Beach bummer for Maverick's fans

Fans who flock annually to see the world’s best surfers compete in the famed big-wave contest at Maverick’s may be bummed to find that a key spectator spot — the beach — is off-limits.

As organizers of what is now called the Jay at Maverick’s Big Wave Invitational prepare to hold opening ceremonies for the competition this week, authorities say the permit for the event requires that the beach be closed to the general public during the upcoming contest.

Officials are hoping to avoid the problems at the last contest, held Feb. 13, when a rogue wave swept over a breakwater and blindsided dozens of spectators on the beach, knocking over scaffolding and seriously injuring 13 people.

“Of course, people have been aware for years” of the hazard, said Peter Grenell, general manager of the San Mateo County Harbor District, “but they’ve taken chances and last year was one chance too many.”

Nevertheless, the new group that is organizing this year’s event is stoked about the field of 24 world-class surfer invitees, including 10-time world champion Kelly Slater, who will compete at Maverick’s for the first time since 2000.

“Everybody’s excited, it’s really cool. The list of guys is really, really strong, probably the best field we’ve had,” said Grant Washburn, one of the founders of the Half Moon Bay Surf Group. “All we need is a swell.”

During the contest waiting period, which runs from Dec. 1 through Feb. 28, surfers will watch the waves and weather reports in hopes that the 40- to 50-foot breaks for which Maverick’s is known make their appearance. When the time is right, a majority vote of the invitees will trigger the contest 24 hours later.

Washburn said the organizers didn’t have time to put together a repeat of last year’s live broadcast of the event at AT&T Park, but he said there may be a mass viewing near the Half Moon Bay Airport.

That will give fans a better view of the action than the beach would anyway, he said.

“I always tell people you can see it better on TV than you can see it on the beach,” Washburn said.

Surf’s up

The Jay at Maverick’s Big Wave Invitational

Dec. 1 to Feb. 28: Contest window period

Contest namesake: Santa Cruz big-wave surfer Jay Moriarty

24: Number of competitors

13: Number of people injured by waves while viewing contest in February

sbishop@sfexaminer.com

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