[Ed's note: The ChachFiles is a travel-based photo series in which photographer Ryan "Chachi" Craig let's us ride shotgun on his strike missions around the world, looking for new angles on some of the best waves and most intriguing personalities in surfing.]
The contest window for the WSL's Mavericks Challenge drew to a close last weekend without having run, but not everyone is convinced that it couldn't have. If you follow big-wave surfing at all, you probably remember that wild four-day stretch at Mavericks in December—you know, the one where everyone (behind a keyboard, at least) deemed it worthy of running the event? We all saw the forecast and the incredible imagery that eventually came from the swell, but, then again, almost any swell can look amazing when it's shot from ten different angles and condensed into a 5-minute highlight reel or photo edit, right? So was it the right call not to run?
Things kicked into gear on Monday, December 17, which saw raw, messy and massive surf at Mavericks. Was it good? For towing, sure, and I really wish more tow surfing had happened that morning because by most accounts it wasn't really paddleable—there was just too much water moving, and the regular lineup markers for large swells were gone. Surprisingly, though, for as big as the buoys were, it was a slow day. Numerous massive waves were ridden, but the waits were long. If the event was called on, surely those same internet critics would have griped at the slow heats and lack of rides that day.
The swell peaked in the wee hours of Tuesday morning and slowly declined throughout the day, but when the sets eventually did come, surfers were out of position and scratching to avoid being anywhere near the impact zone. Could you have ran the comp? Sure. Would it have been the type of event where you're glued to your computer all day? Probably not.
If you looked at the cam on Wednesday morning, you would have laughed. It was flat. But there was another swell filling in through the day, and for the whole week leading up to it, I had my eye on the forecasted light northeast winds for Wednesday. Even though there were no waves on the Mavs camera that morning, the plan was to go up around noon and hope that the swell would fill in as fast as predicted. The tide was low in the afternoon and the winds were perfect.
When I arrived with surfer Kyle Thiermann, it was clear that we weren't the only ones hopeful about the forecast. There were about 20 guys out, a handful of jet skis and perfect offshore winds. Within one minute of us getting eyes on the lineup, we saw a clean wave tear through the bowl with guys splitting the peak. What took place from then until sunset was some of the best Mavericks I've ever seen. It wasn't the biggest, but it was very consistent, with a good tide, wind direction and swell direction, and there was plenty of talent on hand to tackle both the left and the right. Rarely do all the conditions come together so nicely late in the day–it was special out there and everyone knew it, with buzzing energy flowing well after sunset at the Old Princeton Landing with a few beers.
The next morning struggled to live up to the previous afternoon's glory, but was good in its own right. The swell had peaked overnight, and it was slow, but oh so glassy. The trend of hunting the lefts continued as a new group of faces tackled the lineup–many people who had surfed Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday were surfed out.
Four consecutive days of surf at Mavericks is rare, and on paper it may sound like the event should have run. But the reality is that quality contest conditions only came together for a few hours Wednesday evening, and a few hours Thursday morning, with the very best waves of the swell breaking in the dark of night. Would it have been enough time? Probably not. But regardless of the contest, it was still an incredibly special few days at Mavericks, and the windows I was able to shoot between Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning resulted in the most picturesque conditions I've shot there to date. Below is a chronological photo essay of some of my favorite moments.
I can count the number of times that I've rocked up to Mavs in the afternoon and seen the waves like this on one hand. Offshore, sunny, low tide and a great swell-angle with most of the energy focused on the bowl is a true rarity.
Kai Lenny on the right and Lucas "Chumbo" Chianca on the left. Neither of these guys need an introduction and they have quickly found themselves on many of the set waves out at Mavs. Without question, I saw more split peaks on Wednesday night then I had over the last year combined. The left was more approachable than normal due to the swell angle and size, as well as the lower tides.
Fireworks exploding behind Eli Olson as he races toward the channel. Something that images will never quite convey is the deafening sound of an impacting lip with waves of this size. Even the "small" Mavericks waves sound like multiple sticks of dynamite exploding simultaneously.
One of the many pros of shooting off a ski (as opposed to a boat) is being able to mix up your shooting angle often. In my case, I was driving and shooting so I decided to putt-putt my way out the back of the break and watch the waves at a distance. There were roughly 20 to 30 guys out when a little sneaker set came in and, by the look of it, nearly all of those guys got caught inside. I'm not sure who this lone paddler is, but I'm sure he was stoked to make it over this one.
