Fearsome big-wave break located just west of the Pillar Point headland in Half Moon Bay, California, 25 miles south of San Francisco; the heavily publicized focal point for West Coast big-wave riding since the early '90s. "I felt like I was seeing things I shouldn't have," local Don Curry said, recalling a heavy day at Maverick's. "It felt like God and the devil were right there, and it could go either way."
Daytime winter air temperatures in Half Moon Bay range from the low 40s to the mid-60s; the water temperature remains at or near 50. Wave season here usually begins in October and lasts through March; Maverick's starts to break at 10 feet, but doesn't really hit form until 15 feet. When the surf gets 35 or 40 feet—which happens roughly every other year—the wave begins to break over a different and far less predictable set of reefs located further offshore.
Maverick's is a right-breaking wave for the most part, although lefts are ridden when the surf is below 20 foot. The terraced reef produces a two-speed wave: a fast, hollow, tremendously explosive opening section—the heart of the Maverick's ride—spills into a shoulder, which often leads to another near-vertical section known as Second Bowl, then another flat spot, and occasionally a third steep section. Most rides at Maverick's last less than 15 seconds. A ride connecting all sections might last up to 50 seconds and run for 400 yards. The shoreward edge of the Maverick's surf zone is marked by a jagged stand of rocks, and surfers occasionally get filtered through the rocks into the nearshore lagoon. Maverick's waves are greatly affected by tide (lower tides generally make the waves steeper and more dangerous) and the direction of the swell (northwest swells produce longer, somewhat easier waves; west swells produce shorter, steeper waves).
Three Half Moon Bay surfers rode the inside waves at Pillar Point in the winter of 1961, and the break was named after Maverick, a white-haired German shepherd who followed the group into the water. But it was 18-year-old goofyfoot surfer and local carpenter Jeff Clark, beginning in 1975, who did the real pioneering work at Maverick's. Remarkably, Clark rode the break alone for 15 years, teaching himself how to ride as a regularfooter, so as to give him a front-on view while riding the rights. Clark introduced Maverick's to surfers from Santa Cruz and San Francisco in the early '90s; the break made its surf world debut in "Cold Sweat," a 1992 Surfer magazine cover story.
When reknowned Hawaiian big-wave rider Mark Foo drowned at Maverick's on December 23, 1994, after wiping out on a 15-footer, the break became a mainstream media sensation, with coverage in the New York Times, Rolling Stone, Outside, Dateline, and MTV Sports. Jeff Clark, in his late 30s, was still Maverick's key figure and spokesman, even if younger riders like Peter Mel and Darryl "Flea" Virostko of Santa Cruz had become the break's premier surfers. "It just goes to show," Clark told the Times, in one of his many gruffly theatrical quotes, "that no matter how prepared you are, [at Maverick's] you're in Neptune's playground."
Tow surfing was introduced at Maverick's in 1994, but didn't really catch on there until 1999. With motorized help, surfers were able to ride much bigger waves than ever before, and by the early-2000s Maverick's tow riders, led by Mel, Clark, Virostko, and Ken Collins, were riding waves 40 feet and bigger. In the mid-'00s, however, paddle surfing once again became the preferred style, and in 2010, on his first visit to the break, Hawaiian charger Shane Dorian reset the performance bar at Maverick's by getting into a half-dozen huge ones completely under his own power.
The $55,000 Quiksilver Maverick's Men Who Ride Mountains contest debuted in 1999, and was won by Virostko, who defended the title in 2000 and 2003. Surf contests have been held at the break sporadically since then, though sponsorship has been shaky after Quiksilver dropped the event in 2001.
On March 16, 2011, Hawaiian big-wave surfer Sion Milosky died at Maverick's after suffering a two-wave hold down at the end of a long day of successful rides. Surprisingly, Milosky and Foo are the only surfers to have drowned at the break, though close calls happen each winter. British actor Gerard Butler was rushed to the hospital after a near-drowning experience in relatively benign surf during filming for the Hollywood production of Chasing Mavericks, a 2012 Hollywood biopic chronicling the young life of the late Maverick's rider Jay Moriarty.
Maverick's has been the subject of scores of surf videos and documentaries since the mid- '90s, including Heavy Water (1995), Twenty Feet Under (1998), Maverick's (1998), Whipped! (2001), Riding Giants (2004), and Discovering Maverick's (2013). Chronicle Books published Maverick's: The Story of Big-Wave Surfing in 2000, and Inside Maverick's in 2006.
With the launch of Mavsurfer.com in 1995, Maverick's became the first break to have a dedicated website. "Mavericks," a modern dance interpretation of big-wave surfing, performed by the Keith Glassman Company, toured through California in 2001. In 2013, Apple names its latest version of OS X "Mavericks," after the the surf break. "Maverick's: Life and Death Surfing," by Alice Gregory, was included in the anthology "The Best American Sports Writing, 2014."