The big wave contest now called the Mavericks Invitational has been held eight times since the first event was held in 1999 off the coast of Half Moon Bay, a mile offshore from Pillar Point Harbor.

For the most part, this brutal break as been dominated by Santa Cruz surfers.

The number of spectators, thrills and spills and purse have grown over the years, making it the Super Bowl of surfing for many, including the entrants.

Santa Cruz's Peter Mel topped the 24-competitor field at the storied break in 2013, taking home $12,000 for the victory. Though conditions weren't as unforgiving as they were in 2010, the win was fulfilling for Mel.

It was a long time coming. Mel had a history of success in the event, posting three top-four finishes in the first three events. He just lacked the title.

Mel seemed determined to be crowned; the title had eluded him since he began competing there more than a decade ago.

"Relief is the main thing that came to mind," the 43-year-old said of the win. "This is my dream event, this is the one."

It is a temperamental break that has been a nightmare for so many unprepared to handle its rage. And for those who do, so rewarding.

In 1975, according to www.mavericksinvitational.com, a 17-year-old high school student named Jeff Clark watched the wave carefully, learned its finicky ways, and studied it so carefully that what he saw was more than a hazard, but a playground.


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Clark tried to convince his friends to paddle out with him -- with no success. In the winter of 1975 on a big and clean northwest swell, Clark decided to surf it alone, riding the lefts at first as a natural goofy foot.

Soon, as he grew to understand the wave, he learned to surf switch foot and began riding the rights. He had Maverick's -- named for his dog -- as his own playground for 15 years. It wasn't until 1990 until he could convince anyone to surf with him, although a few brave souls would actually paddle out there to watch from the channel.

On Jan. 22, 1990, Clark led Santa Cruz surfers Dave Schmidt and Tom Powers into a monster swell and the rides of their lives. Almost instantly, the word got out that California had a big wave that rivaled Waimea, but was colder and gnarlier than anything anyone had seen before. Soon, surfers from all over started showing up, along with photographers, helicopters and the crowds to watch.

Nearly a decade later, in 1999, the first competition was held at Maverick's, known as Quiksilver's Men Who Ride Mountains.

Santa Cruz's Darryl "Flea" Virostko won the first event, helping cement Maverick's as an international phenomenon.

Virostko repeated as champion in 2000 and earned his unprecedented third title 2004, making him the only multi-title winner. He retired from competitive big wave surfing in 2012.

In 2005, the prize went to Santa Cruz's Anthony Tashnik.

A year later, Santa Cruz's run of champions ended. South African charger Grant "Twiggy" Baker won in 2006.

When conditions were next deemed suitable, Greg Long of San Clemente prevailed in 2008. It was only fitting since he was the one who suggested to his fellow finalists that year that they split the winner's purse. To their fortune, they agreed.

The 2010 contest -- regarded as biggest paddle-in contest ever held in the world -- was won by South Africa's Chris Bertish.

"It was scary, very scary," Bertish said of the waves, which regularly featured faces of between 40 and 50 feet.

Bertish had to borrow money from friends just to get to the contest -- which was his life's dream -- and then overcame a nasty spill early.

"It was an amazing experience, but I didn't think I was going to be the one that took first here today," he said.

"By the time I got picked up, I was like a lifeless corpse. I thought I was done for the whole day," Bertish added. Then, he reevaluated. "In life, sometimes you only get one chance to live your dream. So, I just put it in my head that I had to get back up."

Several spectators were injured by rogue waves in '10, prompting officials to remove spectators from the beach and bluffs overlooking the break in future competitions.

After a two-year hiatus, the competition resumed in '13 and Mel brought the title back to Santa Cruz.

MAVERICKS CHAMPIONS
1999 -- Darryl "Flea" Virostko, Santa Cruz
2000 -- Darryl "Flea" Virostko, Santa Cruz
2001 -- No event held
2002 -- No event held
2003 -- No event held
2004 -- Darryl "Flea" Virostko, Santa Cruz
2005 -- Anthony Tashnick, Santa Cruz
2006 -- Grant "Twiggy" Baker, South Africa
2007 -- No event held
2008 -- Greg Long, San Clemente
2009 -- No event held
2010 -- Chris Bertish, South Africa
2011 -- No event held
2012 -- No event held
2013 -- Peter Mel, Santa Cruz