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New group now controls Mavericks big-wave contest


Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 1:13 p.m. HST, Oct 22, 2010

HALF MOON BAY, Calif. — Big wave surf fans will not be allowed on the beach or bluffs during the legendary Mavericks contest this year, after spectators were swept off their feet by strong breakers at the last contest, harbor officials said.

The contest has new organizers, a group composed of the surfers themselves, who agreed with public safety officials that only participants and staff would have beach access this year, said Peter Grenell, general manager of the San Mateo County Harbor District.

In February, three people were hospitalized with broken bones and others suffered minor injuries after two surprise waves knocked out barricades, a spectator platform and a large scaffold holding speakers broadcasting the contest.

This year, surfers formed their own company and locked up a key sponsor, Barracuda Networks, to host the premiere big-wave contest off the Half Moon Bay coast.

The new group, called the Half Moon Bay Surf Group, beat out Mavericks Surf Ventures, which has tried since 2003 to expand the Mavericks brand with a website, videos and clothing.

The new group said it would share contest earnings with local youth groups. Washburn said local charities like the Boys & Girls Club and junior lifeguard programs will benefit.

The harbor district commissioners voted 3-0 on Wednesday to give beach and parking access to the new group.

The contest window opens Dec. 1 and spans until Feb. 28.

Surfer and organizer Grant Washburn said he supports the new beach access rules, and most Mavericks competitors never thought it was smart to allow crowds on the small beach and eroding bluffs during big swells.

"Surfers never wanted 50,000 people on a hill. Nobody thinks that's a good idea," Washburn said.

The new surf group is also working with the sheriff's department to erect fencing during the contest to block access to eroding bluffs.

"The Half Moon Bay Surf Group plans to have a big public information campaign to alert people in advance that they needn't bother coming down to the beach," Grenell said.

The plan this year is to broadcast the contest in multiple locations in the Princeton-by-the-Sea area so that people can still watch it together, and then attend an awards ceremony nearby.

Large screens will likely be set up at the Half Moon Bay Airport and other locations where people can gather and watch the action, Grenell said.

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