Mavericks is hectic and scary for both surfers and people who operate a boat out there. I learned a few things about the boating part some years back and have shared these with you all. In part I we talk about how to avoid shallow water (aka likely destruction) and why the fog is not your friend at Mavericks. Now here’s part II.
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The Four Do’s and Don’ts of Taking Your Boat to Mavericks (Part I)
Mavericks needs no introduction. It’s a big, scary wave that requires full attention and respect from both the people who surf it and those who take boats out to it. Thanks to my friend Zach Wormhoudt I had the amazing opportunity of taking my old boat, Maria May a 21 ft Parker wheelhouse, out to Mavericks for a few occasions. First in 2011 for a zero-visibility surf strike, second in 2012 as support boat for filming of the Chasing Mavericks movie, and third in 2013 for the Mavericks Surf Contest as board caddy for a few legends.
How many days total have I been out at Mavericks on my boat? Four. Does that qualify me to give advice to other would-be boaters at this scary surf break? I’ll let you debate that answer after you read the rest of this article. If nothing else, four days of boating at Mavericks is very much trial by fire and more than enough for me to learn a few very key do’s and don’ts. Three sets of key do’s and don’ts in fact 🙂
Do #1: Go around the buoy
Pull up a map showing the Pillar Point Harbor in Half Moon Bay and you’ll see that it’s a straight shot from the harbor mouth out to Mavericks. Looks like a no-brainer to run straight out from the harbor, right? Now pull up a map with bathymetry (ocean depth) and you’ll see a different story. It’s shallow. Very shallow. A reef, rightfully named Blackhand Reef, extends from the harbor entrance out toward the surf break. Guess what washes over this shallow reef when the swell is pumping 18 feet at 15 seconds? Very big waves with very big whitewash. On their way out to the 2011 Mavericks contest a couple of friends on a Boston Whaler just barely turned around in front of a detonating 10-footer on Blackhand Reef escaping catastrophe.
So you do not cut across the reef unless you are on a ski and can easily run to the shoulder to avoid serious harm. The alternative is to head south down coast for ~1 mile to the can buoy. This marks the safe channel and your best friend; deep water. Big waves struggle to break or reform in deep water so it’s your safety zone. Once you round the buoy you take a diagonal path out to Mavericks 1 mile+ out, staying in deep water and watching the chaotic scene unfold on Blackhand Reef from afar. Deep is safe (remember that).
Don’t do #1: Don’t go in the fog
This lesson is best told in a story that would take way too long to tell properly in this blog article (I’m hoping to actually do a podcast on it one day). The cliff notes go something like this: Myself and 5 friends (including Zach) took my boat out to Mavericks one early morning where the swell was 12 ft at 14 seconds with fog so thick we had to navigate through the Pillar Point Harbor by GPS (basically zero visibility). We somehow found the wave (heard it before seeing it), rode a few waves while my buddy hovered the boat like a ghost somewhere in the channel, got all of 4 of us back on the boat, and made it back into the harbor safely. All with <25 feet of visibility in the fog and before a big clean-up set blew out the other few surfers, scattering them onto the rocks (which we heard about later in the parking lot).
So needless to say, don’t do this. Don’t take a boat out to Mavericks in the thick fog. Pretty simple. Looking back, we were a bit younger and definitely more stupid than today but more than anything, extremely lucky. Mavericks is sketchy enough surfing or boating on a calm, clear day let alone with almost zero visibility.
Do #2: Watch your depth sounder, not your surroundings
Deep is safe. Remember that? This is exactly the case while hovering your boat on the shoulder of the wave while your crew is surfing or the photographer on board is doing their business. You can pilot your boat while shifting your focus between the horizon and landmarks, like the famous radar dish, to stay in a seemingly safe zone but just a couple minutes of distraction can be costly. A change in wind speed or direction can quickly put you in the last place on earth you want to be with your boat — in the bowl. No boat that I know of is meant to take a draining 15-footer on the bow. So while you think you’re safe one minute, the next you may look up to see that your a touch inside with a set swinging wide causing a very sick feeling in your stomach (pray your motor doesn’t hesitate).
So while lineups and watching the horizon are key, what’s most important at Mavericks is depth. Mavericks breaks so suddenly and violently because the water is really deep then suddenly jacks up onto a plateau-like reef taking all that deep-water swell and unleashing Niagara Falls. The safe zone for your boat is 50-60 feet of water (just outside of the reef) with the danger zone being anything under 40 IMHO. If you remember the scene in Chasing Mavericks when the boat almost rolled over from a big set wave (main picture above), I was there about 20 yards outside of that guy and was just able to get around the shoulder of that wave, still in about 45 feet of water.
Chew on this for now and we’ll look at the rest of the do’s and don’ts in Part 2.
Shannon Quirk -- big wave world tour, empowering women in the water
Other pieces of our conversation with Shannon:
- Settling down on Oahu, life-giving nature of the ocean, surfing, and yoga
- Living in various places around the world including Maui, with big focus on Nazare, Portugal for 3 years
- Similarities of Portugal to Northern California — cold water, wetsuits and thick heavy waves
- Working for the Big Wave Tour and ‘family’ aspect of big wave surfers
- Knew as a youth that journalism was the path she wanted to pursue
- Focus on growing movement of women in big wave surfing and finding new ways to showcase women in the
- Starting live reporting for Surf Channel at Mavericks and refining her craft of reporting over the years
- Dynamics of big wave rescue, driving jet skis, and preparing to help yourself and others in big surf
- Spent years as a pro snowboarder and traveling the world to chase winters.
