Just north of Half Moon Bay, which feels like a world (maybe even a universe) away from nearby San Francisco, there’s a spot in the Pacific about half a mile off the coast where the waves can reach staggering proportions, regularly cresting at 25 feet and topping out at over 80 feet after a big winter storm.
It’s been described as the ocean “on steroids.” Even getting to the waves is difficult, a long endurance-testing 45 minute paddle.
It’s a spot of surfing legends — i.e. the few who regularly surf there and the stories told about those who weren’t so lucky.
It’s called Mavericks.
In his recently released book The Fear Project, Jaimal Yogis takes a very close look at Mavericks. He is both a veteran surfer and a journalist whose personal life pushed him to really investigate his fears and fear generally, our biological reactions to it and the best possible ways to manage it. He read scientific studies and consulted experts, and then he put their research to work on himself. He decided to surf Mavericks. More accurately, he decided to train to surf Mavericks.
To help you truly understand this spot and the allure it has in the world of surfing and Northern California, here are a few things you need to know:
“Just inside the Corner, there’s a wicked set of boils that you want to avoid at all costs. This is the focal point for the majority of Maverick’s wrath and is the spot where you’ll be experiencing your two-wave hold-down if you choose unwisely. Strange phenomena –whirlpools, undertows that suck you into the abyss, etc. — have been known to take place at the cauldron. Proceed with caution.
Since the early 90s, Maverick’s has risen to the forefront on the big-wave-riding frontier, where best hellmen charge the bowl for huge props and the occasional giant prize purse . But unlike Maverick’s overnight notoriety, don’t think that your path to big-wave glory can be as immediate: Maverick’s should not even be attempted unless you’ve logged some serious hours at Waimea or Todos Santos. Then, and only then, are you worthy of gracing Maverick’s with your presence.” – Surfline’s Travel Info on Mavericks, describing ‘The Cauldron.’
“A two-wave hold-down is one of the scariest experiences for big-wave riders: You’re pummeled by one wave, held to the bottom, run out of air from the adrenaline pumping through you, then just as you’re fighting to the top, dying for air, the next wave slaps you down.” – The Fear Project
If open water makes you nervous, like me, you’re heart rate may have quickened just reading those accounts of what’s possible at Mavericks.
The best possible way to put yourself in the middle of it (without actually going anywhere near it for us non-surfers), is to watch the video below. It’s an amazing account of the Mavericks Invitational in 2010 that shows first hand the mental game needed to ride those giant waves and exactly what a two-wave hold-down looks like as you wait for a surfer to surface.
>> VIDEO: Mavericks Makes History, Chasing the Swell from L.A. Times (via Vimeo).
What’s great about The Fear Project is that Yogis writes really honestly about his fear of Mavericks. He talks to veteran surfers about its unique geography and asks them how they handle it. He learns that by gradually exposing himself to increasingly scary situations and training for the worst case scenarios, he can conquer it. And he does. The lessons he learned are easily translatable.
Conquering fears involves consistent, hard work, but any of us can learn to conquer our own fears in the same way, regardless of whether our fear is surfing Mavericks or something much less life threatening.
- The Fear Project: What Our Most Primal Emotion Taught Me About Survival, Success, Surfing . . . and Love, by Jaimal Yogis
- Mavericks (invite-only big wave surf contest)
- Mavericks on Wikipedia
- Surfline’s Mavericks Travel Info
- California Sea Floor Survey Sheds New Light on Big Waves (NOAA)