He was born in Redwood City, CA, a half an hour drive from Mavericks. When Jeff was a baby, his dad taught scuba diving, and to keep Jeff occupied, he would put an inner tube around his stroller and let him float around the pool. In 1966 his family moved to the coast into a home his father built on the beach in Miramar, Half Moon Bay. Growing up on a beach, a local surfer, Jay Bradford, gave Jeff his first surfboard. He was so stoked to have his first board, everyday after school he would try to get in the water no matter what the conditions. Miramar and Martins beach were his training grounds. Every weekend his family would spend the day at Martins beach fishing, barbecuing and playing in the water. There were a couple of nice reef breaks that really pushed his surfing.
A Short History by Jeff Clark
Surfing Northern California’s rugged coast is not for the timid. The water is shockingly cold, the waves at times are the most powerful in the world, and it’s home to great white sharks.
From the time I could crawl, I was drawn to this ocean. My father had to pluck me from the water many times during our family outings to Martin’s Beach, just south of San Francisco. As a child, I discovered surfing and my life-long relationship with the greatest power on the planet.
The Life of a Grom
Brian Heafy and I were best friends and surfing buddies. He and I would go out in the most challenging waves; rain, cold, reefs way out in the ocean, it didn’t matter. We surfed many places where we never saw anyone else out. After years of surfing with me, he found that I could see things in the ocean that others couldn’t. I could see our place in the ocean to get the perfect wave, the perfect ride.
I had watched a reef outside the north point of Half Moon Bay called “Mavericks” for years. It only breaks during the winter season when a big storm forms in the gulf of Alaska. As the storm intensifies and makes its way toward California, it produces waves.
We could see the waves at Mavericks from the “Cove” we surfed just to the north. The waves were big, I mean really big. I couldn’t escape the pull. It was like growing up next to Mt. Everest. At some point you’re going to climb the mountain. Mavericks was my Everest.
The first day at Mavericks
One cold, clear morning during the winter of 1975, Brian and I met at the Cove like we always did. We would watch the waves to figure out where we would surf that day.
It was a very still day, no wind and the water was as smooth as plate glass. It wasn’t the biggest day we had ever seen, but the conditions were perfect.
As I looked to the horizon, I could see the corduroy-like surface of the ocean created by a large ground swell. The sets were coming in with great power and consistency. It wasn’t the biggest day we had seen but the conditions were perfect. As we watched the waves break in the Cove, the explosion of a wave a half-mile offshore caught my eye.
My vision and focus turned to Mavericks and the wave I had studied for the last three years with scientific dissection. I wanted to read every wave to see what it was made of. I needed to know. I had wanted to surf that wave, and I knew today was the day.
I said to Brian, “Today is the day. It isn’t as giant as we’ve seen it before. We can do this. Let’s go.” This was the first time that I saw Brian balk at the challenge to surf yet another new spot.
He kept saying, “No way! No way!”
There were no people around. It was 1975 in Half Moon Bay and it seemed like there were maybe 50 surfers in San Mateo County. I probably knew every one of them or had surfed with them at some point. As we walked alone down the trail to Mavericks, we watched a set hit. It looked big.
I continued to try to convince Brian to go out there with me. “Stop trying, I’m not going,” he said. “But I’ll tell the Coast Guard where I last saw you.” OK, he was going to keep an eye on me.
I put my wetsuit on, all the while studying where I was going to paddle out. I had made up my mind on a course of action. You always have to have a plan. My plan was to paddle from the north end of the beach at Mavericks, paddle out across the inside barrier reef where the waves break onto a shallow reef. I had my eyes set on a gap in the rocks.
It took me about 15 minutes against a strong current to get through the shore break and into deep water. The first part of the journey was complete. I was now out in open ocean water off shore, and I still had ¼ mile to get to where the big waves were breaking. As I approached the break zone, I constantly looked back for a land reference. I sat up on my board and set guidelines for myself to keep track of where I was. I would use two landmarks (a tower, a tree, a notch in the coastal mountain peaks) one closer and one miles away; to keep on a specific line. These reference points, or lineups, are critical for to know exactly where you’re at in the vast ocean. This was my GPS.
I paddled out to where I thought I would be safe. When the first set came, I realized I was too far inside. I paddled hard to the north, fearing the worst: a giant wave breaking right on top of me. My heart was in my throat as I paddled with everything I had to get to the safety of deep water. I got over the corner of the first wave just as it crashed. The sound was deafening, and the vibration of the explosion rumbled through my body. I could finally feel the sheer power of this wave, and it was shocking. I recalibrated my lineups, I studied the waves and I pulled myself closer to the break zone. Now it was time.
Once I got myself in tight over the reef, I waited for the perfect wave for me. It came, and I turned and committed to catching my first wave at Mavericks.
I felt the wave lift me and I dug harder, head down, driving down this mass of water that was lifting past me. Finally it let me go down the face with the release of a freefall. I snapped to my feet, going straight down this watery mountain. It was a gray day but I will never forget the dark shadow of my first wave.
My feet could feel every imperfection on the bottom of my board as I flew at a speed I had never felt, running away as fast as I could to escape the tons of water that could completely demolish me. I got low as I thought I was going to be crushed when I heard the canon-like explosion of the wave breaking at my heels.
I did it. I rode Mavericks for the first time. The adrenalin rush of riding the wave I had watched for so long was unlike anything I had ever experienced. I knew the next one would be better. I caught a handful of waves that day. I was so stoked.
After that day, I tried to get anyone to surf Mavericks with me. There were a few who would paddle out, but they would stay in the safety of the channel rather than take on the massive wave. So, for 15 years, I had this wave to myself. There were no crowds, no photographers shooting from helicopters, no jetskis or rescue crews. Just me and the ocean.
It’s been more than 35 years since I first paddled out at Mavericks. I still surf there. I’ve seen my playground grow to one of the world’s premier big wave surf spots. Now, the best big wave surfers fly here from all over the world to surf one of the most dangerous big waves on the planet. And I’m still stoked.