A surfer drops into a wave at Mavericks in 2010. (rickbucich/Flickr)
Surfer Ion Banner drops into a wave at Mavericks in 2010. (rickbucich/Flickr)

Twenty-four of the world’s best surfers are scheduled to compete Friday at the Mavericks Invitational. Tens of thousands of people are expected to descend on Half Moon Bay to watch them.

But they won’t be watching from the nearby beach or cliffs. This year, those are off-limits to spectators. So how do you get a glimpse of the big waves?

The restrictions are in place for a couple of reasons. The conditions that create the waves, ideal for daredevil surfers, also make it dangerous for people on the beach. At Mavericks in 2010, a sneaker wave upended spectators and injured some of them.

“Mavericks notwithstanding, it’s not a good day to be at the beach,said Rebecca Rosenblatt, a spokeswoman for the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office, which does not want a repeat of the 2010 incident.

She said there are environmental concerns, too. With 30-or-40,000 people, the coastal plants get trampled and the soft sandy cliffs nearby might not be safe.

The giant waves only happen in the winter, and don’t come every year. They start forming far offshore, in storms over the Pacific. The waves escape the storms, hurtle toward the coast, and run into the Colorado Reef, which lies just off of Half Moon Bay.

“It goes from really deep water to really shallow water fairly quickly,” explained Larry Smith, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Monterey. “And that kind of pushes the wave energy up and gives them a tremendously large wave.”

Smith says the faces of the waves could be 40 feet or higher.

Mavericks Surf Competition Is Friday; How and Where to Watch 23 January,2014Molly Samuel


Molly Samuel

Molly Samuel joined KQED as an intern in 2007, and since then has worked here as a reporter, producer, director and blogger. Before becoming KQED Science’s Multimedia Producer, she was a producer for Climate Watch. Molly has also reported for NPR, KALW and High Country News, and has produced audio stories for The Encyclopedia of Life and the Oakland Museum of California. She was a fellow with the Middlebury Fellowships in Environmental Journalism and a journalist-in-residence at the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center. Molly has a degree in Ancient Greek from Oberlin College and is a co-founder of the record label True Panther Sounds.

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