PRINCETON-BY-THE-SEA -- Grant Baker of South Africa didn't sound like the courageous champion he was Friday after taming treacherous waves at the Body Glove Mavericks Invitational.

"Every single time you wanted to pull out," he said of riding the raw, roiling surf that smacked the Northern California coast off Half Moon Bay this week.

Baker, who six months ago lost sponsorship that sustains professional surfers, picked his waves wisely in difficult conditions. He had two remarkable rides that garnered perfect 10.0 scores on his way to the second consecutive title on the big-wave tour.

The latest swell to shake the famed surfing break out of its long hibernation did not arrive with the biggest of waves at an average of 15 feet. But with a low tide and shifty southerly winds, the conditions were less than ideal for the 24 invitees of the contest that has become one of the Bay Area's big winter attractions.

A devil's wind, San Francisco surfer Ryan Seelbach called it.

"Whoa, I don't want any of that," he added.

As if taking a 40-foot freefall isn't scary enough, the contestants had to contend with the bumpiest of descents.

"I'm just glad everyone was safe out there," said Santa Cruz veteran Anthony Tashnick, who cracked a board when it collided into a prominent rocky outcrop just off Pillar Point.

Tashnick finished sixth by using another board to scratch his way into the final. But it wasn't easy for the surfers because of the wind chop.

"It's like riding a bicycle down a giant stairway going 50 miles an hour," Tashnick said. "And the stairs aren't the same. After awhile you're going to mistime it."

Cameron Dollar, one of seven Santa Cruz surfers to advance to the semifinals, underscored what happens when the timing is off. He had one of the day's worst wipeouts that strained his back.

"It could be worse," Dollar said. "I could be really hurt."

The NASCAR nature of the sport keeps fans drawn to the action. The surfers get it. They live on the edge in an insane pursuit of an adrenaline fix.

But they also have a deep respect for their competitors, realizing their only real opponent is the supreme power of Mavericks.

The most dramatic moment came in the morning when Hawaiian Mark Healey had to be rescued from the impact zone after a nasty fall.

At the time Baker, known as "Twiggy," was commenting for the livestream broadcast.

"That put me on the back foot immediately," he said of the wipeout. "It just made me really nervous, looking like he did after that beating. I've never seen Healey like that."

The surfers become supporting characters in the aqueous play because Mavericks is one of the world's most challenging surfing breaks. The waves are steep and fast. The water is frigid. And the bone-sharp bottom can become a graveyard.

Add the south wind and "it amps everything up," Seelbach said. "It pushes our limits of everything we can handle."

The gusts arrived for the semifinals and final, but one man remained calm.

Baker, who spends part of his winter in San Francisco to ride Mavericks, kept his poise by staying in front of the raging waters.

He was too good on this day for runner-up Shane Dorian of Hawaii and third-place Ryan Augenstein of Santa Cruz.

Baker attributed his success to having the right equipment for the conditions. He switched boards when the winds kicked in and looked smoother than his competitors.

"He's textbook," Seelbach said. "You never see his arms waving, board out of control."

He just harnesses all the energy the seafaring gods can muster and lets it ride.

Follow Elliott Almond on Twitter at twitter.com/elliottalmond.

On A1

Popular Mavericks Festival is drawing large crowds to Princeton-by-the-Sea.

Final results

Scores from the final round of Mavericks International:

1. Grant Baker 29.331
2. Shane Dorian 25.532
3. Ryan Augenstein 16.663
4. Tyler Fox 12.664
5. Greg Long 12.005