Maverick’s contest awash in drama as founder, operators wrestle for control

A year and a half after a rogue wave injured a dozen people at Maverick’s surf contest in Half Moon Bay, the contest’s founder is seeking to retake control of the event.

Jeff Clark, owner of Maverick’s Surf Shop, announced at a San Mateo County Harbor Commission hearing last week that he intends to seek a permit for the contest most recently operated by Maverick’s Family LLC, a group which includes his ex-wife, Katherine Kelly Clark.

The commission will now consider competing proposals for the big-wave surf contest Aug. 1.

“The sentiment is that we’re going to decide what’s good for the community and the best interest for making the event successful,” Harbor Commission President Pietro Parravano said.

“I created Maverick’s,” Jeff Clark said. “I founded it and it’s been successful. But the wrong people started to get involved with it and it went completely sideways.”

But Katherine Clark said her group has the safety and surfing expertise to do the job. The company employs two famous big-wave surfers, including Darryl “Flea” Virostko, who has won the contest a record three times.

Katherine Clark, who characterized her dispute with Jeff Clark as “being made into a Jerry Springer show,” said she’s been handling operations and public safety for the contest since 1998 — consulting first for Quicksilver and then for Jeff’s company, Maverick’s Surf Ventures.

Jeff Clark had helped put on the Maverick’s surf contest ever since it began in 1999, but all that changed in 2008. At that time, his ex-wife, along with event sponsor Rickshaw Bagworks, “pushed” him out of the then-Maverick’s Community, he claims.

Since his departure, Maverick’s Family has done a poor job of managing the contest, said Jeff, pointing as evidence to a 2010 incident in which more than a dozen spectators were injured by large waves.

“There were no lifeguards on the beach, they were so ill-prepared. I tried to warn the company the day before the contest, ‘Don’t set that stuff up there, this is going to be the biggest swell we’ve had in 10 years, the surges will be heavy and dangerous and there will be no beach.’ But that fell on deaf years.” After the mishap, the Harbor district issued new rules prohibiting spectators to gather on the bluffs or the beach typically used to watch the contest.

Instead, a “viewing area” will have to be created to keep spectators a safe distance from the unpredictable surf, said harbor district General Manager Steve Grennell.

Maverick’s Family — minus Jeff Clark — would have managed the contest in 2011, but it was cancelled due to flat seas.

In a letter to the commission, Jeff Clark’s current wife, Cassandra, suggested that her husband, as the event’s founder, would be best-equipped to draw publicity and spectators to the event — which is important for the cash-strapped Half Moon Bay. But Katherine Clark said the contest’s fame has moved beyond Jeff.

“Jeff is today and will always be the icon,” she said. “He owns the history, but the competitors and winners have brought worldwide fame and recognition to the event.”The event does not make money, Katherine Clark said, which is why sponsorship is especially important.

Last April, Maverick’s Family “lost control” of a sponsorship offered by Barracuda Networks, Jeff Clark said, leading the company to withdraw its sponsorship of the event.

While Barracuda provided scant explanation for its decision, Katherine Clark said only that, “Our visions didn’t align perfectly.” Maverick’s Family is “now negotiating with several sponsors,” she added.

“My hope is that in between time there will be some work that happens that brings everybody back to the same table to do the right thing for the community,” she said.

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