Mavericks surf contest could be wiped out by La Nina

The waves at Maverick’s have been pretty puny lately. And if the trend keeps up, the annual contest at the fabled surf spot would be washed out this year.

“It has been a less-than-stellar year,” said Mark Sponsler, a surf forecaster for the contest.
So far this winter, the famous big-wave spot near Half Moon Bay has had just four swells. Last year, some 23 broke there.

The fifth big swell of the year is expected to arrive today, and earlier this week, surfers were keeping a close eye on it, hoping it would shape up to be contest-worthy. Surfers invited to participate in the contest take a vote on each incoming swell to decide whether it merits the competition. In this case, the surf did not look large enough or consistent enough for competition.

“You want it to be like a blizzard, you want it to be relentless, relentless waves,” contest founder Jeff Clark said.

If a swell does not come in by the end of February, the contest window will be closed. That would mark the third time in five years Maverick’s has been canceled.

The contest, which attracts the biggest names in surfing, has been held each year since 1999, with the exception of 2007 and 2009, when a swell never came in that was large enough to merit a competition. The lack of large waves this year is largely attributable to the La Niña weather pattern, Sponsler said.

La Niña weather patterns, which often follow El Niño years, reverse the trade winds in the tropical Pacific Ocean and result in fewer storms, he said.

“And less storms means less surf,” Sponsler said.

Though he said even bad years sometimes bring in great surf, Sponsler is not overly optimistic about the chance that will happen.  

“Last year’s contest was life or death, and that’s pretty much how [the surfers] want it for the contest. They want it to be a real proving ground for the world’s best big-wave surfers,” he said.

The competition was historically called the Mavericks Surf Contest, but this year it was renamed The Jay at Maverick’s Big Wave Invitational in memory of late big-wave surfer Jay Moriarty.

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