Hawaiian surfer John John Florence, 17, gets a hello pat by fan Pepe Gonzalez of San Francisco at the Maverick’s big wave surfing contest in Princeton-by-the-Sea in 2010. The San Mateo County Harbor District commission granted new organizer Cartel Management a five-year permit to produce the Titans of Mavericks contest. (Josie Lepe/Mercury News file)
By Julie Jag, Santa Cruz Sentinel
The Maverick’s big wave surf contest seems to have changed hands more times than there are presidential candidates.
But the San Mateo County Harbor District commission may have put at least a temporary end to that spin cycle Wednesday night when it voted to grant Cartel Management a five-year permit to host the contest. In a 3-0 vote, with commissioner Sabrina Brennan abstaining, the board agreed to allow Cartel’s Titans of Mavericks event to be held off the reef break near Princeton-by-the-Sea through 2020-21, conditions permitting.
“It’s just a relief knowing that we have this, that we have the permit for the five years, that we have met and exceeded the requirements around making preparations to develop the best event possible,” said Brian Waters, the chief operations officer for Titans of Mavericks.
Cartel acquired the Mavericks Invitational last summer, becoming the fourth Maverick’s contest organizer in the past six years and the fifth since the first contest was planned for the treacherous reef break in 1998-99. At the time, Cartel president and Capitola resident Griffin Guess committed to producing the iconic big wave contest for at least five years.
That decision wasn’t totally up to Cartel, however.
The SMCHD had granted the Mavericks Invitational — originally overseen by a four-person board that included Maverick’s pioneer Jeff Clark and his wife Cassandra — a three-year permit scheduled to run through this season. Cartel essentially acquired that permit when it acquired Mavericks Invitational. Yet, it would still need the SMCHD’s permission to host contests after 2016.
The permit was one of seven items on the commission’s consent agenda for Wednesday night’s meeting, which was held before a standing-room-only crowd in a small Sea Crest School classroom. District Interim General Manager Glenn Lazof suggested tabling the decision to extend the Titans of Mavericks permit until next year. In a staff report, according to the Half Moon Bay Review, Lazof had noted he wanted to give first-time surf contest producer Cartel a season to prove it would be able to produce a viable contest. He also noted that district policies governing multi-year use permits are unclear.
A call to Lazof was not immediately returned Thursday.
Yet during a public-comment period, an estimated half of the crowd — including numerous community leaders and well-known big wave surfers like three-time Maverick’s champion Darryl “Flea” Virostko and Shawn Dollar, both of Santa Cruz — spoke in favor of granting the Titans of Mavericks the permit extension. Feeling the heat, commissioner Pietro Parravano moved to approve the permit.
“We have the latitude to issue a multi-year permit. The precedent has been established,” he said, according to the Half Moon Bay Review. “A vote against this would really send a question: Are we able to partner with our community?”
Now, Titans of Mavericks organizers can focus on the task at hand: the 2015-16 contest.
“We’re very excited about it moving into the contest window,” said Kelsey Kaulukukui, the vice president of marketing for Titans of Mavericks. “Now we can focus 100 percent on the event and on moving forward.”
Twenty-four of the world’s best big wave surfers will be on alert for waves 25 feet tall or higher forming at the break between Nov. 1 and March 31. The prize purse has yet to be announced, though contestants have been promised an appearance fee and lodging.
The public will not be allowed on the beach on contest day due to safety regulations put in place after several spectators were injured by rogue waves and falling cliff debris in recent years. Previous organizers have tried to filter contest-day crowds into a single festival instead. But Titans of Mavericks organizers did not plan to host a watch party in Half Moon Bay this season, and Waters said that has not changed. He said restaurants and bars in the area will be broadcasting the Redbull.tv live feed, which will also be available for live streaming.
Waters hinted, however, that the stability of having a five-year permit will give Cartel more latitude in developing the fan experience.
“It’s in a more confident spot for a potential sponsor to see we’ve secured something for five years rather than every other year,” Waters said. “Going back to the table every other year is not healthy spot. This creates good road map for our event.”
Contact Julie Jag at 831-706-3257.