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Swell Matters: The wave science behind Mavericks

Titans of Mavericks ambassador Jeff Clark is a certified legend. The swell guru who's part of a panel that decides if the contest is a go grew up in Half Moon Bay and watched Mavericks in awe from the surrounding hilltops while in high school. Then in 1975, unable to convince anyone to paddle out with him, he became the first surfer to ride the wave from the main peak. It’s been his life’s work ever since.

“Mavericks is the best big wave in the world,” he says unapologetically.

With the event window open until March 31, what oceanic pattern does Clark—who possesses a virtual doctorate in Mavericks swell prediction—look for to run the contest? 

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“I want a swell with more northwest in it than west, coming from 290 degrees is ideal,” says Clark. Swell direction is measured in degrees from any specific point of land, in this case, Half Moon Bay. “280-295 (degrees) would be perfect with a wave height at 15 feet (30-foot faces) at 17-second intervals.”

Intervals are measured by the amount of time it takes two successive wave crests to pass a certain point. Generally, if the interval is lower, the waves will be less quality as the swell is generated by a storm closer to land, messing up the seas. 

“We’ll get these storms that are giant like we had three weeks ago with really big seas and reckless energy in the swell. Guys were just getting crushed. I’m looking for storms that produce cleaner waves. But we get what we get.”