Just a few miles from Pillar Point Harbor near Half Moon Bay out in the Pacific Ocean, lies Northern California's premiere winter surfing spot. If you want to test your surf and survival skills, Mavericks is the ideal winter surf session. But it is not for the faint of heart. To surf Mavericks is to ride giants, become a legend and dance with the devil.
The waves you surf at Mavericks are something of an eighth wonder of the world. Their hollowed perfection is matched only by their awe-inspiring size and power. Waves can top out at heights as monstrous as 25 feet during heavy winter swells. People first braved Mavericks with surfboards in the 1960s, and it has been a hot spot for big wave surfing ever since.
In 1967, surfers Alex Matienzo, Jim Thompson and Dick Knottmeyer tried the unnamed surf for the very first time. They brought a German Shepherd, named Maverick, along with them, who continuously tried to swim after them as they paddled out to the waves. Eventually, they were forced to tie Maverick up at the shore because the surf conditions were so dangerous. They decided to name the surf spot after the brave dog, and it is now known everywhere as "Mavericks".
You're best bet for the biggest waves at Mavericks is in the winter, so any time between November and February. Look for a northwest swell to give you the smoothest wave. For a shorter surf, wait for a swell from the west. Any gust bigger than a light, onshore breeze will very likely launch you from your board, as the wind adds an incredible amount of power to these monster waves. Mavericks' rocky reef makes it very much a right-break surf spot. Riders can also tackle Mavericks' left break, but it is not nearly as smooth or safe. A low tide makes the waves at Mavericks even steeper and scarier, so try to plan your surf session during a high tide. If you plan to jump into the icy waves this winter, be careful of the infamous "Bone Yard". It's a collection of rocks located right where the waves break, and they are a nuisance for Mavericks surfers.
If you're out there watching the regulars surf before you jump in, you'll notice that most of them tend to ride the waves with longer boards between 9 and 12 feet. As for your wetsuit situation, don't think for a second that you can get away with wearing a shorty or even a 1/2mm suit. You'll need the works: a sturdy 3/4mm suit (that's a minimum), a hoodie and even boots and gloves. While some surfers at Mavericks may say a leash is a must, others may tell you they do more harm than good in these particular waves. Surfers attached to their board when they wipe out may be able to right themselves get to the surface quicker. However, a leash could very easily hold you under consecutive waves of your board is hopelessly wedged in the "Bone Yard" below you. Mavericks is a big wave tow-in surf spot, so a buddy on a jet ski ready to rescue you after a wipeout wouldn't be a bad idea.
There you have it! So if you're ready to brave the winter waves this holiday season and surf Mavericks, follow these tips for a safer ride. Have fun and shred with caution!