When the Coastside’s famously large swells start picking up, so, too, does excitement for the Mavericks Surf Challenge. First held in 1999, the thrilling big wave surf contest draws an elite group of surfers from around the globe—from Australia to Portugal—to brave towering waves that frequently top twenty-five feet.

Given the reliance on weather and surf conditions, competition dates vary each year. This window for this season’s contest opened November 2018 with the hope that the event will take place before waves subside and the window closes in mid-March 2019. As we await the official announcement, here’s what you need to know about the awe-inspiring contest, including where to watch the world’s top big wave surfers tackle some of the largest, gnarliest waves on the planet.

About Mavericks

Located roughly two miles offshore from Pillar Point Harbor Beach, Mavericks is a surf break with exceptionally large waves that can reach up to sixty feet high. It was popularized by local surf legend Jeff Clark who became one of the first to surf the monumental break. Before then, few believed huge waves existed outside of Hawaii, let alone California. Eventually, others caught on, word spread, and the first official surf contest premiered in 1999.

Mavericks’ waves are so forbidding, that surfers are often towed out via jet ski as opposed to paddling themselves. If you’ve seen footage of surfers at Mavericks, you know how breathtaking it is. Dwarfed by behemoth swells, death-defying pros charge down the face of waves, propelled by a mountain of water that breaks with the ferocity of Niagara Falls—large enough to register on the Richter scale. It’s mind-boggling, mesmerizing, and a genuine marvel to behold.

What’s New at This Year’s Contest

The 2017-2018 season marked the first time women were invited to compete, but, unfortunately, they never got the opportunity after surf conditions precluded last winter’s event from happening. This year, ten female surfers are expected to participate in two heats of five surfers with the best three advancing to the finals. They join twenty-four male competitors who will participate in four heats of six surfers. Each surfer has roughly 45 minutes to catch as many waves as they can, and dazzle the judges. The men and women who place first will be awarded equal prize money, roughly $25,000.

Female surfer
This year, ten female surfers are expected to participate in two heats of five surfers with the best three advancing to the finals.

The inclusion of women to the historically men’s event was due in part to a change in organizers. In 2017, the rights for the twenty-year-old surf contest were acquired by the World Surf League (WSL), an organization that showcases numerous international surf competitions. The WSL redubbed the event as the Mavericks Surf Challenge, and added it to their roster of annual big wave surf contests which include the Nazare Challenge in Nazare, Portugal and the Jaws Challenge Pe'ahi in Maui, Hawaii.

Where to Watch

Mavericks Surf Challenge takes place two miles offshore, and is not visible to the naked eye. More importantly, the bluff and beaches nearest the break are off-limits on event dates due to the safety of bystanders—rogue waves have toppled and injured bystanders in the past—as well as environmentally sensitive habitats. Don’t be a kook! Resist the urge to sneak past the village surrounding Pillar Point Harbor; you’ll be greeted by law enforcement who will turn you away. 

Maverick's surf shop
Gather with friends at one of many festive, local spots—including a parking lot party at Jeff Clark’s Mavericks Surf Shop—and enjoy a professionally shot, live stream of the event.

Instead, gather with friends at one of many festive, local spots—including a parking lot party at Jeff Clark’s Mavericks Surf Shop—and enjoy a professionally shot, live stream of the event. Here’s where to get stoked on this year’s Mavericks Surf Challenge:

PILLAR POINT HARBOR

HALF MOON BAY

Garrick Ramirez is a freelance writer and photographer who loves sharing compelling destinations within California. As a native, he has yet to tire of exploring the many cities, small towns, and natural splendor found throughout the state. His travel guides have appeared in the SF Chronicle, Via Magazine, and The Mercury News among others. He lives in San Francisco with his wife and son.