Mavericks Surfers Wish Themselves Luck …and Bigger Surf – Mavericks Surf Contest 2007

Grant “Twiggy” Baker has one thing in mind for the Mavericks Surf Contest 2007, and it’s not what you think.

“As long as I get through my first heat, that’s the goal,” said the Mavericks defending champ, sipping a beer and shivering on the chilly outside deck at the Mavericks opening ceremonies party Saturday night.

The South African will have something of a time of achieving even that modest goal. The opening ceremonies included a random drawing for heat selection, and Baker’s heat, Heat 1, looked like the most stacked of them all, including heavy hitters Peter Mel of Santa Cruz and Hawaiians Brock Little and Garrett McNamara.

Despite Baker’s upset win in last year’s contest — the first time anyone outside Santa Cruz took the title in the five times the event has run — he knows and everyone else knows that any one of the 24 elite big-wave surfers invited to the competition is capable of winning at Mavericks. Sometimes, even more important than knowing where to sit or paddling out on the most high-tech board, is a little kiss from Lady Luck.

“The results of the contest is not the thing people are after,” said Baker, 33, who’s been hanging out and surfing on the West Coast and Hawaii since November. “The invite is the main thing. Because anyone can win it if the waves pick you out.”

The event window, as last year, opened Jan. 1 and ends March 31. This year’s sponsor for the $75,000 contest is search engine company of Oakland.

Before the opening ceremonies party, the surfers paddled out for a traditional prayer circle, where they asked for a safe event and had the chance to say a few words. Then it was to the Harbor House Conference Center in Princeton-by-the-Sea, just a short walk from the fabled break. There, about 200 people, including the athletes, media, family members and various VIPs, drank a few beers, downed crab and garlic bread and talked story over a grinding surf band. Mavericks pioneer Jeff Clark, credited with founding the break and now one of the contest organizers, headed up the party along with wife Katherine.

Despite the luck aspect, some surfers said they had a strategy. Sort of.

“My game plan is to have no game plan,” said Santa Cruz’s Tyler Smith, who took second last year. “I’m just going to sit there and wait for the biggest wave.”

For newcomer Jamie Sterling of Hawaii, his first go-out in the contest will be a sharp learning curve. He plans on mirroring the local guys out in the water, but he knows the other surfers aren’t really his true competitors.

“I don’t really care who I draw (in the heat selection),” said Sterling, “because it comes down to you and the ocean.”

The surfers are happy with the new addition of surf event organizer Darren Brilhart as a liaison and communication medium between the competitors and the organizers, said surfer Zach Wormhoudt.

“In terms of the logistics, it will probably go pretty good,” said Wormhoudt, cradling his new son, Noah, 3 months, in his arms. “As long as the surf’s good, the event almost runs itself. That’s what it’s all about.”

The competitors met on Friday to discuss items including the event format, judging criteria and judging position, said Brilhart. The consensus was that land-based judging, rather than from a boat on the shoulder, will serve the surfers best, he said.

The land-based judging started last year, at the surfers’ request, as a way to give the judges a better view of the entire wave.

But even with all the planning that mortals can do to try for a successful contest, what it really boils down to is Mother Nature, and one question is still on many surfers’ minds: How will organizers top last year’s event — a natural spectacle, a near-perfect February gem with clean, peeling, 15- to 20-foot waves, just a slight breeze and slathers of warm sunshine?

Jeff Clark is just crossing his fingers for the divine.

“I’m hoping that we have a magical day,” he said, “just like last year.”

For some, though, there is one thing could elevate this year’s contest over last year’s.

“I hope it’s bigger,” said Wormhoudt. “Because that’s the next thing — seeing how far we can take it.”

The heat breakdown, done by random drawing Saturday, is as follows:

Heat 1:
Peter Mel
Brock Little
Kenny Collins
John Whittle
Grant Baker
Garrett McNamara

Heat 2:
Josh Loya
Shawn Rhodes
Zach Wormhoudt
Shane Desmond
Ryan Seelbach
Matt Ambrose

Heat 3:
Danilo Couto
Ion Banner
Randy Cone
Russell Smith
Darryl Virostko
Evan Slater

Heat 4:
Jamie Sterling
Ross Clarke-Jones
Grant Washburn
Anthony Tashnick
Tyler Smith
Greg Long

Gwen Mickelson is the surf columnist at the Santa Cruz Sentinel. Contact her at