Surfers worldwide already know about Mavericks, a one-day, big-wave winter contest in northern California that can convene anytime from December through March and with just a 24-hour notice, as soon as the giant, fleeting swells arrive off the coast of Half Moon Bay.
Now, owners of the event are looking to make the competition a household name with ambitions to sell a Mavericks outdoors and après-sports apparel brand for men and women that goes beyond surfer chic.
“There are a strong set of brand values you can attribute to Mavericks besides surfing,” says Hap Klopp, who’s advising Mavericks Surf Contest sponsors on how to create an apparel brand from such a cult sports event. In the Seventies, Klopp transformed San Francisco–based The North Face mountaineering supply stores into an outdoor apparel line that now is owned by VF Corp. Klopp says Mavericks can make a similar leap to international apparel fame by pairing quality apparel with the surf contest’s image of courage, athletic integrity, authenticity, natural beauty and raw excitement.
The branding of Mavericks started five years ago when San Francisco sports promoter Keir Beadling joined forces with Jeff Clark, a surfing legend and surfboard craftsman in the nautical burg of Princeton-by-the-Sea, which is near Half Moon Bay. As a teenager in the Sixties, Clark was one of the first known surfers to ride the giant waves off of Pillar Point that are more typical of Hawaii. Those waves eventually were named after his dog. Until Mavericks Surf Ventures was formed in 2004, the competition had only been held twice, with surf brand Quiksilver as a sponsor.
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Mavericks’ powerful and cold swells can top 50 feet and rush as a single peak through a narrow channel that dangerously skirts rocks. Surfers have been injured in Mavericks waves and there’s been one death, but prior
to the competition being organized. In 2004, Mavericks was called the “Super Bowl of Big-Wave Surfing” by Sports Illustrated.
The competition is open to the top 24 surfers in the world, among whom there’s such a camaraderie that last year’s $30,000 in prize money was shared by the finalists. “It’s exhilarating. When you’re in the peak, you have to be fully committed to the ride and know how the wave breaks. It’s also a very long wave—300 yards,” says last year’s winner, Southern Californian Greg Long.
The last Mavericks contest occurred on January 12, 2008, and, with only one day’s notice, 50,000 spectators showed up on Pillar Point to watch the action a half a mile away, while another 1,000 paid $25 to see a live telecast in San Francisco’s AT&T baseball stadium 40 miles away. At press time, contest organizers were still waiting on this season’s swells, which generally last less than a week and on occasion don’t arrive. Awaiting sales are promotional Mavericks 2009 hoodies, T-shirts, hats and beanies.
With almost 1.3 million additional viewers on the Mavericks Web site and millions more being reached through media, Beadling says the contest “is truly a global phenomenon.”