HALF MOON BAY -- Before the 49ers try to reach the Super Bowl on Sunday, the San Mateo County coast will host the Super Bowl of big-wave surfing.

For the first time in three years, Mother Nature has delivered conditions worthy of holding the Mavericks Invitational, which will begin at 8 a.m. with a field of 24 renowned surfers from around the world.

A storm-generated swell that contest director Jeff Clark described as powerful, sneaky and dangerous is rushing toward the Mavericks surf break at Pillar Point. Clark said contestants will paddle out Sunday in magical conditions: 30-foot waves breaking under sunny skies, with little to no crosswinds.

"The waves are on the way," Clark said. "Great waves."

Unlike in previous years, there will be no beach access Sunday. Organizers decided to close off the shoreline to ensure public safety.

The best way to see the action will be via live webcast at www.mavericksinvitational.com or at a festival on the grounds of the Oceano Hotel & Spa at Pillar Point Harbor, where an estimated 10,000 to 15,000 will watch the contest on big-screen TVs. And if you're hankering to find out what's happening with the 49ers, no worries. Some TVs on the grounds, Clark said, will carry the Niners' noon showdown against the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC Championship Game.

The last Mavericks contest, held on Feb. 12, 2010, was both disastrous and epic. Organizers drew harsh criticism after numerous spectators were injured when waves swept onto the beach at Pillar Point.

The action in the water, however, included some of the most dramatic conditions ever surfed in the competition. Competitors wiped out, skipping down the face of terrifying waves like pebbles before being getting bludgeoned by the churning ocean.

One of the most experienced big-wave surfers in the world, Shane Dorian, nearly drowned while surfing some of the day's biggest waves between contest heats. South Africa's Chris Bertish eventually outlasted Santa Cruz's Shane Desmond in the final, but the winner that day, everyone agreed, was big-wave surfing.

This year's waves are not expected to be as big as the ones contestants encountered in 2010, which towered more than 40 feet in the air. But they will be powerful and hard to ride, thanks to the intervals of 20 seconds or more between waves.

"Gonna be super clean and really, really hollow" contestant Shawn Dollar wrote on his Facebook wall. "Long interval and low tide is going to make for some heavy conditions."

The surfers, who are flying in now from around the globe, will be competing for $50,000 in prize money. The winner will receive $12,000.

Tickets to the festival range in price from $10 for general admission to $1,000 for VIP. They are available at www.mavericksinvitational.com.

  • Matt Ambrose

  • Ryan Augenstein

  • Grant "Twiggy" Baker

  • Chris Bertish

  • Carlos Burle

  • Ken "Skindog" Collins

  • Shane Desmond

  • Shawn Dollar

  • Shane Dorian

  • Nathan Fletcher

  • Mark Healey

  • Rusty Long

  • Greg Long

  • Alex Martins

  • Peter Mel

  • Ryan Seelbach

  • Kelly Slater

  • Tyler Smith

  • Jamie Sterling

  • Anthony Tashnick

  • Grant Washburn

  • Dave Wassel

  • Ben Wilkinson

  • Zach Wormhoudt