ESPN: The Magazine sportswriter Kreidler (Six Good Innings: How One Small Town Became a Little League Giant, 2008, etc.) goes inside the sport and business of big-wave surfing, covering the 2010 Maverick’s Surf Contest on the coast of Northern California.
Maverick’s is a geologic anomaly. About 20 feet below the surface is a ski ramp-like reef that gathers waves and brings them to a height of 50 or 60 feet, with enormous concentrated energy. Very few surfers in the world are skilled enough to ride such waves. A self-described “big dysfunctional family,” these big-wave surfers—with names like Twiggy Baker and Flea Virostko—will drop everything at a moment’s notice and go anywhere in the world where the waves are good. Maverick’s is perhaps the best of these surf points. Surfers had always come to Maverick’s informally, for only the thrill and calculated risk of the ride. However, Jeff Clark, the first to ride Maverick’s “liquid mountains” and generally acknowledged expert and guardian of the point, came up with the idea of a real contest with real money. He partnered with entrepreneur Keir Beadling, a marriage hardly made in heaven. While Beadling saw Maverick’s as a brand, Clark insisted that it was the wave and the camaraderie that still mattered most. Only for a few short winter months might the waves be adequate for a true contest; if the waves weren’t there, Clark could and would cancel the event. This made life difficult for Beadling in securing sponsors and underwriters, and the two soon parted ways. But the 2010 contest did occur, not without incident as waves wiped out the beach and the spectators and vendors gathered there. Kreidler expertly captures the personalities, flaws and strengths of the riders who challenged Maverick’s, and with laser-like prose describes what it is like to face such a possibly lethal challenge. He also provides a telling examination of what can go wrong when an untamed sport becomes the handmaiden of commerce.
A finely crafted tale of the enigmatic world of big-wave surfers.