It's tough to decide how to shoot on a night like Wednesday. There were amazing rides going down on both the left and the right, but if you commit to shooting from the left, you're definitely going to miss more of the action as most people are surfing the right. Although I enjoy the look of Mavs from this angle, this wave of Nic Von Rupp was all I needed to see for me to try my luck shooting from the other side of the peak.
Wednesday night was probably the single most impactful sessions the Mavs left has ever seen. Nic Von Rupp, Luca Padua, Manny Resano, Koa Rothman, Torrey Meister and Lucas Chumbo all gave it a go. This sequence of Chumbo was incredible; he came from the right and backdoored the left like he'd done it a thousand times before. The lighting was phenomenal, the shape of the wave, his line, everything came together in this moment.
Mavericks doing its best Waimea Bay, party-wave impression. At 20- to 25-foot faces on most of the sets (with the odd bomb at 30 feet plus), with groomed offshores and backlit walls, Mavericks was almost inviting. Half Moon Bay's youngest charger, Luca Padua, taking off deep and all smiles as he shares this one with a few friends.
Your new Big Wave World Tour champion, Mr. Grant "Twiggy" Baker. The contest never materialized for Mavericks this year, but when it does run, Twiggy is always a betting favorite out there. Patience paid off on Wednesday night as he nabbed this bomb about an hour before sunset.
If you've ever gone out at Mavericks, you'll recognize this familiar face. Whether he is catching his own waves or showing his stoke for someone else's ride (as is the case in this image), Grant Washburn is always smiling and one of the personalities that makes the Mavericks lineup special.
Torrey Meister was ridiculously late on the drop and had to hit the eject button. What can you say about Torrey? Well, he f–king charges.
Even though everyone is hungry to get a piece of the Mavericks pie, the big-wave community looks out for one another, always. After Torrey Meister's wipeout (above) Lucas Chumbo was quick to try and get the attention of the rescue skies. As the next wave in the set approaches, Lucas kept his focus on Torrey to make sure someone grabbed him in the impact zone before paddling back to the peak.
The unbridled power of the left, with no takers in sight.
By sunrise on Thursday morning, it was clear that the swell had peaked overnight and had less energy. This was the fourth day in a row that Mavs had broke and the crowd had thinned out as a result. Kyle Thiermann was one of the first guys in the lineup and waited out the back for a bomb. This was probably the biggest set of the entire day with only two or three guys in the water. Not the type of way you'd want to start your day–Kyle said this was probably the worst wipeout he's ever had.
The type of enthusiasm displayed once those first wipeout jitters are gone and you're surfing Mavericks with only a handful of people. Thiermann, stoked and relived after that wipeout.
After sneaking off to score some other amazing waves in California on Wednesday night, Peter Mel was back at Mavericks on Thursday morning and one of the first guys riding waves at sunrise. In fact, he picked off three set waves in the first 30 minutes before calling it a day and relaxing in the channel after a week full of action.
Big-wave surfing is almost a team sport. You never want to surf alone and having a friend or two to organize rescues or, in this case, help you out with your CO2 cartridges, is a must. Two of Santa Cruz' finest, Pat Shaughnessy and Tyler Conroy getting ready for more action.
Not to be outdone on the lefts, Tyler Fox had been eying them with numerous successful rides over the years. Unfortunately for him, he missed Wednesday nights action, but he wasted no time in bagging one of the best lefts of the week on Thursday morning.
There's a lot of downtime during big swells, as the frequency of sets are actually much slower than at your typical smaller-wave spots, and it helps to have a few friends around to chat with. Seth De Roulet has been a Mavericks photographer for many years and someone I always expect to see when its breaking. He and Derek Dunfee shot all four days of swell (those are long and draining days on the water) and were still bright eyed and bushy tailed on Thursday morning. It was particularly slow so lots of mindless banter keep us all entertained.
A tale of two nightmares as a large set unloads on the Mavericks bowl on Thursday morning.
I haven't seen former event winner Nic Lamb surfing Mavs as often as he used to, but when I do see him, I'm always impressed. He is supremely confident and comfortable in heavy water and has a special connection with Mavericks. I'm sure he's dabbled with the left before, but this was the first time I had witnessed it, and it was incredible to watch and document.
Another surfer that's always fun to watch at Mavericks is Bianca Valenti. She has continually pushed the bar for women's big-wave surfing at Mavs, Puerto Escondido and, more recently, Peahi. She was as smiley as ever and definitely in her element, catching a lot of waves on Thursday morning.