Mavericks Challenge California Surf Contest: What You Need to Know

Guide to Watching the Mavericks Surf Contest

Competitors at the Mavericks Surf Contest
Ezra Shaw / Getty Images

The Mavericks Challenge California surf contest gives the world's best surfers a chance to test their skills against monster waves that can rise as much as 60 feet high at the spot called Mavericks near Half Moon Bay, California. Just off a rugged, rocky point along the coast, winter storms and underwater geography combine to create some the biggest and most dangerous waves in the world.

Weather and ocean conditions are not predictable, so this contest has no fixed date. No one knows the date when it will be held until just 24 hours before it starts.

How the Surf Contest at Mavericks Works

Most of the year, the ocean's waves look perfectly ordinary at Mavericks. The big waves come only after a big winter storm in the Pacific Ocean.

No one knows in advance when the waves will peak, or even if they will get to their legendary sizes at all. In fact, in some years they never get big enough to hold the surfing contest. That has happened for the last three years in a row.

Late each year, contest organizers announce the official waiting period for the Mavericks surf contest. In 2019, the competition window runs from November 1 through March 31. When conditions look like the waves are going to be big enough (at least 25 feet high), the organizers call a group of pre-selected surfers to let them know when the Mavericks Challenge will begin. The contestants have just 48 hours to get there. That's all the time you'll have to prepare to watch them, too.

The first Mavericks surf contest was held in 1999. The name and the group running it has changed every few years since then. In fact, Mavericks may be one of the unluckiest events in the entire surfing world, with a long tale of things gone wrong. The World Surf League assumed sponsorship and renamed it the Mavericks Challenge in 2018.

No matter what the name of the competition is or who's running it, if Mother Nature provides the waves, tens of thousands of spectators sometimes gather to watch that elite group of the world's best big wave surfers.

If you want to watch the Mavericks Challenge, you need to know when it's going to happen, and you won't have much time to get ready. For updates and more information, check the Big Wave Tour page at the World Surf League website.

Watching the Mavericks Challenge Surf Contest in Person

The Mavericks Challenge's heart-stopping, big waves break over an ocean reef off Pillar Point near Half Moon Bay. If you decide to go to Half Moon Bay to see what's going on, don't expect to see too much from land. The big waves break about half a mile offshore. Take binoculars and arrive as early as you can to find a good viewing spot. 

During the Mavericks contest, previous event organizers set up shuttles from parking lots at the airport or harbor. They also offered a chance to go out in a boat to see the action up close, but that may or may not happen this year.

Watching the Mavericks Surfers Online

You might get a much closer look at the surfers if you view online than if you go to Half Moon Bay to try to see it. You can also find that on the World Surf League website.

How to Get to Mavericks

During the off-season, it's easy to get a look at the Mavericks location. In the winter, you may see some of those spectacular waves, but the rest of the year, it's more of an ordinary ocean scene.

To get there, set your navigation to 22 W Point Ave, Moss Beach, CA. That will take you to a parking lot, but don't stop there. Instead, follow the road up to the hill to the Tide Pools parking lot. From there, hike along the trail that runs just below the Pillar Point Air Force Station, toward Mavericks Beach. The surfing zone is south of the beach, near the offshore rocks.

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