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Wednesday, February 17, 2010
After the salt spray settles


One that got away.

Cost of last minute airplane ticket to SFO: $245.

Fine for violating NOAA's idiotic policy against using jet-skis in the sanctuary: $500.

One hour of helicopter time to bring you the aerial perspective: $550.

Dropping some cameras and lenses into the ocean: $9,925.

Documenting the biggest waves ever ridden in a contest from air, land and sea: Priceless!

22 feet, 17 seconds and glassy. Enough said, well almost. After months of anxious waiting, second guessing on missed opportunities, legal wrangling and some epic free surf sessions, the Mavs contest finally happened in what many are considering the biggest waves ever surfed in a jersey. From the epic daybreak pre-contest waves of Rusty Long and Shane Dorian to the final heat with Carlos Burle putting it all on the line, the level of performance shattered the ceiling of what was previously considered paddleable.

As Grant "Twiggy" Baker succinctly stated, "Tow surfing is dead."

Semifinal action

Chris Bertish was named the champion but as cliché as it may sound, anyone who paddled out there was winner and had a hand in altering the future of big-wave surfing. What Jeff Clark started long ago alone in the fog a half mile off Pillar Point has morphed into something we could only dream about before Saturday -- paddling into 60-foot-plus surf.

50,000 fans cheered on shoulder to shoulder from packed cliffs, the beach and an armada of boats that filled the channel while set after set pounded the lineup from dawn to dusk. Another 40,000 people watched from the high tide surge-free zone of their living rooms. The total prize purse of $150,000 was the largest in big-wave surfing history, fitting considering the size of the surf. For his efforts, Bertish pocketed 384,727 Rand. He can probably now afford to pay back his brother who loaned him the money for his ticket from South Africa.

Anthony Tashnick won the gnarliest drop award and Dave Wassel won the Jay Moriarty Award, given to the surfer who best exemplifies the spirit and passion that Jay was famous for. Wassel thanked the Half Moon Bay locals for accepting him, was also blown away by today's conditions. "It was undoubtedly the largest surf any paddle-in contest has ever seen." Having just won the Todd Chesser award in Hawaii a few week back, it's safe to say the aloha and respect runs deep in Dave.

Now that I've had a few days to go collect myself, lick my wounds and edit all the images, a few things stand out. The biggest and thickest waves in no particular order were ridden by Shawn Dollar, Twiggy, Rusty Long, Peter Mel, Alex Martins, Carlos Burle, Anthony Tashnick, Zach Wormhoudt, and Kohl Christensen although pretty much everyone who was out there got at least one memorable wave. From Ken Collins perspective, "Shane Dorian surfed Mavs like it was a pointbreak." Coincidentally, it was Shane's first day out at Mavs, but you couldn't tell from the way he was dominating the barrel and casually taking off deep and late on every wave. Every local was in awe of his aggressive yet stylish approach. Unfortunately, by Sunday even his luck had run out as he took a horrible beating, coming within micro seconds of a three-wave hold down that will undoubtedly change his perspective and approach to surfing the place.

Early morning warmup session.

It's interesting a judges scaffolding and some beach tents being taken out by a "rogue wave/tsunami" would get more attention than the record-setting surfing that was going on less than a half mile from where the spectators were getting dragged across the beach. I guess that's just the norm for the sensationalistic news media that feeds the masses. Do people really get more excited seeing a pale tourist dragged across the beach in his wet jeans by a tidal surge than seeing the best surfers in the world packing 30-foot bombs? I hope not or we're all doomed.

Another subject lingering in the busy lobes of my brain is the judging. Scoring surfing has and always will be a subjective thing that very rarely ends in a universally agreed upon result. It's one of the things that makes surfing interesting but also can frustrate the hell out of competitors and fans alike. It doesn't matter whether it's 30-foot Mavs or four-foot Snapper Rocks, beauty is in the eye of the beholder or is it beer holder?

In either case, the format of the Mavs contest should be changed to the "Eddie-style" where one is judged on the four best waves across two heats instead of the current elimination format. It's a big wave contest, so the biggest and heaviest waves ridden or attempted should be rewarded. If you get a 10 in your heat, you should be rewarded. The guy who gets two "six's" should not advance over the guy who got the a "10," but couldn't find a back up score. Otherwise, you're rewarding the conservative approach and that really isn't what big-wave surfing is about. It's about calculated risk, gigantic balls and dropping in with little to no concern for the potential dangers of what might happen. Carlos Burle got fifth in the final, but he was charging harder than anyone out there. Granted, he didn't make many of his waves, but he was putting on quite a show, enough so that most in the channel thought he had won.

So in one day, the history of big-wave surfing has been re-written while the whole world was watching. It didn't happen on a remote reef or during some secret session. It happened in a contest, in plain view of web cams and every single surf media outlet in the world taking note. What was previously though impossible will now be the norm. The big question is how much bigger can a surfer paddle into? One thing is certain, the current crop of big wave surfers out there charging will surely keep pushing that boundary towards the sky.