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    • Mavericks is one of the most famed surf breaks in the world for the sheer magnitude of the waves it produces. On a few days each year the unique geometry and direction of its reef yield 30ft+ waves. On occasion, waves can top out over 60ft. Waves that big only break in a few places around the globe each year.

      Photographing surfers wrangling the wave each year is my pilgrimage, and I'm constantly iterating on my process for photographing it. Here are some stories from my adventures to the wave over the years.

    • Both surfing and photographing the wave is extremely difficult due to the logistical complications that exist. Most waves break a few hundred feet from shore. Paddling out is short, and photographing surfers from shore is practical with a 70-200mm lens. Mavericks breaks a few miles off the coast in deeper waters.

      The closet shoreline to Mavericks is closed to the general public. It's part of Pillar Point Air Force Station, and not even the media is allowed on the premises. It's a mile line of sight from the closet publicly accessible portion of the beach, but the waves are so big that the white water blocks any view of the wave.

    • There's a small section of cliff that borders the Airforce base where the wave can be seen. Crowds amass here to get a glimpse of a wave. A telescope is needed to make out a face in a photograph from this distance. An 800mm Canon f/5.6L isn't nearly long enough.

      Getting on a boat is the only feasible way to make great photos of the events that happen at Mavericks.

      Photo Credit: Jeff Clark

    • My passion for photographing it roots from the awe ingrained in me as a young kid. Jeff Clark, my Dad's best friend, was the first to surf it in 1975. He was 17 at the time. My dad and Jeff paddled out in the 80's. Big wave surfing was not a sport back then. They were the pioneers, and to this day they reminisce about those days.

      Jeff in his native element at Mavericks 👇

    • I have zero desire to surf Mavericks. It's too dangerous. A two-wave hold down is common. Holding your breath for multiple minutes is a prerequisite. And at the end of the wave there are giant rocks that whitewater plows people into. Even the strongest swimmers can't fight the power. Jet ski tows are required to get surfers out of harm's way.

    • Mavericks took the lives of Mark Foo and Sion Milosky, accomplished big wave surfers. They both drowned. Major injuries are prevalent. I've watched a friend come very close to death, and been involved in multiple rescue efforts. Jeff Clark has had multiple hip and knee replacements. His joints have failed over the years from being thrashed by the wave.

    • But being at Mavericks feels tranquil experience. Calm clear days are common, and windless conditions must exist to surf it unless you kite surf it, which to date only crazy my dad has done. The risk of being wrapped in kite lines when falling keeps kitesurfers away.

      It's peaceful and quiet most of the time. It feels like a lake when waiting minutes between sets.

    • Photographing Mavericks starts with a lot of planning. Forecasting starts days before the waves actually hit. Ocean swell that produces the breaking waves is generated from massive storms around the Aleutian Islands. It takes days for the swell to move from the waters of Alaska to the central California coast. We watch models generated from a limited sample of weather equipment across the Pacific, including now a satellite that measures the height of open ocean swell.

      The models predict what the swell is. They aren't all that accurate, but they do provide enough data to tell us if waves at Mavericks are possible. More often than not, the models are wrong, and the waves are smaller than projected.

      24 hours ahead of time, accuracy gets a bit better. Pro surfers from around the world make a call whether or not to book a last minute flight at this point.

      We can forecast wave size with almost 100% accuracy once the swell hits the NOAA buoys off the coast of Oregon hours before it reaches Half Moon Bay. We look for a very specific swell height, period, and direction. This is the moment the surfing world decides to rally.

    • January 19th, 2013 was one of those days where all the model numbers added up and the buoys data checked out. We got a crew together to capture history.

    • The swell height was 12ft, which produced enough force to generate 25ft waves. It wasn't the 60ft wave we were hoping for. Still, 25ft will literally kill a novice surfer. It's a HUGE wave.

    • Sometimes Jeff would hand off the boat to someone else so he could surf the wave. He uses a standup paddle board he made custom for big Mavericks waves. His replaced hip causes him problems when standing up, so he paddles into the waves already standing up. The art of SUPing a 25ft wave is much harder than surfing it with a traditional board.

    • We waited a year for better waves. Christmas came yearly on December 20th, 2014. This time, more than just our original team of photographers wanted to join, John's boat was in the shop, and it was a stormy day. Somehow we were able to convince a commercial fisherman to take us out, free of charge. His ship was bad ass.

    • I got a reputation for getting people front row access at Mavericks. Famous photographer Renae Robyn and accomplished filmmaker, Anton Lorimer, joined our crew.

    • January 7th, 2016 was a day of similar swell conditions. This time it was clear skies, and we had drones! So we went back, but everything went wrong. I don't have any media from that day.

      Pro surfer Grant McNamara shattered his arm on a fall on a 25ft wave. We helped him get to an ambulance back at shore.

      Then the boat captain took us out the wrong way. We went over a 20ft wave. My friend Mark was on the bow. He held on for dear life as the boat dove vertically as we went down the other side. His grip was so strong that he held on. He avoided drowning, but in the process, both of his shoulders dislocated. Many tendons and muscles ripped. His rotator cuffs were severely damaged. It took him a year to recover enough to go back to work as a mechanic. Another surfer inside the boat cabin hit a wall and broke a few ribs. Here's a video from a friend of the waves we went over going out.

    • On February 4th, 2016 at 4:50 am, the plain text on an archaic NOAA page for buoy station 46002 off the coast of Medford, OR read:

      2016 02 04 04 50 231 7.9 10.1 6.79 19.05 11.68 292 1023.1 12.0 11.8 999.0 99.0 99.00

      25ft @ 15 sec NNW. Absolutely perfect conditions.

      Everyone was ecstatic. Pure. Sweet. Bliss. That means it's going to hit the reef in just the right direction with just the right force to produce a 50ft wave. Plus, winds are zero. Decades of waiting for this day were over.

      The Hawaiian surf legends landed at SFO. Helicopters fueled at airports around the Bay Area. Fishermen made their way in from their catches to help charter surfers to the break. Trailers of boats and jet skis rallied to the Half Moon Bay harbor.