Friday, October 30, 2009

Opening of 2009/2010 Mavericks Surf Contest Waiting Period

In perfect weather on a small, sandy beach at Half Moon Bay, the opening ceremony of the 2009/2010 Maverick's Surf Contest Waiting Period took place this afternoon.

From across the world, many of the world's greatest big-wave surfers gathered for the ceremony that included a blessing and paddle out into the bay for a time of reflection.

On a calm, sparkling ocean, the surfers formed a circle and ended their reflections with a ceremonial splashing.

Most of the 24 specially invited contestants and 15 alternates were there. And about 100 other people joined in the celebrations on Mavericks Beach.

The surfers lined up against their surf boards to be introduced by Frank Quirate, Mavericks photographer. But first, tribute was paid to former Contest Director and Mavericks pioneer, Jeff Clark.

'He's in our hearts and in our minds,' said Frank. Everyone looked forward to a day when Jeff would be back on the beach, he said.

Legendary surfer and doctor, Dorian 'Doc' Paskowitz then spoke a specially-written blessing over the surfers.

'I don't have the right to walk the same ground as these gods of surfing. They've ridden waves I can only dream of,' said Doc before the ceremony.

During the ceremony, four of the surfers spoke briefly.

'These are the best of the best,' said Peter Mel from Santa Cruz, paying tribute to the calibre of his fellow surfers as men. During their time of reflection, he said, they would be honouring 'fallen comrades' including Mark Foo, a young Hawaiian who died there in 1994, and Californian surfers Jay Moriarty and Peter Davi.

Reigning champion Greg Long of San Clemente said, 'It is always an honour to be here.' Many of the surfers, he said, were guys he 'idolized' from a young age. 'I see it more as a brotherhood, a bond so special you won't see it anywhere else in the world.'

Surfing, he added, is 'such a special gift.' Greg won his title in January 2008, there being no contest last season due to lack of a Pacific swell.

Hat-trick winner, Darryl 'Flea' Virostko, of Santa Cruz, said it was 17 or 18 years ago when he began to surf, and 'Man! It was the best feeling in the world!'

Flea recalled 'getting beat and nearly facing death,' but going straight back out there. It's like life, he said. 'Life throws weird things at you.'

Other speakers were Anthony Tashnick, a 2005 champion, and Head Judge Gary Linden.

One notable surfer missing today was Grant 'Twiggy' Baker from South Africa who, Gary said, was back at home waiting for a bigger swell!

With the contest season officially opening on November 1, all that remains is to wait for the Pacific Ocean to produce a massive enough swell between now and March 31, 2010. The decision to call the contest, giving surfers only 24 hours to get there, will be made by the surfers themselves, one of several changes made in the running of the contest from previous seasons.

In honour of Jeff, said Katherine Clark, Jeff's former wife and Mavericks Matriarch, the surfers decided not to replace him with another Contest Director but voted to manage the competition themselves. One decision they made in the summer was to continue with an elimination-style contest rather than change to another format, she said.

Peter Mel is one of the most experienced surfers at Mavericks, described as one most deserving of winning though the championship has eluded him. What did he think of his chances this year?

He laughed off his Mavericks bio. 'Who's deserving! It's got to be that guy for the day,' he said. 'I've been here since the beginning, yes. I'd like to think that I surf the place pretty well, but on the day of the competition it has eluded me. I think for me it's still about surfing the place, it's not necessarily about the prize.'

He continued, 'I have been able to put my life on the line every year and I have had a lot more enjoyment than trauma.'

On such a beautiful day, the dangers were invisible. But it is one of the most dangerous surfing areas in the world, notorious for its enormous swells, currents, rocks and chill waters, dangers that the surfers always have at the back of their minds.

'We all know it. We don't like to talk about it,' said Peter. When Mark Foo died, there had been worse wipeouts, he said.

For today, though, they were there to concentrate on celebrating the opening of what will hopefully become the seventh Mavericks contest to be held, and to enjoy a private party afterwards at the nearby Oceano Hotel.

video link:
more interviews to follow in next blogs

pics by Chris Flowers show the line-up for the introduction and blessing; the surfers' private time of reflection; paddle out; Doc meeting Jamie Stirling of Hawaii with Katherine Clark; Greg Long, Darryl 'Flea' Virostko, Anthony Tashnick, Peter Mel; brothers Rusty and Greg Long

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