Environmentalists concerned about surf contest

As surf competitors face 20 to 35 foot wave faces Saturday in Half Moon Bay, environmentalists are urging spectators to protect the delicate ecological region from where they will be viewing the world-renowned Mavericks Surf Competition.

The competition starts at 8 a.m. with 24 of the world's best big wave surfers paddling out to sea. They come from as far as Australia, South Africa and Brazil to catch the monster waves. There will be four initial heats with six surfers, followed by the semi-finals and finals.

The Half Moon Bay Coastside Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau is expecting between 35,000 and 40,000 people to descend on the region to watch the contest.

An unpleasant aspect to the contest is the lack of adequate viewing areas, according to Chamber President and CEO Charise McHugh.

Spectators must park and walk to the bluffs. Unfortunately, the bluff area is also home to a bird refuge so visitors must stay in designated areas.

McHugh has said that if the refuge starts to get trampled there may not be a surf contest anymore.

Officials from the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary have also issued restrictions for vessels and aircraft that are taping or viewing the surf contest. In order not to disturb the variety of federally protected marine mammals and sea birds in the area, boats should stay at least a quarter mile from shore, and aircrafts should maintain at least 2,000 feet in altitude.

Contest organizers have joined with eco-friendly food maker Clif Bar & Co. to help make the contest environmentally friendly and ensure that it continues, according to the contest Web site. There will be eco-stations

on the bluffs where competitors and spectators can recycle bottles and properly dispose of other trash, and vendors and contest organizers will be using renewable energy sources.

There are also a variety of ways to watch the contest without braving the elements at Half Moon Bay, according to contest organizers. A live feed will be available on the contest Web site, http://www.maverickssurf.com, or surf enthusiasts can attend a viewing party being held at AT&T Park in San Francisco. A life feed will be shown on the centerfield scoreboard and will run for the duration of the contest.

Last year the contest was canceled due to poor weather conditions and a lack of large swells.

The Mavericks Surf Contest began in February 1999. Each year the window for the contest runs for three to four months. During that time surfers are on-call for when the “perfect” system passes through. When that happens, competitors are given 48 hours to get to Half Moon Bay for the start of the competition.

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