Another 80-degree day yesterday. Camp fire last evening under warm winter skies, while up at dawn this morning I see a high cloudiness settling in. I went camping in Big Sur, a couple of hours to the south of me, this past week. The unusually warm winter we are having drew me out to have another look at this gorgeous stretch of coastline. Winter wild flowers are being hindered from pushing up though because of the lack of rain. The ocean temperature is warmer than usual and is setting up a high-pressure barrier that is blocking winter rain storms from coming our way. Just big stretches of bright blue sky!

The California coast is not short on waves, however. The Mavericks Invitational surf contest went off on Friday in Half Moon Bay, drawing some of the top big wave riders in the world. 40 footers hit the north shores of the Hawaiian Islands a couple of days before slamming into California. The break at Mavericks is too far out to sea to be able to watch the surfers from the beach, so I stayed home and watched the entire contest live via web cast. After 50 years of surfing and windsurfing, it’s hard for me to not be watching these world-class dare devils come here and risk their lives.

It’s also hard to sit still indoors looking at a computer screen all day long. I know that from my working years, but I was mesmerized by watching the contest live. The photography crew was so skilled at presenting the whole Mavericks experience. Some cameramen were shooting from helicopters, some from the cliffs, some on boats at sea, while many of the surfers had small video cameras mounted on their boards. I could see the entire contest from many different angles, different perspectives, which of course would be impossible to see if I were to drive up the coast an hour and have a look for myself.

Several surfers invited to the contest were Santa Cruz locals who have had a lot of experience riding Mavericks. My daughter went to high school with one of them, another one runs a surf shop a couple of miles from here. In this surf-oriented community their names are nearly a household word. Well known surfers move here from afar to be close to these spectacular waves. But the South African, Twiggy Baker, took the first place cash prize of $50,000 in the contest. The day before he had been riding Jaws, another famous large-wave spot on the north shore of Maui. Next, the pros chase the swell, if it doesn’t peter out, down to the southwestern coast of Mexico.

In California, the swell has already dropped in size to a more normal and safe level. For a day or so the people close by become spell-bound by this exhibit of raw beauty and power that comes to us from another part of the world. The waves we saw on Friday were the biggest we’ve seen in four years. Mavericks may produce more giant surf this winter, but probably the only people to notice will be the die-hard surfers who always have their eyes on this spot, those who ride it purely for the thrill and not for the glory of winning the contest. Each big wave that is ridden becomes a personal contest.

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