Gnarly Swells, Epic Crowds at Mavericks

Surf advisory in place for world-famous contest

Alan Grinberg

The waves will be epic this weekend along Half Moon Bay and so will the crowds descending upon the coastal city for the world-famous Mavericks Surf Contest.

Contest organizers announced Thursday that the 24 big wave surfers had voted to hold the competition Saturday. The contest had been in question because waves have to be just right for the big wave surfing event. It was canceled the past two years because of less than perfect conditions.

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But this year, the waves are looking gnarly. A strong swell coming in Saturday is expected to push the waves to 30-40 feet high. That's big enough to put the Coast Guard on extra alert. With a high surf advisory in place, the crews will be on the lookout for surfers in trouble and boaters trying to get a close-up look at the brave souls competing for the record purse.

The action started at 8 a.m. as the two dozen elite surfers take on the stiff competition. They'll face off in three rounds with the semifinals starting at 11:30 a.m. with the final round slated for 1:30 p.m. The winner will be crowned at an awards ceremony set for 3 p.m.

Spectators along the beach at Pillar Point are being warned to keep a safe distance from the waterline to avoid rip currents and stay away from rugged cliffs that might prevent them from returning to safe ground.

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While the elite surfers are waxing up their boards, the city's merchants are getting ready for an influx of fans. Half Moon Bay businesses have suffered from an economic slump recently, the Chamber of Commerce shows. But this weekend will be different.

The folks over at the Half Moon Bay Brewing Company are preparing for a swell of spectators. In 2008, the last time the contest was held, the restaurant and brewhouse had to shut the gates becuause of overcrowding, operations manager Mike Laffen said.

"It was absolutely a zoo," Laffen said. "It gets crazy over here but it's good."

It's especially good for the winter season, which normally sees a drop in tourism.

Some people in the community complain that thousands of people flocking to the scenic town will be a burden to traffic, make restaurants too busy and put a crimp in their Valentine's Day weekend plans. But Laffen has an answer for that: "It's just one day a year."

Getting there is just half the battle. Parking will be another nasty factor and for spectators who do find a spot, there's still the trek to the beach to get a good look at the competition.

Viewing space near the contest is limited, and those who want to  watch the contest are urged to attend the AT&T Park viewing event where a live Webcast will be shown for $20 in advance or $25 at the door.

The winner of this year's contest will take home a record $150,000 purse.

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