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Q: Half Moon Bay/ Mavericks Wave Size ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   0 Comments )
Subject: Half Moon Bay/ Mavericks Wave Size
Category: Science > Earth Sciences
Asked by: kr1112-ga
List Price: $10.00
Posted: 31 Jan 2005 21:56 PST
Expires: 02 Mar 2005 21:56 PST
Question ID: 466763
What causes the waves at Half Moon Bay / Mavericks to be so large? 
I'm looking for specific (preferably scholarly) documentation to
explain what climatic variables, geologic formations, or other factors
create such huge waves in this location, and what distinguishes it
from other areas of the California coastline.
Subject: Re: Half Moon Bay/ Mavericks Wave Size
Answered By: czh-ga on 01 Feb 2005 15:50 PST
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Hello kr1112-ga,

This was a very enjoyable research project especially because I live
less than an hour away from Maverick?s and have watched the waves
there in amazement. I?ve collected a variety of resources on the
physics of surfing and wave formation so you can see why the waves at
Mavericks's are especially high.

There is such a wealth of resources on California surfing that I had a
hard time selecting just a few starting points so that you can
continue your explorations based on your individual interests.


~ czh ~

Surf's Up!

It all has to do with the bottom. If the bottom slopes gently such that a 
wave has to travel a great distance before it reaches the shore, the wave will 
lose most of its energy to friction as it approaches the shore. The wave has a 
good distance over which it travels and slows down before it breaks. On the 
other hand, if the bottom rises very steeply, such that the wave only encounters 
the bottom at the last minute, the wave doesn't have time to slow down, and it 
hits the shore at a greater speed and all that energy is pitched upwards and 
forwards in one great burst, creating the types of BIG waves that we see at 
places like Jaws and Mavericks.

Sean Chamberlin, PhD, Natural Sciences Division, Fullerton College,
321 East Chapman Ave, Fullerton, CA 92832.

The Science of Surfing Waves and Surfing Breaks ? A Review

Surfing breaks have great social and economic value for coastal
communities. In order to preserve and enhance these resources, a
common language is needed that will bridge the gap between the
colloquial slang of surfers and the technical language of scientists
and policy makers. This language is the science of surfing waves and
surfing breaks, and the more it is developed and used, the easier
relations will be between the interested parties. This paper will
create the basis for such a language to be used in future studies of
surfing waves and surfing breaks. Surfing waves and surfing breaks are
currently understood well enough to predict the effects of coastal
modifications on surfing locations and to design artificial surfing
reefs. However, the use of this knowledge for more practical
applications has been limited. This paper consolidates the literature
on the science of surfing waves and surfing breaks in an effort to
communicate the basics of this science to coastal planners, engineers
and policy makers. First, the types of surfing waves that are
preferred by surfers are discussed, including a description of the
main surfing wave parameters. Second, it is shown that the wave type
determines the surfing skill level required and types of maneuvers
that can be performed. Third, the seabed features that cause waves to
transform well for surfing are presented.

***** This is a 12-page report from the Scripps Institution of
Oceanography. It includes some outstanding illustrations to help you
understand wave formation, surfing and surfing conditions.

Waves ? a high school physics tutorial

The nature, properties and behaviors of waves are discussed and
illustrated; the unique nature of a standing wave is introduced and

 -- Lesson 1:  The Nature of a Wave
 -- Lesson 2:  Properties of a Wave
 -- Lesson 3:  Behavior of Waves
 -- Lesson 4:  Standing Waves

***** This is an excellent series of presentations to help you
understand waves that uses ample illustrations and videos to get its
points across.

Understanding and Utilizing the Secrets of Waves
 -- Introduction
 -- Anatomy of a wave
 -- Types of waves
 -- Water movement
Wind and waves
Making sense of the Mumbo Jumbo
Keeping your shirt dry (handling waves)
The SEACOOS virtual waves classroom.

***** This is an outstanding site aimed at K-12 teachers and students
with lots of resources to help you understand waves. Be sure to check
out the link to ?east coast surf waves? for wave forecasting.

The Mavericks Surf Contest?

