Mavericks surf contest could happen Monday

Tyler Smith rides, in red, rides a big wave during the Mavericks Surf Contest in Half Moon Bay, Calif., on Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2006. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

January 6, 2010 4:43:58 PM PST
The act of picking a date for the annual big wave competition at Mavericks beach has always been a blend of instinct and science. Now, add the element of democracy.

"The contestants vote," explained contest co-director Katherine Clark. "24 guys pick the day. From around the world, they use email and telephones, and watch the computer models. If something develops, they can see it a week out."

One of their tools is called, developed by surfer Mark Sponsler, who spends three hours a day collecting satellite and buoy information from around the world.

"Those satellites bounce radar off the waves and then we use the freedom of information act to get the data," said Sponsler as he consulted one of his wave models on an iPhone.

An average surf wave crosses the Pacific Ocean at 35 miles an hour. Once Sponsler fixes the location and path, he calculates its arrival time.

"For Mavericks, we need continuous waves that are twenty feet high or more," he said.

On Tuesday, the red and purple moving lines on his latest map indicate big winds off the coast of Japan.

"We're entering a three-week period of oscillation. It looks promising," said Sponsler, who anticipates contest quality waves as soon as Monday of next week.

The surfers did not always vote, however. Traditionally, contest founder Jeff Clark made the call. He was the first man to surf the big waves at Mavericks, but has no formal involvement with the competition anymore due to internal politics.

"The best way to pick is by looking at the data, but it's just as important to be there watching the waves every day," he said.

Instead, Clark will be watching Mavericks from the outside this year.

"It hurts," he said. "It's like building a house and then not being able to go inside."

Watch ABC7 News tonight for the complete story from Wayne Freedman.