Hands Down At Mavericks

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For as long as most can remember, a good day at Maverick’s — and we mean a really good day — tends to be compared to 1994, the year when a week of psychotic swells in December caused the birth of Jay Moriarity, the death of Mark Foo and a change in the big-wave landscape forever. After today, though, the new reference point just might be November 30, 2008, the day when paddle-in surfing at Maverick’s reached a whole new pinnacle. “You always hear people claim ‘best ever,'” says Greg Long, who ruptured his eardrum on Saturday and had to watch the day’s marathon session from the boat. “But I really think this was the best it’s ever been. 20 to 25 feet and not a drop of water out of place. Guys were going deep as humanly possible and pulling it off. As painful as it was to watch, I know I’ve never seen it better.”

It all started more than a week ago, when wave models called for a “megastorm” to turn the entire north pacific red, black and purple and send everyone from Hawaii to California running for the hills. But models have a knack of letting us down, which is why Stormsurf and Wavewatch forecaster Mark Sponsler cautioned everyone: “Take little stock in the models. A breath of wind hasn’t even blown yet. These are simply colors on a computer screen.” But the models held steady enough, although it ended up veering away from Hawaii and intensifying on its way into the gulf. That spelled extra large, extra long period swell for the West Coast with pristine, slack-wind conditions. Basically, a once-in-a-decade repeat of 1994 with some 21st {{{Century}}} performance-enhancers on it. By late Thursday, we knew it was on for the weekend.

The boys even got a warm-up swell on Friday, a solid 15-foot appetizer from a separate system. That was enough to convince Mark Healey and Dave Wassel to fly over, along with Nathan Fletcher, Grant “Twiggy” Baker and a few other 11th-hour swell-chasers. It was fogged in Saturday morning, but by about noon or so, the first signs of the megaswell showed up on the buoys at an ungodly 14 feet at 25 seconds. “There were actually some 33-second intervals in there as well on Saturday,” said Sponsler. “Very rare to see that kind of deepwater energy.”

It translated into a dramatic paddle session on Saturday afternoon, with more subterranean behemoths going by unridden than attempted. Still, there was a determined, talented crew on the ledge, and Fletcher, Healey, Wassel, Tashnick, Twiggy and others all got their share of weightless bombs. Alex Martins probably nabbed the biggest one of the day, a second-reef roll-in that morphed into something evil. The only real mishap of the day happened when Long took off way back on a big one, got clipped on the end section, and then went into perhaps the deepest, darkest journey of his life. “It was bad because I didn’t even see it coming,” said Greg. “I mean, I technically made the wave. But when I went down on that second bowl, it sent me so deep so fast that I didn’t have a chance to clear my ears. That’s when I felt the pop. I tried to climb my leash, but then I heard the second wave roll over me and drive me deeper. When I finally got to the surface, everything was sideways and the third wave was right on top of me. When Jeff Clark tried to drive in to grab me, I was so out of it that I started swimming straight down.”

Greg was eventually pulled to safety — a painful, scary reminder of how fast things can go wrong at Mav’s, even after you make the drop.

On Sunday, it was pretty much game on from first light. A south wind opened up a brief tow session, but by 7 am, Twiggy paddled out and put an end to it. And from Twiggy’s first macker to the last waves at dusk, it was full-on all day long. The highlights? La Jolla’s Derek Dunfee, who’s been putting in his time out there, nabbed one of the bigger ones. Nathan Fletcher stuck an impossible left. Flea made an appearance and is clearly back on the horse. And Skinny Collins slipped into some oil-slick beauties. There were so many memorable rides that no one could recount them all. But the one name at the top of everyone’s list was Twiggy, who consistently rode more massive waves than anyone all day long. “The guy just can’t get enough, even when everyone else is done,” said SURFING photographer Frank Quirarte.

But in the end, it was Maverick’s itself that headlined this day — a day that will forever be etched in the fabled spot’s history books. “This swell?” said SF charger Grant Washburn. “This was the swell that outlasted us all.”