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Huge waves aim for California

Image: Nic Lamb
Nic Lamb rides a wave during the 2016 Mavericks surfing contest in Half Moon Bay, California, where the 2018 event could be held next week as a huge swell heads toward the West Coast. -
Ben Margot AP file
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LOS ANGELES — Massive waves are aiming for California, and some of the world's best surfers are waxing up their boards.

In Half Moon Bay, organizers with the World Surf League are preparing the Mavericks Challenge, a contest that happens only when the surf is "huge." The event was a no-go last year.

"We are closely monitoring the conditions to potentially run on Tuesday or Thursday next week," Mike Parsons, the league's Big Wave Tour commissioner, said in a statement.

Ben Margot
Ken Collins, from left, and Tyler Fox surf a giant wave during the second heat of the Mavericks surfing contest in Half Moon Bay, Calif on Feb. 12, 2016.Ben Margot

For the first time since 1999, when it was known as the Titans of Mavericks, women will compete in the contest. Ten women are scheduled to surfagainst each other.

The swell was expected to strike the Bay Area, including Mavericks Beach southwest of San Francisco, on Sunday and Monday and remain strong for a few days, forecasters with the National Weather Service said.

The National Weather Service in San Francisco issued a high surf warning for Sunday and Monday, adding that waves at "favored locations" could reach 50 feet. lead forecaster Kevin Wallis said the faces of waves at Mavericks could reach 60 feet on Monday.

Wallis was in Hawaii for WSL's Pipe Masters contest on Oahu's North Shore. He said the swell would hit the surf spot known as Pipeline, but that it could be so large it could shut down the contest Sunday.

He said the same could be true for Mavericks, which may be why organizers are waiting until Tuesday or later to hold the event.

"It's a question of surfer safety," Wallis said.

Jeff Clark, who's credited with being the first surfer to ride the waves at Mavericks, said the south winds and rain expected Sunday could ruin the wave. He said he's been informally advising the WSL.

"We hope the ocean cleans up enough to approach it Monday," he said.


Clark's shop in Half Moon Bay, Mavericks Surf Company, is where first responders share their worst-case contest plans and global wave chasers check in for the latest reports.

"Everybody's coming in to see what Maverick's will produce in this coming week," Clark said.

The legendary big wave surfer said he plans to be on water rescue duty during the contest and that he might use a jet ski to get towed into a few waves beforehand.

"It's going to be big," he said.

Lifeguards will be on high alert. Some of the ablest bodies in the world of surfing have died competing at Mavericks, including boldface names Mark Foo in 1994 and Sion Milosky in 2011.

James Behrens, co-manager of the Coastal Data Information Program at Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, said a big low-pressure system between Alaska and Hawaii has been churning up the water.

The west-northwest swell generated off Alaska's Aleutian Islands will send waves up and down the West Coast, forecasters said.

"It's going to send swell anywhere that's got northwest exposure in the Pacific," Wallis said.

The swell was expected to lose energy as it moved down the coast, but some spots in Southern California could get waves of up to 12 feet.

The swell is expected to peak Monday and Tuesday off Los Angeles and Ventura counties with waves up to 12 feet, said weather service meteorologist Mike Wofford. Water temperatures would be in the high 50s.

In San Diego, "Beaches in the southern part of county will get the swell," said NWS marine forecaster Stefanie Sullivan. The waves, at 10-12 feet, were expected to peak Monday and Tuesday, she said.

"Unless you're an experienced surfer or swimmer, do not go in in the water at all," said NWS marine forecaster Stefanie Sullivan.