Image: Billibong XXL Global Big Wave Awards / Eric Bellan

Moving Mountains

Searching for beauty beyond the bigness of the wave. /

“The Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.” (Genesis 1:2, KJV)

On a winter day just off the shores of northern California, a dark, green monster rears up out of the cold, shark-infested waters. Days before, a swell began in the north Pacific; its ferocious energy traveled thousands of miles of ocean until it slowed against an abrupt, rocky shelf—all that energy having no where to go but up. A mountain of water as tall as a four-story building grew, curling over itself like a horseshoe and crashing mercilessly into submerged rocks.

Mavericks, one of the most iconic surf breaks in the world, has been described as a freight train in the water. When it gets big, it even registers on seismographs as it thunders into the coast. “It’s one of the most amazing things,” KTVU chief meteorologist Bill Martin says. “It shakes the North American plate.” While on an average day the waves at Mavericks will barely top out at 10–15 feet, when a winter swell comes through, it can quickly become a giant, regularly reaching 30 feet. The tallest have topped 80 feet.

With so many great surf spots around the world—like the 100 foot towers of water that form over a deep underwater ridge on the coast of Nazare, Portugal, or the absurdly thick waves that crash in perfect barrels over a shallow reef in Teahupoo, Tahiti—what is the allure of Mavericks?

“You get near that wave and it’s like a catapult, there’s an unbelievable amount of energy,” says surfer Grant Washburn. “It’s that kind of a wave that no person can prepare for. Mavericks is special.”

For a long time, the wave at Mavericks wasn’t special to anyone except Jeff Clark, ...

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Also in this Issue

Issue 43 / March 3, 2016
  1. Editor’s Note

    Issue 43: Perfect pitch, big-wave surfing, and double DNA. /

  2. The Messy Secrets of Perfect Pitch

    Inside the science of a skill revered in much of the music world. /

  3. My New Life as a Chimera

    Living with two sets of DNA. /

  4. To a Robin in Lent

    “You were the first one back” /

  5. Wonder on the Web

    Issue 43: Links to amazing stuff.

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