Story Marcus Sanders / Surfline.com


The Maverick’s Surf Contest has been the most polarizing, politicized, and occasionally amazing surf contest in the history of the sport. The most recent development is the WSL — after wrangling the event from Cartel Management a couple years back — is pulling out.

“The lack of being able to run the event the last couple years made sponsorship really hard,” explained Pat O’Connell, WSL SVP of Tours and Competition. “We employed all kinds of different tactics, but it hasn’t been successful. And it’s a difficult permit. Not expensive, but time, energy and resources. Plus, it’s a one-day permit. Which means we would have an eight-hour surf event, start-to-finish, in NorCal, where there’s only nine hours of daylight. It’s tough.”

O’Connell points out, “It’s late in the year, for sure. We already paid for the first permit, we tried everything we could. But it doesn’t mean someone else can’t run an event there. It’s open.”


This may be optimistic, as the permit process often takes six months, which would mean a February start date — generally too late to take advantage of solid swell with good conditions. “To start the permit process now is definitely late in the game,” Sabrina Brennan, San Mateo County Harbor Commission president, told NBC. “It’s going to be challenging to pull it off.”

Thing is, Jaws is also not a sponsored event. So why cut Mav’s? “The permit,” O’Connell says. “Jaws is much easier because we can get the two days. And cost is a big part of it. More expensive and more difficult to do at Mav’s, with the blackout dates and everything. Plus, when you look at Jaws, that’s like the pinnacle of big-wave surfing.”

The freshly-minted Jaws Big Wave World Championships at Pe’ahi will feature the Big Wave World Tour top ten, plus four Overall Performers (as chosen at last year’s Big Wave Awards), plus wildcards — essentially the same as in year’s past. But it will be the only BWT event of the year, and will decide the men’s and women’s Big Wave World Champions. Also, according to O’Connell, it will feature the biggest prize purse in the history of big-wave surfing.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, the Nazaré Tow Challenge will replace the Nazaré Challenge this year. “We had a couple days where it was too big or too windy,” said O’Connell. “There were a couple Guinness World Record moments. So we started asking ourselves: ‘can we just do something completely different out there? Can someone ride the biggest wave ever ridden during an event?’ We wanna bring some new ideas into the space.”


In addition to the above changes, the WSL plans to launch a “Strike Missions” series, which, according to the release, “will track swell models and deploy WSL camera teams into the eye of the storm in order to showcase big wave surfing beyond competitions.” (Yes, this would include Mav’s.)

O’Connell finishes: “Basically, you’re going to see more big-wave surfing, jersey or no jersey. We want to build the profiles of these surfers, outside the two events a year that may or may not run. It’s a 365-day pursuit.”

Meanwhile, according to Grant ‘Twiggy’ Baker, defending and three-time Big Wave World Champ, professional big wave surfers could create their own tour. “Quite a shock today, but after looking at it, there are positives,” he said. “It puts the World Tour back in the hands of the surfers, and we can move towards bringing back events the WSL shelved (Puerto) and adding some new events they weren’t interested in (Nias). If we learned anything from Tahiti, this is what the public — both endemic and non-endemic — want to see: Surfers pushing the limits in waves of consequence in a tight, one-day event. That’s the Big Wave World Tour and I’m not sure why the WSL can’t see it — but we can, and we have a plan to make the tour insane!”

Twig finishes: “There’s no way they can crown a World Champion from one event — and we won’t allow that. We will take the tour to new heights and crown our champion properly, at the best and biggest barreling waves around the World. A true Champion from 15-foot barrels in Fiji to 25-foot slabs at Maverick’s.”

The holding period for the Jaws Big Wave World Championships at Pe’ahi and the Nazaré Tow Challenge will open on November 1, 2019, and run through March 31, 2020