Instead of squinting from the bluffs or peering through binoculars from a crowded beach at Pillar Point, surfing fans may have to settle for watching their wetsuit-bedecked heroes remotely.
Government officials are pondering whether it is necessary to ban the public from flocking to the most popular spots to view the Mavericks big-wave surf contest live, after more than a dozen people were injured at the last event.
The Mavericks Surf Contest, held at a Half Moon Bay hotspot, has become world-famous for the huge waves tamed by the world’s most-elite surfers. Though contest organizers encourage people to watch the event from home on the Web, or at AT&T Park where it is simulcast, that doesn’t keep thousands of surfing fans from swarming the coastal town to watch the event live.
The most popular places to watch the event — which is actually several hundred yards from shore — is a narrow beach and bluff at the end of Pillar Point.
Though safety officials have long worried that the steep bluffs could be hazardous for the crowd, in fact it was the beach that proved dangerous this year, when massive waves swept over the breakwater and swept dozens of people off their feet. Some 13 fans were seriously injured. The waves took out a scaffolding tower for commentators and judges, as well as the Contests’ sound system and dozens of cameras, purses, phones and backpacks of contest-goers.
After the Feb. 13 event, officials from the San Mateo Sheriff’s Department, the Pillar Point Harbor District, the California Highway Patrol and other safety agencies met with contest organizers to consider whether the contest’s safety plan should be adjusted.
Though no final decisions have been made, Sheriff’s Lt. Ray Lunny said that among the changes on the table is to close off the beach, the bluff and the trails that have been used by crowds in previous events.
“They’re trying to figure out what’s the best way to either secure those areas or make them safe — whether to either close them off or limit access,” Lunny said.
Pillar Point Harbor General Manager Peter Grenell said that the governing board overseeing his agency has power to grant a permit allowing people onto the beach and bluff during the contest, and they will be carefully examining the safety plan before granting — or denying — that permit. He said the injuries that occurred last year must be prevented from happening again.
“One of the notions is to keep the public off the beach entirely and off of the trail [that leads to the beach]. Another is to keep the public off the bluff on top of Pillar Point to prevent anybody from possibly falling down,” he said. “We do know that one of the ideas that’s being considered is to have a big screen, a Jumbotron, out at the [Half Moon Bay] airport, which will allow people to get a much better view of the actual proceedings without actually having to go out there.”
Contest organizer Keir Beadling declined to discuss the details of potential changes “until the entire team has finished the
Surfers’ big challenge
$150,000: Purse for the winner
24: Surfers invited to participate
24: Hours notice, given to the surfers prior to the contest
50: Feet, size of the largest waves
13: Spectators injured at February’s contest
Source: Mavericks Contest