Surfing Mavericks

Even if you’ve never seen a 30-foot wave in person, a furious wall of water nipping at the sky in its impatience to greet you, the thought – the mere image that your mind is likely conjuring up right now – is enough to strike fear and excitement in the heart of even the wiliest thrill-seekers. So to live it, to experience it first-hand, and to come out the other side? My time spent surfing the waves at Mavericks, waves which are typically over 20 feet but can reach heights triple that size, is a time I will never once forget or take for granted.

Mavericks is located just north of the sleepy coastal town of Half Moon Bay. This town is a true gem of the West coast and is an increasingly popular tourist destination. Yet it somehow retains a feeling of intimacy found only in small towns. People wave to each other and yell greetings across the wide main street, called – aptly – Main Street. It was here that I first stopped, staying at a little bed and breakfast for the night. I unpacked and roamed across the street to the San Benito House, where I found an airy outdoor seating area and ate one of the most delicious, freshest sandwiches I’ve ever had in my life.

A cat snuck up to my table, and when I glanced up, it cooly took a seat across from me, curled up, and fell asleep. It was right about then that I began to realize how peaceful, authentic, and special this trip was going to be. I had been driving for more than a few hours, and after eating, retired to my room. It was only 5pm but I was exhausted. My plan was to head to the beach first thing the next morning. I read for a little, watched some television, and peacefully fell asleep.

Surfing Mavericks

“Going to the beach” means something different to a surfer than it does to most. I was up early – like, really early – and quickly packed up my car. I wanted to maximize my time out on the water. I’m not an expert surfer and would never claim to be. I knew enough to recognize that I was under qualified to ride the waves at Mavericks. For me, that was part of what I was there to do, though. It had been a tough couple years and this trip – and specifically, this experience – was an opportunity for me to embrace fear of the unknown head-on.

Of course, I wasn’t a total idiot, and had contacted a friend of a friend, who was a far more experienced surfer, and who conveniently lived in Pacifica, another coastal joint about 15 minutes north of Mavericks. He had agreed to be my guide for the day, and we quickly fell into conversation. We discussed surf spots, famous events that he’d surfed recently. Later,  talked about some of the politics that surrounded Mavericks following the drowning of an international wave-rider in 2011.

This brought some new emotions bubbling up to the surface, mainly that of terror. I decided to sit on the rocks while he surfed for a little. There were little creatures in every crack and crevice in the dark stone surrounding me: sea sponges that responded to the slightest touch, shrinking back into themselves; bright purple anemones, hailing me with their brilliant violet spikes like tiny warriors; and hermit crabs who had no fear, transforming from simple shells sitting on the rock face to curious little allies, crawling onto my open palms as if to say hello. It didn’t take long before I felt welcomed in this world that – although I’d been surfing for most of my life – was entirely foreign to me and seemingly brand-new.

Time to just do it

So it was time. I bid my new aquatic friends good-bye as I Velcro-ed up my board leash. I jogged to the edge of the water and swam out towards the groaning, swirling, dark-green tides. The peaks and valleys of the water seemed to rush me out and urge me forward. The waves guided me to where I was meant to be: the big breaks of Mavericks. It’s a humbling, terrifying, exhilarating feeling looking up at that much powerful natural energy throttling towards you. I’d never felt quite so small, and yet, at the same time, so distinctly alive and significant.