- Shannon talks about her quiver on the North Shore — big wave boards down to 6’5
- The importance of yoga in Shannon’s regular routine
Pat Shaughnessy -- Mavericks competitor, prone paddle athlete
In episode 92 I speak with a good friend and legend, Pat Shaughnessy, a world class big wave surfer and prone board paddler. Pat takes us through the past few years of focusing his summers on lifeguarding at Santa Cruz beaches and competing in both the Catalina Classic and Molokai 2 Oahu paddle board races with stories of dealing with the physical and mental challenges of these long distance events. Pat takes us through the evolution of his surfing from competitive shortboarding in his early teens to following his sister, Savannah, to Mavericks for his first big wave introduction. We hear of Pat taking a cautious first few years at Mavericks before things clicking for him and finding his true love for big wave surfing and being invited to compete in the 3 recent Mavericks contests. Pat talks about his crew in the line-up, continued inspiration from his sister in big waves, no-leash days at Puerto Escondido, and spending time to help the next generation find their stoke for big waves.
Tyler Conroy -- foiling, surfing, Mavericks, water rescue
In episode 90 I speak with a friend and local hero of mine, Tyler Conroy, who has built a well rounded ocean life for himself in Santa Cruz, CA. Tyler shares his stories of learning to surf as a young teen and moving quickly into some of the heavier Northern California water, his time in Jr Lifeguards, and transition into surfing big waves. We hear of Tyler’s first session at Mavericks, some of the local legends who coached him into his first waves, and surfing Mavs with his group of close friends and wife, Savannah. Tyler talks about the lineup at Mavericks, working jet ski rescue in big waves, his breath hold training, love for spearfishing, and progression on the foil (and challenges of the sport here in cold, kelpy, Santa Cruz).
Thanks for sharing Tyler’s ocean life with us. Be sure to check out photos and videos of Tyler on Instagram.
Sachi Cunningham -- big wave surfing photography, film making, gender equity on tour
In Episode 69 we speak with Sachi Cunningham, a legendary woman of the water who has been photographing the waves of Mavericks and other heavy breaks for close to 20 years. Sachi shares her stories of developing her strength swimming in the water as a youth then finding her passion for photography, surfing, and waves. We hear of Sachi’s first day swimming and shooting at big Ocean Beach, her progression of capturing big wave photos from the water at both Mavericks and Jaws, and the big wave community she has been part of for so long. Sachi talks about her focus for helping women in professional big wave surfing reach gender equity on the world tour and her current project, She Change The Film, that documents the events and key figures in that awesome story. We also hear Sachi’s physical and mental approach to swimming in big surf and introducing her young daughter to the ocean.
Thanks for sharing Sachi’s ocean life with us. You can find pictures and video of her on Instagram and She Change The Film website. Please consider donating a few bucks to Sachi’s She Change project to help raise awareness for gender equity in surfing and beyond.
Photos by Maria Fernanda and Sarah Makarewicz.
Alo Slebir - charging Mavericks at age 17, board paddling, spearfishing
In episode 68 we visit with Alo Slebir, a 17-year old man born and bred for the water who is up for a WSL Big Wave Paddle Award for the 2018/19 winter. Alo takes us through his progression surfing big Steamer Lane before finding his passion for the waves at Mavericks at age 14, the mentors who inspired and guided him, along with his perspective on that wave and the changes he’s seen in the lineup over a few short years. Alo shares stories of being addicted to the Powerlines videos of Mavericks as a young kid, competitive surfing in the local Santa Cruz scholastic league, his love for downwind prone paddling (just like dear old dad), and recent love for freediving and spearfishing. We also hear stories of surf trips to Mainland Mexico and a recent, epic trip to Iceland. Plenty to be inspired by from this young man of the water.
Thanks for sharing Alo’s ocean life with us. You can find pictures and video of him on his Instagram page.
Zach Wormhoudt and Going Big Because You Love To
In Episode #15 of This Ocean Life podcast we speak with Zach Wormhoudt, a man who has spent multiple decades as a big wave surfer, paddle boarder, and fisherman in the cold waters of Northern California. Zach has surfed in every contest held at Mavericks and shares his experience of surfing that world-famous break and being part of the progression of big wave surfing around the world. Zach also relates on prone paddling, fishing, and pursuing a life in the ocean based on pure enjoyment.
Dave Benet and the Many Dimensions of an Ocean Life
In this episode we talk with Dave Benet, an extremely accomplished man of the ocean who has built an ocean resume that I myself dream of having. Dave shares his stories of training the next generation of marine scientist divers in the cold, sharky waters of Northern California. We hear about Dave’s passion for free diving and spearfishing along with his first experience surfing at Mavericks. Dave provides his grounded perspective on enjoying a multi-dimensional ocean life and eagerness to conserve what we today enjoy for future generations.