 as one of the 10 most deadly waves on the planet by TransWorld Surf Magazine. It has also intensified the local debate over a ban on jet skis. Mavericks is included in one of the four limited jet ski zones, but only during a high surf warning. Last Sunday conditions were only a high surf advisory.

The problems Trette faced at Mavericks were not unique, even seasoned big wave surfers run into problems on the massive wave faces. In 2007, 3-time Mavericks champion Darryl ‘Flea’ Virostko endured what many believe was one of the worst wipeouts at the break. On a day when the waves reached in excess of 70 feet Virostko was sucked over the falls on a gigantic wave 10-12 times overhead. Large, front page coverage of the fall in the San Francisco Chronicle stunned readers, and only increased the profile of the underground sport.

Exuberant fans mobbed Mavericks Big Wave Surfing contests in 2008 (won by Greg Long, San Clemente) and 2010 (won by Chris Bertish, South Africa), but had to learn the first rule of the ocean the hard way. Always keep your eyes on the horizon. A large wave surge at high tide knocked over dozens of onlookers onshore, injured 13, and partially toppled an awards platform in 2010. That lead to a number of changes for this year’s Contest. Former event organizer, Mavericks Surf Ventures, is out. The Mavericks contest is now controlled by the surfers themselves and has been renamed The Jay at Maverick’s Big Wave Invitational in honor of late big wave surfer Jay Moriarity. Also gone will be the tens of thousands of fans lining the cliffs and the beach. Spectators have been banned from the Mavericks contest this year. They are encouraged to watch the event online. The towering size of the waves actually prevent adequate viewing from shore, and at a half mile out to see the view from the cliffs is difficult at times as well. Fewer spectators will also result in less damage to the soft, crumbling sand cliffs.

Mavericks can learn from the inaugural San Jose Grand Prix in 2005. Large crowds turned up for the race, but sight lines were extraordinarily limited, and off-site viewing options were minimal. Fans on one side of the track did not know about shops and events scheduled on the other side, and many local businesses blocks from the track did not see a lot of walk up business. Mavericks is encouraging fans to view the contest online at, or at off-site screening locations. Contest organizers need to lock down more viewing locations, and create a map so they are easily accessible to the fans that still want to drive down. Include pre and post-contest activities that are open to the public, and include local businesses so the local economy benefits as well.

All of the The Jay at Maverick’s Big Wave Invitational preperations are contingent upon big waves, and this year they have been scarce. After a strong El Nino season last year with 23 large swells, this year there have only been four (5 after last weekend) according to the SF Examiner. The Mavericks contest window runs from November to February, and the La Nina weather pattern could result in the second contest cancellation in three years. “It has been a less-than-stellar year,” surf forecaster Mark told the Examiner. If Mavericks is anything, it is unpredictable. Hardcore surf fans are keeping their fingers crossed for one large swell before the end of February. Now given the enormous profile and popularity, the mainstream media and casual fans are keeping their fingers crossed as well.

[Update] Surfing’s tower of terror is making waves on land – Sacramento Bee.

[Update2] Previous Mavericks Big Wave Surfing Contest winners:


1999 – Darryl ‘Flea’ Virostko, Santa Cruz
2000 – Darryl ‘Flea’ Virostko, Santa Cruz
2004 – Darryl ‘Flea’ Virostko, Santa Cruz
2005 – Anthony Tashnick, Santa Cruz
2006 – Grant Baker, South Africa
2008 – Greg Long, San Clemente
2010 – Chris Bertish, South Africa

Bookmark and Share
Posted in Uncategorized • • Top Of Page