photos by Mark Kawakami, Mike Balzer, and Brent Broza
“There are two contests you need to win to be remembered as a big wave rider — the Eddie Aikau in Hawaii and Mavericks. I’m honored to have won one of them,” declared South African big wave rider Grant “Twiggy” Baker at the awards ceremony of the 2014 Body Glove Mavericks Invitational.
As he spoke, his two taunt arms held up a three-foot tall, 70 pound bronze sculpture that was this year’s winner’s trophy.
The trophy for the January 24 contest was presented by Body Glove president Robbie Meistrell and sculpted by former Hermosa Beach pro surfer Chris Barela. It depicted Body Glove co-founders Bob and uncle Bill Meistrell as young Los Angeles County Lifeguards. The chiseled twins are poised in the sand with lifeguard rescue cans in their right hands and their left hands planted cockily on their hips. The twins are credited with inventing the modern wetsuit, which makes surfing winter waves like Mavericks possible.
“It’s only fitting the the sculpture is going to another true waterman,” Meistrell said.
The trophy presentation represented a historic coming together of the proud, famously insular Northern California surf community with the equally proud and nearly as insular South Bay surfing community.
Photo by Brent Broza
The Contest is ON!
“It was as heavy as 20-foot Mavs gets,” said Body Glove team rider Alex Gray, of Palos Verdes. Gray, a part of the small elite group of international big wave surfers, especially after being a finalist in the 2012 Billabong Ride of the Year contest for a disgusting tube at Teahupoo, was chosen to man a wave runner for the water safety patrol. “Due to the long period and west swell direction, every wave was ‘slabbing’ [barreling hard] on the bowl. Most waves were impossible to get under to paddle into” he said.
Peter Mel by Mark Kawakami
With any contest from the Big Wave Wave Tour, there is a 30 foot minimum with a 50 foot plus prefered. 2010’s Maverick Invitational serves as the benchmark. In consistent 50-foot faces, South African Chris Bertish took the top of the podium.
This year’s faces were an inconsistent 50-foot, and more often in the 30- to 40-foot range. But President of the Mavericks committee Rocky Raynor said this year’s waves were the “heaviest” of any year since the contest began in 1999.
“In 2010, the waves were bigger, but clean. This year the waves were choppy from the south wind and thicker,” Raynor said.
Certain vantage points show the true nature of Mavericks. Mark Healey bottom left. Photo by Mike Balzer
The south winds aka the “Devil Winds,” in the weather forecast almost had Event Director Jeff Clark call the contest off. From the south direction, the wind blows into the face of the wave which causes the surfer to get hung up in the lip (see Jay Moriarity’s infamous “Christ” wipeout in 1994) as well as blows the spectators’ vessels into the line-up. With the winds not building until the late afternoon, the contest was a “go.”
First Heat Clean-up. Photo by Brent Broza
Paying the Cost to be the Boss
With the morning glass, the first round started with a massive clean up set affirming that Clark made the right call. Last years 5th place winner, Hawaiian Mark Healey, took the beating of the heat while being caught inside and scratching over a 50 foot face. With Jamie Sterling barely making it over the forming lip in front of him, Healey caught collapsed on. He fell down the face of the wave and in the turmoil being captured by his Go Pro attached to the nose of his board. Healey was washed into the rocks before signaling for the Water Safety Patrol. Although executing well ridden waves, the Hawaiian couldn’t nab one of the sizable sets of the heat to advance.
In heat 3, Nic Lamb of Santa Cruz sacrificed himself with a late take-off. After going for broke on a critical wave, Lamb took the gas by slipping off his board on the bottom wave and then immediately being eaten alive by 50 feet of white wash. While the right off the peak of Mavericks is what the break is known for, some competitors, mostly goofyfooters, took to the seldom ridden left. The left is more shorter and abrupt with a nastier riding surface then the more photogenic right. A wildcard, Kohl Christensen of Hawaii, dropped in only to have his gun swallowed. Last year’s winner, Santa Cruz Legend Peter Me,l on his backhand attempted to get to his feet, but got caught on a chop and was tumbled down the face.
Anthony Tashnick accidentally going for a rail slide the ended with his twin fin gun into the rocks. Photo by Mark Kawakami
In the semis, Anthony Tashnick of Santa Cruz and the 2005 event winner, riding a twin fin configuration on his gun to much success the entire contest, found out how the maneuverability of the set-up can be a disadvantage. After insane first rounds of good conditions, the south winds started to turn up. Tashnick took off on a set wave only to have a burst of wind blow him back up the face. Much like Moriarity’s wipe-out, his board was floating in between the salvation of making it over the lip or being taken down to oblivion. For a second it appeared as Tashnick barely stroked to safety, but then his fluorescent gun came cannonballing down with the foam dragging him along by his leash. His twin fin pin washed on to the rocks.
In waves deemed only approachable by being towed in by a jet ski a decade ago, each heat with the cast of big wave talent could of easily been a final. In route, the finalist either used their local knowledge of the break, were veterans of the Big Wave Tour and used their skill to take off in the most critical spots, and/or got lucky by catching the better set waves.
Peter Mel, known as “the Condor,” spreads his wings. Photo by Mark Kawakami
By the final, the south wind really began to show up. Luckily, Clark knowing Mavericks like the back of his hand cut the time of intermissions to shorten the contest before victory at sea conditions prevailed.
On the deck of the competitor’s boat, the three-time Maverick’s winner, the legendary“Flea” Virostko manned the mic for Universal Sports interviewing contestants throughout the event. When asked Baker about this year’s waves, Baker answered, “The waves looked unmakable, but it was the finals, so we had to put our heads down and go. Every wave I just hoped I didn’t hit a bump on the way down and get catapulted.”
Shane Dorian charges into a ghastly one showing that he’s one of the top big wave surfers in the world. Photo by Mark Kawakami
The increasing south wind made the finalists adapt. The waves hit the reef with such speed that in the time it took for the competitors to stop paddling and get to their feet, they were rocketed up the 30 to 50 feet from the trough to the lip, where the challenge then was to drive their boards back down the face, or get pitched.
Grant “Twiggy” Baker drops into the wave of the contest which ended with him getting slotted on a 30 foot wave on the inside. Photo by Mark Kawakami
The take-offs were so steep that on one wave Hawaiian Shane Dorian went into a three point stance, like a lineman, with his left hand on the nose and his right arm hooked into the wave.
There were no snaps, no floaters, no (deliberate) aerials, or other trick maneuvers that judges look for in other contests. Baker was awarded a perfect 10 in the finals simply for surviving the drop, getting covered up on the inside and doing a bunny hop when he hit a ledge known as the “Nugget.” Baker, who pioneered South Africa’s aptly named Dungeons slab, took off deeper and seemingly twice as often as the other five finalists. He also won last month’s Punta Galea Challenge in Spain, the first stop on the Big Wave World Tour.
Twiggy with the wave of the contest pulls in on the nugget. Photo by Mark Kawakam
In addition to his 10 point wave, the judges awarded Baker a 9.3, for total of 29.3. (The top scoring wave is counted double to encourage risk taking.)
Hawaiian Shane Dorian racked up 25.53 points, by virtue of staying on his feet during seemingly impossible-to-make vertical drops. Dorian arrived at the contest that morning at 5 a.m., after spending the previous day surfing larger swells at Jaws, off of Maui.
Ryan Augenstein of Santa Cruz was third (16.33 points), followed by fellow Santa Cruz surfer Tyler Fox, (12.0), 0008 Mavericks champion Greg Long of San Clemente (12.0) and Anthony Tashnick (0.0), also of Santa Cruz. DZ