Located near Half Moon Bay, about 20 miles south of San Francisco, Maverick's has become known as the best big-wave surfing spot on the mainland, with 40-foot peaks that, in good years, can rival the waves at Waimea Bay. It's perhaps best known for a 1994 fatality, a rarity even for this kind of surfing.

The big waves come during the winter, especially in December. Waves cross a deep-water canyon and hit a sudden shelf, the result being a curtain of water kicked up -- i.e., a huge wave. Maverick's also lies at the end of a 2,000-mile uninterrupted current, giving the waves the space to build an unusual amount of energy. It's not just the size, but the ferocity of the waves that makes Maverick's such a rush (so I'm told). It's been compared to multiple avalanches one after another.

It seems like a dangerous place. Hold-downs last long enough for the next wave to overtake you, which is a bad thing. A whirlpool effect called The Cauldron will churn a swimmer around, so that even having one's head over the surface isn't a guarantee of being able to breathe. And don't forget the attractions of sharp rocks on the beach and that extremely cold water.

Mavericks was named by surfer Alex Matienzo in 1962. The waves were large enough that surfers didn't consider the place viable and ignored it for years. Local surfer Jeff Clark saw Maverick's' potential and eventually tested it on his own in 1975. Even then, it was hard to convince the territorial surfers of Ocean Beach or Santa Cruz to leave their haunts for this new location. It took until 1992 for Clark to convince anyone else to surf the place; Jan. 29, 1992 videotape shows some of their first attempts, getting annihilated by the waves. Eventually, a group of local extremists took to Maverick's and started calling it their own.

Sometime around that point, publicity began to spread among the surfing community, and eventually to the general Bay Area media. By 1994, the site had suddenly started to draw crowds of surfers and spectators alike.

    Most famous wipeout: During the 1994 swell of publicity, Jay Moriarty got Maverick's' most publicized wipeout ever, becoming a literal poster child thanks to the preponderance of cameras there. He caught a wave too late, ending up on the very tip, which tossed him over; the board shot from under his feet back over his head. Moriarty was pulled down fast enough to hit the bottom, which was lucky -- that told him which way was "up" so he could swim to safety unhurt. (Moriarty would be killed years later in a free-diving accident in Europe.)

    The only fatality: Despite the dangerous appearance, no one had died in big-wave surfing since 1943. But Dec. 23, 1994, the last day of a record peak for Maverick's, saw Hawaiian surfing star Mark Foo claimed as the first surfing death there. He got knocked over trying to ride a wave -- not an unusual occurance -- and never resurfaced. The water was so crowded that day that no one noticed Foo was gone until his drowned body was found hours later. Exactly why he drowned is unknown.

After two years of quiet (15-foot waves), Maverick's came back with a vengeance in the winter of 1997-98, fueled by El Niño. 50-foot waves were ridden that winter, and the publicity came back thanks to the "K2 Challenge," offering $50,000 to the surfer successfully riding the largest wave of the winter (provided he was photographed doing it). The publicity has generally calmed down since then, but Maverick's remains a favorite for surfers looking for a thrill.
In 1998, preproduction began on a movie about Maverick's and Mark Foo. Tom Hanks was the producer for Universal, and he hired journalist Jon Krakauer to write the script. Krakauer had written a famous article about Foo's death for Outside magazine; he'd become more famous a couple of years later with Into Thin Air. I've found no futher news about the movie, so the project may have been killed.

(It's my understanding that Maverick's is "officially" spelled with the apostrophe, although it's often left off for convenience's sake.)

-- Maverick's: A Documentary Film (independently produced documentary, 1998)
-- http://www.mavsurfer.com
-- http://www.maverickssurf.com
-- Tom Hanks info: http://www.hollywood.com and the Daily Variety online
-- Krakauer's article: http://www.outsidemag.com/magazine/0595/5f_foo.html

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