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Home » California Travel, Travel Writing, World Travel

Travel: Making Waves at Mavericks

Submitted by on January 25, 2014 – 9:02 am

You don’t have to be stoked on surfing to enjoy a great escape to Mavericks the famed surf spot and nearby Northern California attractions.

Story and pictures by Wanda Hennig

This story, which was first published in Sunday Tribune Travel in November 2013, has been updated to include the 2014 Mavericks Big Wave Surf contest winner.
Mavericks becalmed.

Mavericks becalmed.

About 35 minutes by road south of San Francisco at the fishing village cum party town of Princeton-by-the-Sea, which adjoins the hamlet of Moss Beach, one of the world’s most famous big-wave surf events, Mavericks, has officially launched.

The invitation-only 24-hour-notice one-day-only surfing contest held in the icy Pacific waters off the Northern California coast each year — suitably sized giant waves permitting — officially opened on November 1.  The “waiting period” (when waves are monitored for ideal mammoth-surf contest conditions) will run through to March 31 of next year.

Mavericks travel story, Sunday Tribune.

Mavericks travel story, Sunday Tribune.

The big waves happen only in winter, the “break” caused by surf conditions in combination with an unusually shaped underwater rock formation. If ideal big-surf conditions don’t happen within the “wait” time, the season will close with no contest.

Any South African surfing enthusiast will know about Mavericks, the famed spot named for a German shepherd back in 1961. Long before the first official big-wave contest (which was held in 1999), the dog would swim out with his big-wave-surfing owner except when the waves were too big and he was secured, unhappily but safely, back on the beach.

Such is the legend and romance of the location and the event that Apple (computers) has named its newest operating system Mavericks as a tribute to the big-surf site, located about 10 minutes north of the town of Half Moon Bay.

The area in which Mavericks is located, sandwiched between the Santa Cruz Mountains and the Pacific Ocean, has sandy beaches, redwood forests, state parks, hiking trails along ocean bluffs, horseback riding on the beach, some sublime restaurants specializing in fresh-picked farm produce and straight-from-the-ocean seafood, biking, golf and more.

Mavericks surf shop.

Inside Mavericks surf shop.

It is also home to a few quirky little seaside towns that are definitely worth a day-trip or weekender if you ever find yourself in San Francisco.

Two South Africans have taken top spot at Mavericks to date. In 2006 (and 2014) Grant “Twiggy” Baker, from Durban, one of the few surfers to dedicate his life to surfing big waves worldwide, became the first non-Californian to win Mavericks.

In 2010 Chris Bertish ‎ — adventurer, stand-up paddling (SUP) marathoner and motivational speaker-coach — won riding a borrowed board when his failed to arrive at the end of his mad dash getting from Cape Town to California in the allotted time.

Update: Grant “Twiggy” Baker had his second Mavericks win on Friday January 24, 2014. Congratulations! See the Twiggy Baker 2014 Mavericks win story here.

Breakfast menu at Seal Cover Inn.

Breakfast menu at Seal Cover Inn.

Both Baker and Bertish are among the A-team of 24 big wave surfers invited to ready themselves for this year’s contest. Hout Bay native Frank Solomon is among six “alternatives” — essentially on-the-benchers — who will be called upon to replace A-teamers who pull out or don’t show. Solomon is considered a serious contender for the adrenalin-churning sometimes lethal surf that has, over the years, claimed lives both of surfers and spectators.

Clearly there’s good reason to head for Mavericks if you’re into extreme surfing or watching extreme surfers in action and find yourself in San Francisco at the right time of year.

But I go there for other reasons — and in other seasons.

Last visit, I stayed at the recently revamped Seal Cove Inn at Moss Beach. “We always try to wow visitors with our three course breakfasts,” B&B owner Kelly Dayan said when she asked about meal preferences ahead of time.

Princeton by the Sea crab boats

Buying fresh crab in Princeton-by-the-Sea harbor.

The comfy inn with its gorgeous garden, thriving veggie patch and guest bikes at the ready to grab and ride, is a short stroll to the start of what I consider to be one of the best beach walks anywhere — the Moss Beach coastal stroll that takes you from the entrance of the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve south along a 5km stretch of beach that disappears, in parts, when the tide comes in, to the sandy shore of the beach that fronts the famed big-surf Mavericks location.

You walk past seals in coves and tidal pools and if you keep your eyes peeled, chances are in the right season you’ll see a whale to two breaching and blowing or flocks of pelicans heading north.

You can scramble up a path at the small sandy beach with views of Mavericks and walk back along the top of a cliff. Be sure and stop midway at the Moss Beach Distillery Restaurant, which has a haunted history that includes ghosts, smuggling and prohibition, a delightful bar, a great menu, bordello-style stained glass features and good ocean views.

Sam's Chowder House, Half Moon Bay

Oysters at Sam’s Chowder House.

In Princeton-by-the-Sea, which you get a birds-eye view of from your cliff walk to Mavericks, the Oceano Hotel & Spa has a good bar and restaurant, the full-time fisherfolk sell their catch fresh from the boats (Dungeness crab season runs mid-November through June), there’s the Half Moon Bay Brewing Company for really good beer and partying — and don’t miss popping in for a meal at Sam’s Chowder House where you’ll find some of the best fresh seafood available anywhere along this stretch of coastline, plus a fun, friendly atmosphere and great views.

Be warned, if you go solely for Mavericks, the big-surf event, you might not get an actual sighting. Like the competitors, fans get 24-36 hours notice to arrive. As soon as organisers get the green light, the cameras go on at local eateries and bars and outside the Oceano Hotel & Spa.

About: The 2013/2014 Mavericks “season” opened November 1 (and runs through March 31, 2014). Contest date depends on when the big waves hit. If ideal big-surf conditions don’t happen, the season will close with no contest. Competitors and fans get 24-36 hours notice of the event. There’s live webcast for free home viewing and viewing in local eateries and bars. Check the official Mavericks website for updates the webcam.

© Wanda Hennig, 2014

Sam's Chowder House Princeton-by-the-Sea view from Mavericks copy Mavericks story 2

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