Half Moon Bay is always in the news around this time of year, what with all those giant gourds demanding attention.
But the past few days and going into this weekend, the area has been drawing scrutiny for some big waves, literally and figuratively: The world’s top surfers could convene at HMB for the Mavericks’ contest, which might be as early as Friday. And last week Silicon Valley venture capitalist Vinod Khosla won a round in his controversial fight to block the public from walking or driving to Martins Beach, just south of Half Moon Bay. Before Khosla purchased the property in 2008, the beach had been popular with surfers, fishermen and picnickers for decades.
The 2013-14 Body Glove Mavericks Invitational, held about a half-mile off Pillar Point, takes place when waves higher than 30 feet break at regular intervals, with good visibility and low winds. But all those conditions must be met, so even though the contest window opens Nov. 1, it could be months before the contest happens (the window closes March 31).
Among the two-dozen elite competitors expected to attend is Brazilian Carlos Burle, who on Monday was reported to have possibly surfed the world’s biggest wave off the coast of Portugal. Preliminary estimates put his wave at about 100 feet. (The current record is a 78-foot wave surfed in 2011, also off the coast of Portugal.) Other surfers at Mavericks this year include 2012-13 Mavericks winner Peter Mel, of Santa Cruz, and 2009-10 winner Chris Bertish, of South Africa.
Speaking of surfers, San Mateo County Superior Court Gerald Buchwald ruled against a group of surfers called Friends of Martin’s Beach, in Khosla’s favor, saying that the history of the property as a mid-19th century land grant predates the creation of the state of California, and preempts the California Constitution.
The Mercury News explained the ruling:
The judge’s ruling skirts the fundamental conflict between the rights of private property owners and the rights of Californians to access the shoreline. Instead, Buchwald rooted his decision in the land’s history during the mid-19th century. Since there was no public easement attached to the property at the time the United States acquired California from Mexico, the judge reasoned, the question of whether the California Constitution now guarantees access to the beach is immaterial.
The original owner of the property was Jose Maria Alviso, who received a provisional land grant from the Mexican government in the late 1830s. He later transferred the property to his brother, Jose Antonio Alviso, whose rights to the property were upheld under the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which settled the Mexican-American War. The U.S. government challenged Alviso’s land patent, but the Supreme Court confirmed Alviso’s ownership in 1859.
All that complicated history led Buchwald to a basic conclusion: The nation’s high court exempted this property from the full reach of California law.
The Friends plan to appeal. Another lawsuit against Khosla is headed for trial next spring: The Malibu-based nonprofit Surfrider Foundation contends that locking the gate to the road off Highway 1 constituted development under California coastal law, for which Khosla needed a California Coastal Commission permit. The foundation, together with surf publication The Inertia, made a short film about Martins Beach, below: