The biggest surf break of the Half Moon Bay area lures surfers from around the globe. Just off the coast, a short distance outside Pillar Point Harbor, Mavericks looms large on the horizon in winter months (November through March), when the storm swell pushes the surf into some of the biggest waves in the world. Originally named for the canine companion of a local surfer, Mavericks is better known to the world through Jeff Clark, a Half Moon Bay native who has surfed the break for more than 40 years.

A big-wave contest has been held at Mavericks since 1998, however the wave itself—a maverick—is nonconformist by nature and doesn’t perform on a set schedule. Contest-free years have occurred, but the surfers always show up when the wave comes out to play, whether there’s a cash prize or not.    

The best break for beginner and intermediate surfers is the Half Moon Bay Jetty, also known as Surfers’ Beach. Just south of Pillar Point Harbor on Highway 1, this spot inside the lee of the jetty may be inconsistent at times, but it’s often protected from the northwest winds. Families with picnics are scattered along the sand, dogs and their humans stroll near the surf, while surfers of all stripes (boogie boards to short boards to stand-up paddleboards) test the waves.

For more advanced surfers, there are a variety of breaks up and down the 5-mile beach that spans north from Half Moon Bay, but changing surf, wind, and sandbar conditions mean scouting is in order before committing to a spot. Other experienced surfers enjoy Montara Beach when conditions are right. Check with local surf shops for their expertise.

Classes and tours are offered by The Mavericks Experience. If you already know how to surf, but just need the equipment, find rentals at Mavericks Surf Company.

Even if you’d rather soak in the surfer lifestyle without getting wet, there are plenty of opportunities. Duck in at the Old Princeton Landing, where big-wave surfers hang out after a session, and store their boards in the rafters until the next big swell. Wander into a surf shop and peruse the every-day clothing and accessory items that surfers wear in their off-hours. Hang out in the outdoor patio at the Half Moon Bay Brewing Company and Sam’s Chowder House, even when the weather’s not quite perfect, to get a taste of chilling out in the saltwater-scented air. Stake out a spot at Surfers’ Beach or Mavericks to watch surfers catch choice waves, or even merely enjoy being out in the water.

While surfing is about the excitement of catching a wave and being one with the ocean, it’s also about the pleasure of the coast and finding peace in the moment—far from life’s every-day stressors. Grabbing even a little bit of that peace is what coastal life is all about.