The Bell Tolls

Chris Bertish Takes First At Mavs Contest

As you may know by now (5 minutes after the contest), it is South African Chris Bertish who takes first with a day of late drops and fearless drives into the maw, and a few rail grab cutbacks just to add some flair. The sheer intensity of this year's event made for an epic spectacle-- the crowds thronging the beach and cliff, gleaning the irresistible energy charge from the waves and the gifted surfers who ride them. 2nd Shane Desmond, 3rd Anthony Tashnick, 4th Dave Wassell, 5th Carlos Burle, 6th Ken "Skindog" (now "Dogfather") Collins.

When the tide drops, the waves go nuclear outside. Certainly 20-feet easy, with some 25-footers roaring through. The semi finals hold moments of glory--Twiggy with an air drop on a massive one. However, he is unable to follow it up. Anthony Tashnick with two monsters under his belt. Chris Bertish impressive with air-drops and a drive into one of those nightmare barrels. Shane Desmond does something wild on his backhand--always coming into big, outside, and mean waves. Tashnick, Wassell, and Burle each bringing down massive rides as well.

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Pre-dawn at Mav's in murky light. The one fellow I paddle the lagoon with gets washed away in a heavy line of whitewater and I am alone. Hard to say how big it is, but the lip takes some seconds to hit the trough...seems like Whitey could cruise by. So yeah, it's eerie. The waves focus at the top of the reef in a horrifying bowl, then slingshot across a wall into an inside out, gaping barrel. It is big out here, and difficult to line up. I sneak on to the shoulder of one, nothing special, but just being near these waves is special.

No one is here yet--neither jetski, boat, nor paddler, and I think of what Jeff Clark experienced in those early, pre-cappuccino and B&B Half Moon Bay days. Then a ski arrives, and another, and a lone surfer paddles over. It's Shane Dorian. "I've never surfed here," he says, as one of those North Bowl, horror-show sets stack up outside. He paddles over the ledge smoothly, and pops up with trademark poise as something apocalyptic happens over his shoulder.

Now by twos and threes more surfers arrive: Mark Healy, Carlos Burle, Rusty Long, and a fellow on a board with a yellow deck and dark rails. Rusty, freshly picked up by Quiksilver, goes on a wave that affords a long, driving drop and stands all across the line up ahead of him. He pulls in to the darkest, most gigantic barrel imaginable, rides in there for a good while and disappears back in the mist in sheer insignificance. It is a great moment in big wave surfing.

That guy with the yellow deck? He sits so far outside it seems a wave won't break out there. But it does and his goofyfoot drop in is on a cartoon scale--good work, sir! And this is before the comp starts. The flotilla has arrived: two Coast Guard vessels, chartered cattle boats, zodiacs, and so many skies zipping around that a guy paddling a surfboard feels vulnerable indeed.

It's on now: the colored jerseys coming across to the top of the line up and the rest of us dispersing among the boats and skies. Twiggy hits one early on--a wave similar to Rusty's, with a nice peak which he drive down the face of, his stance low, powerful, beautiful. The straight into a howling tube--a howling tube--on an 18-foot wave. Ion Banner air drops, not simply breaking free for a moment, but truly coursing through the atmosphere, sure to splatter at the bottom. But he does not. He sticks it by what seems force of will alone.

Paddling back across the lagoon and emerging onto the beach now thronged with spectators is like walking into a state fair from another world entirely. The boys are around: Washburn, Ryan Seelbach prepping for his heat, Jaime Sterling. Then a tsunami... With the high tide push, a wave breaches the berm and sweeps through the crowd, which could almost have been funny, but it was a significant wall of foam that knocked people over and dragged them over the rocks into the bay. No big deal if you're a surfer in a wetsuit, but a late middle-age woman in jeans and a coat with a backpack on? She sat dazed, sand and bits of kelp in her hair. I ran in to help her up, and she seemed stunned--bleeding from cuts on her hand. There were multiple injuries--one man with a broken ankle. Perhaps the only event in which spectators sustained the worst wounds. Certainly the biggest Mavs contest held to date.