Super Bowl Sinks Big-Wave Surf Contest

Despite massively perfect conditions.

02.05.16 9:25 PM ET

Just like it did Johnny Utah’s knee in the original Point Break, the sport of football has crushed hopeful big-wave champions by forcing the postponement of the Titans of Mavericks surf event. Despite near-perfect conditions and massive waves—swell is so good that Surfline declared yesterday the “Day of the Year”—the proximity of Super Bowl 50 has drained resources and caused “blackouts” of “multiple agencies which are essential to event operation,” according to surf event director Darren Brilhart. 

Titans of Mavericks is an annual surf contest held when conditions are best between Nov. 1 and March 31 at Mavericks, the massive, fabled offshore break near Half Moon Bay in California. It’s a one-day, invitation-only contest that pits 24 of the world’s gnarliest big-wave riders head to head, being towed in to walls of water that can easily top 60, 70 feet or more on the face. The contest had been tentatively ready to go this week, but was superseded by football’s own big event and the 1 million fans—and thus potential security issues—flooding to the region. 

The Titans of Mavericks contest made headlines for another reason this today—the California Coastal Commission told event organizers that they had to start allowing women to enter. Jeff Clark, who has been riding the wave since 1975 and is one of the committee members who choose contest invitees, rebuked them by saying that the contest has always been open to women, there just hadn’t been any with the skills to compete. 

This year just one woman, Savannah Shaughnessy, who has been surfing Mavericks for 10 years, is No. 7 on the alternate list.

“Number seven is pretty far down the alternate list—it doesn’t seem like I will get into the final but this is like the committee validating my effort and saying, ‘We are watching you and if you prove yourself and work extra hard you can get into the final,’” she told the Guardian, adding that many alternates remain on the list for years without ever making the final competition.

This decree comes at a time when female pro surfers are trying to gain levels of athletic acceptance and respect equal to their male counterparts. 

“There are more butt shots of female surfers than any other angle of them surfing,” scoffed big-wave surfer Bianca Valenti. 

Potential sexism aside, Mavericks isn’t for the faint of heart. More than one adrenaline junkie has felt the long-term effects of a misstep on this wave – just last month legendary big-wave rider Garret McNamara, who holds the Guinness World Record for largest wave ever surfed, was pummeled in what some have hailed as the “worst wipeout ever.” His slam required surgery and has left him off the board for at least another six months.  

Undaunted by danger and the lack of a contest, surfers have been lining up to take their shot at the world-famous break, and the swell shows no sign of slowing. 

“A strong, long-period NW swell will build into Northern California Thursday, thanks to yet another hurricane-force low that is now tracking into the Gulf of Alaska,” explains Surfline lead forecaster Kevin Wallis. “For Mav’s, we expect the swell to build through the morning with 30- to 40-foot-plus faces, while the biggest waves of the day will be up to 45-foot faces in late morning/early afternoon on the lower tide.”