With the Mavericks Surf Contest waiting period less than a week away (Dec 1), we decided to catch up with Mavericks main man Jeff Clark to discuss this years event. Clark, never one to mince words, is understandably excited. The event has a new sponsor and more prize money. However, Clark’s focus–as it always has been– remains on the arena itself. And with NOAA’s Wave Watch III animation giving birth to large purple blobs, the patriarch of the Mavericks Surf Contest is pacing anxiously with cigars in tow.
SURFERMAG.COM: The Mavericks Surf Contest this year tell me a little bit about the event.
JEFF CLARK: The Mavericks Surf contest 2004-2005 is back again. Our waiting period will start Dec. 1 – Mar. 31. This year we have a sponsor–a non-surf industry sponsor– Balance Vectors, which is headed by Steve Lusso. Steve has just gotten into surfing and he is having the time of his life. His company, Balance Vectors, is one that looks out for athletes, sponsors…people doing extraordinary things. One of their deals also is Primal Quest. He’s taken an interest in surfing. He’s being taught by one on the Mavericks guys, Mike Brummet, and so Mike Brummet gave me a call, we started talking about the event, what he could do to help us and he says, “I’m in.” So now we have a purse of $75,000, which will be leaps and bounds over the $10,000 that we had last year.
SURFERMAG.COM: You’ve got guys like Garrett McNamara, Ross Clark-Jones, Skindog…who else do I have on my list here…Peter Mel. Unless I’m mistaken, these guys are dedicated tow-in surfers. Not that they’re not obviously fabulously talented watermen, but do you think at some point that, since they’re so geared into towing-in, they may have lost a bit of their paddle-in edge?
JEFF CLARK: I think that the tow-in gives you another perspective of the paddle-in edge. That’s the difference between Mavericks and Jaws. We go out, we tow at the crack of dawn, and as soon as the paddle guys come out, we tie up our boats either in the channel or go get our paddle boards at the dock and we go out and paddle with them. It’s not like Jaws where it’s all tow. It’s all tow at Jaws. Where do they go paddle after they tow?
SURFERMAG.COM: When do you think was the last time Ross paddled into a 20-ft. wave?
JEFF CLARK: That’s the thing about big wave surfers. I don’t know when the last time Ross paddled into a 20-foot wave was. You can train and train and train, but unless you’ve got it right here [heart] you can be in the best shape of your life, but if you can’t get your mind to paddle you over the edge…sorry. You can’t train for that. Ross has got the mind to go, and Tony Ray and Noah Johnson and all those guys.
SURFERMAG.COM: Certainly everybody on the list.
JEFF CLARK: Everybody on the list paddle-surfs. Paddle-surfing is the true test of a waterman, and where better to have a paddle-surf contest than Mavericks? ‘Cause you can paddle into waves that are well over 50-ft., 60-ft., as we saw in the first year of the K2 challenge — Peter Mel and Flea. I saw the most insane man-on-man non-contest heat, between Pete and Flea in 25-ft. surf. Each man got a handful of waves well over 50-ft. faces.
SURFERMAG.COM: Let’s discuss the size of waves. Tell me about the process of going from red light to yellow light to green light: it’s on.
JEFF CLARK: To actually call the swell for the contest, it’s just got to be solid. Toward the end of the springtime last year, I mean the season was really mediocre at best, I mean it was really actually a bad season. We had big swells, we towed a couple days that were 50- to 60-ft. faces, but the big storm surf.
SURFERMAG.COM: Is there a certain benchmark buoy reading, where you go, “Okay, we’re at least at this number, we can at least put out the yellow light, we’re real close.” Is there a number, or is it a gut feeling?
JEFF CLARK: It’s wind more than anything because those numbers are always there. It’s the wind and what those waves have to come through to get to our shore. We can have perfect numbers, but if the wind’s wrong, it’s going to destroy it. You know last year, probably the smallest competitive big wave contest of the world. It’s funny. My friend was on the boat with Gary Linden, and Gary said, “I never would have called it on this day.” And my friend, well, he’s a very analytical kind of guy, and he says to Gary, “Well, what do you call a big wave?” “15 feet,” answered Gary. And my friend pointed to a wave breaking and said, “Well, that wave’s 15 feet.” 15-ft. is a big wave, when you have a 30-ft. face on the sets, that’s a big wave. Yes, there weren’t a lot of them, but we had it, we were able to pull off a successful event, everybody was stoked. You didn’t hear anybody saying, “You never should have called this.” Because we held the event, it’s back, it’s back for the long haul. This year, hopefully–Mother Nature willing–we’ll have a solid 20-ft. swell, and with the reputation of Mavericks as being the true test of a waterman, you know…it’s going to be fun. And we’ve upped the ante with a better prize purse, we have the funds this year to help with an appearance fee, to help all the guys who are invited to get to the arena, to get to Mavericks and participate.