The Boys Are Back In Town

The waiting period for the Maverick's Surf Contest runs December 1st
to March 1st, but Clark would like to run it before the first of the
year. Gary Linden and his experienced big-wave judging panel will be
on hand to tally up points, and they're hoping for good TV exposure
and perhaps another documentary like last year's. Prize money will be
distributed as follows: first: $25K, second: $8K, third: $6K, fourth:
$5K, fifth: $4K, sixth: $3K, and seventh: $2K. The rest will be
distributed to the contestants evenly for an appearance fee.

Is there really such thing as a 100-foot wave?

On September 11, 1995, the Queen Elizabeth II ran into a wave whose
crest was level with the bridge, 100-feet above the water line; and
most recently, Maverick's herself saw a 10-story closeout that shocked
PWC princess Shawn Alladio and Jonathon Cahill on November 21, 2001.

But me thinks you mean to ask whether there be a ridable100-footer.
According's new video, Making The Call, Big Waves of the
North Pacific, there are precious few places could handle such size.
Waimea turns off at a mere 60 feet, Todos Santos and Maverick's shut
down at 85 and Jaws slams her trap at 95. Truth be told, of all
Poseidon's haunts, only the legendary Cortes Bank can control such
behemoths, able to multiply a mere 20-foot swell a full five times and
still offer shoulders smooth as any mermaid's. But considering it took
40 years just to surf her at 60 feet, even ol' Blackshorts may not
live to see that bowbreaker.

California's Cortes Bank and the Biggest Wave Ever Ridden

Surfers, take note The biggest wave ever ridden was not in Hawaii, or
Australia, it was 100 miles off the southern California coast.

But the waves at Mavericks are a mere 20 feet high. The really big
waves lurk off the southern California coast, 100 miles out of San
Diego at the Cortes Bank. Here, a 17-mile underwater mountain range
comes to a head 3 feet below the surface at a spot called Bishop Rock.

Coastal Data Information Program 
California Swell Models

***** This site gives you an incredible collection of resources to
help you explore wave and surfing conditions all along the California

California Surf and Beach Reports

SwellWatch is our new global wave modeling and forecasting engine.
Using our own forecasting models and NOAA's WaveWatch III data, we can
now give you an accurate surf forecast for any break in the world.
California Surf, Sail, Kite Forecast

Surfline is the leading provider of surf report and forecast
information to consumers, businesses and government agencies
worldwide. Headquartered in Huntington Beach, California, Surfline
delivers timely, accurate and comprehensive data on a daily basis via
phone, fax, wireless web and the Internet.
Forecasting and Meteorology -- Waves

***** This is an outstanding site for anything and everything to do
with surfing. Be sure to check out the Surfology tab for answers to
questions about waves and wave formation.


wave formation
anatomy of wave
california surfing wave formation

Request for Answer Clarification by kr1112-ga on 02 Feb 2005 09:26 PST
hi czh,
thanks for your help.  you provided some interesting resources.  one
thing that i was hoping to find, however, was information about what
specifically distinguishes mavericks from other parts of the
california coast.  for example, what explains why the waves at
mavericks are consistently some of the largest in the world, while
other beaches close by have relatively average size waves?  if you
come across any additional resources i would be very grateful.  thanks
again for your help.

Clarification of Answer by czh-ga on 02 Feb 2005 14:54 PST
Hello again kr1112-ga,

You want to go beyond the theory of waves and wave formation to the
gory details about Mavericks. I thought it would be easy to find a
topographic map to show you exactly what the shore looks like, but
this proved difficult. Instead, I?ve found several sources that give
detailed descriptions of what is under the water at Mavericks and how
the convergence of winds and topography makes Mavericks special. I?ve
also included some comments by surfers who have experienced Mavericks
that gives their impressions of what differentiates this wave from all
the rest. I trust that this collection of resources will give you a
full understanding of why Maverick?s is special.
Surfers await tasty waves
Mavericks contest to give 24-hour notice when time is right.

Mavericks breaks over an ocean reef located about one-half mile off
the coast of Pillar Point in Half Moon Bay. Clark monitors buoy
reports and other meteorological data to make the call for when the
ideal window for the event will be.

