Organizers of the locally beloved Mavericks surf invitational could face some competition of their own as an international tour group is seeking to drop in and host its own contest at Half Moon Bay’s perilous winter surf break.
Despite the rebranded Titans of Mavericks breaking onto the scene last season with a Los Angeles management company funneling support into the standalone event, the World Surf League has turned in an application to host its own contest as part of the renowned Big Wave World Tour.
The hitch — there’s only room for one company to spotlight Mavericks as any competition hinges on volatile weather conditions and Mother Nature doesn’t always produce an annual contest-worthy swell.
Last season passed without a highly-touted revamped contest as the elements only aligned Dec. 20, just outside the shortened open window period.
Now, the San Mateo County Harbor District, which is facing dissolution as well as interim leadership, appears to be holding the magic wand as the agency responsible for permitting the event and potentially, pulling it from the hands of long-standing Mavericks pioneer Jeff Clark.
Although contests have been held for more than a decade, big names have started to throw their hats in the ring promising to elevate the contest to the big leagues.
Local organizers sought to work with the WSL — formerly known as the Association of Surfing Professionals — two years ago, but a suitable deal couldn’t be met.
“I’m always weary of an organization that wants to come in and make this just one stop among many obscure events. … This is the best big wave in the world and we have the best standalone event on the planet,” Clark said. “We found that our vision for Mavericks and their vision for Mavericks were very different.”
Instead, local organizers last year agreed to a deal with Cartel Management taking the helm while offering more support to the surfers who risk their lives and introducing fresh angles such as partnering with the Monterey Bay Aquarium to promote conservation. A new “board of five,” including Clark and legendary surfers, is working in tandem with Cartel and is responsible for local logistics.
Clark, longtime event photographer Brian Overfelt and numerous contestants tout Cartel’s support while new management has received mixed reviews and others have raised concerns and allegedly enticed the interests of the World Surf League.
“I think there’s a couple of disgruntled people that have maybe got involved with Mavericks for their own interests rather than the community’s interests. And this is a community thing and we work really hard to provide for the surfers, the community and to run a really good event,” Clark said.
The WSL runs numerous international events, has a CEO whose resume includes time with the National Football League and one of its commissioners is former Mavericks champion and Santa Cruz native Peter Mel.
“The World Surf League is about putting the world’s best surfers in the world’s best waves across all disciplines. … Our organization is clearly qualified to engage with the local community to transform the Mavericks event into something special,” Graham Stapelberg, general manager of tours for WSL, wrote in an email.
While both Cartel and the WSL are boasting a hefty prize of nearly $100,000 for the athletes who risk their lives competing, Cartel and the board of five have spent almost a year revamping and investing in improving the contest.
“The people that are trying to get this event, they don’t surf Mavericks. They’ve come on way late in the game and they think, ‘oh, I want to be in control of this,’ and it’s like, you know, we’ve already got this. We’ve got a handle on this, we’re doing a good job. Settle down,” Clark said.
Why the Harbor District?
The district, which oversees Pillar Point Harbor in Half Moon Bay, is one of nearly 16 agencies that oversee Mavericks and many of its commissioners urged the community’s interests should take precedence.
The district has a standing three-year agreement offering permits to the local organizers through 2016, which the board approved Cartel signing on to in December. But in the loosely formed agreement, the board reserves the authority to amend the terms of the permit that is now being called into question and will be reviewed by the district’s attorney, said Sabrina Brennan, president of the Harbor District Board of Commissioners.
Although Cartel paid $11,600 for last year’s fees, which will roll over to the new season, Brennan said its permit officially expired March 31.
The district requested more information from the WSL and hasn’t yet scheduled a commission meeting to review the proposals, said Interim General Manager Scott Grindy.
According to the poorly written motion made by the board in 2013, both the WSL and Cartel have until July 1 to pay a $5,000 application fee and hopefully the board can schedule a review by its July 17 meeting, Brennan said.
“I’m not looking forward to it. It is very contentious and it has been in the past; this is incredibly important to the big wave surfing community. So for it to come down to the Harbor District about whether to permit the contest, it’s sort of a strange situation,” Brennan said.
Commissioner Robert Bernardo said he’ll wait until the issue formally comes before the board, but wants what’s best for the community and, for the most part, unless there’s justification to cancel the agreement, feels there’s an obligation to what they previously approved.
Commissioner Tom Mattusch agreed the district needs to respond to the community’s desires and will consider which organizers will be “local involvement versus far away involvement.”
What’s in it for the locals?
Mavericks photographer Frankie Quirarte and Rocky Raynor, a former organizer and leader of the Half Moon Bay Boys and Girls Club, raised concerns about Cartel’s practices earlier in the year.
Brennan said she too was concerned that Cartel was seeking to keep media and other photographers from shooting during the event. She wants organizers to work proactively with local businesses and support charter boat access — a big money maker during the event.
Overfelt said there would be space for a charter boat parade and that Cartel has outlined a policy to manage assets like photographs, which will be available to the media. But most importantly, it's about keeping photographers and boaters a safe distance from the surfers risking their lives, Overfelt said.
Without getting into specifics, Stapelberg said the WSL has already “engaged in extensive conversations with community organizers in developing plans to engage with local youth groups, environmental and sustainability efforts as well as educational programs.”
Clark and Overfelt said they were disappointed by the WSL’s interest that appeared to be triggered by men who used to stand by their side.
While Cartel’s involvement has received some backlash, Clark and Overfelt said they’re confident Mavericks is being stewarded toward success.
“We have two or three people only that are trying to stir this all up and we didn’t sign with the WSL because we didn’t believe they would take care of the athletes or the community,” Clark said. “Cartel has come in an given us the wherewithal to lay that foundation for years of successful events.”
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