The large and severe break, which some have called the most
challenging surfing in the world, is caused by large ocean swells that
have traveled thousands of miles across the Pacific Ocean and are
funneled through a deep-water canyon as they approach Mavericks.

Those funneled swells then break severely because of a dramatic change
in the ocean depth before Pillar Point. The depth drops from 70 feet
to 18 feet in less than a quarter mile.


Mavericks also is known as possibly the most dangerous surfing spot in
the world, partly because of its proximity to huge rocks planted in
the lineup, and also because of the sheer volume of water that rises
up when the mighty Pacific meets the reef half a mile from Pillar
Point some time between November and March. Heavy, green and opaque,
it's a wave that really does look like a mountain.

One of Renneker's big concerns was the safety angle, and the lack of a
solid rescue/emergency system at Maverick's. Although several jet-ski
operators have shown the guts to go into a churning whitewater pit to
make rescues, "We really need a full-blown system in place," says
Renneker. Quiksilver has taken an impressive first step, recently
calling on Brian Keaulana, Terry Ahue and other Hawaiian Ocean Safety
mainstays to visit Maverick's and plot contest strategy.

In big surf, your take-off point is important. At Maverick's, where
waves vary greatly in size and direction, it is crucial. The penalties
are harsh, even fatal. In 1994, visiting Hawaiian surf star Mark Foo
dropped in too far north, was caught deep in ``The Pit'' as the wave
walled and got jolted off his board when an unexpected wavelet slid up
the swell. Next, the ocean fell on top of him. More than an hour
later, his body was found a mile away.

Spectators may ``Ahh!'' and ``Ooh!'' over a hot ride or wild crash.
But still more drama occurs below water, where Maverick's shifting
currents can mug a submerged surfer. Foo had vanished into a deep bowl
called ``The Cauldron.'' Driven very deep, bereft of flotation because
of a broken board, Foo apparently had his board leash jam as he was
shoved past a rock spur, and he was held until his air ran out.

 (3) ``The Boneyard'' 
Due to the unusual contour of the sea floor at Mavericks, where the
bottom suddenly rises from 66 to 21 feet deep, the waves here are much

***** Be sure to read the whole article to get descriptions of why
Mavericks is different from various surfers who compete there.

Swell Rating System (SRS)
Quantifying the Effects of Swell Height, Period and Quality on Wave Size

The horizontal axis identifies a category and a breaking wave face
height size measurement using each of the different scales. Each scale
is described below:

 -- Mavericks (Apparent) Size: Same as apparent size, only occurring
at Mavericks. Most unobstructed sandbar and reef breaks become
unrideable once the swell size is sufficient to start becoming
rideable at Mavericks. They become closed-out. Conversely, when the
swell is small enough to be rideable at most sand-bar and reef breaks,
no waves break at Mavericks because the water depth at the reef is too
deep to allow waves to break.

 -- Mavericks Measurable Size: Same as Measurable Size. Because of the
reef at Mavericks, the size is actually magnified (positive scaling)
compared to other breaks experiencing the same swell conditions.
Figure 1 on page 8 ? Pioneer Seamount off Pillar Point

***** This illustrations shows the offshore topography at Mavericks.

Acoustic Monitoring Program: Pioneer Seamount   

Gumdrop, Pioneer, and Guide Seamounts

Overview of the ATOC Cable Environmental Impact Surveys (Irina Kogan)

The permit to do an environmental impact study of the ATOC cable
extending 95 km from Pillar Point Air Force Station to Pioneer
Seamount expires at the end of 2003. The majority of the cable is
exposed on the seabed in a rather turbulent area. Part of the cable
goes through the ?Mavericks? area, where large swells are known to
commonly occur and a lot of the substrate is very rocky.

Surf Spot Characteristics
kr1112-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars
After clarifying exactly what I was looking for, czh provided a very
good set of links that were specific to the topic I was interested in.
 czh is both a highly skilled researcher and seemed to have
considerable knowledge of my topic.  many thanks!  -kr

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