“Our mission is to celebrate Mavericks
and support the brave men and women who dare to surf it.”
- Mavericks Surf Awards

Flying out to San Francisco and then making the 30 minute drive to Half Moon Bay, California, represents the completion of a decade or more of a dream in the making.  I have been fascinated by this great wave and the souls who surf Mavericks since my introduction to the world of surfing.  I watched the contest online when it was live and available, and I read everything I could about the Mavericks Big Wave Invitational event.  One year, I even b.s.-ed my way into receiving a press pass for the event because I wanted to see it up close, be a part of the energy, and feel the quake of the earth beneath my feet as the waves roared off Pillar Point.  

I didn’t make it to Mavericks that year: that was in 2010. Even in my bluster and mind bending obsession, I didn’t have the nerve to fly out to a coast I didn’t have much history with at that time and pretend to be ‘press’ at an event that would draw, year after year, the best and the baddest big wave surfers on the planet.  I watched it online and - to my horror - it was the year that the surf was so frigging BIG that it washed spectators (and media personnel) off the cliff at Pillar Point.  It was absolute mayhem. Chris Bertish, a name I was just getting to know at that time, won the event after almost losing his life in the earliest rounds. They closed the contest to the public after that, and eventually it went away completely.

I couldn’t believe I had missed it.

The Mavericks Surf Awards were resurrected in 2020 as a digital video performance big wave surf contest, where videographers and big wave surfers submit their best surf action footage from Mavericks for the entire season (October 1st to April 15th each year). By now I was firmly embedded in the surf industry as publisher of a watersports mag that included big wave surfing within its pages (then Standup Journal, now rebranded as Session Magazine). The absolute commitment of this digital competition to celebrate both the riders of this giant wave and the videographers who often put their lives in harm’s way to capture the footage immediately caught my attention. 

The prize money for each award is split (60/40) between the surfer and the videographer for each winning wave category. There are three categories for the men and three categories for the women with equal prize money for all. Performance is based upon a surfer’s ability to paddle into the wave at Mav’s (no tow-ins), and make the entire wave (no glory shot with a big blow up after). For maximum credibility and respect, the judges are renowned surfers from the community - peers of the contestants.  Then at the end of the big wave surf season, the Mavericks Surf Awards are celebrated on a night in Half Moon Bay with live music and sponsors where the best video clips are shown on the big screen and where the prizes are awarded to great enthusiasm from the gathered big wave community and crowd.  It is, in all ways, both innovative and progressive, while still holding the value and original heritage of this great wave event. 

So this year, as I was driving the coastal route from San Francisco to Half Moon Bay, coming around the sweeping turns to be greeted by panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean, I was pretty on point to have a good time. The 2024 event was held at the San Benito House in downtown HMB with special guest Forest Day adding a rocking mix of blues, rock and surf music to the mix.  

Session Magazine had signed on as a sponsor for the 2024 Mavericks Surf Awards and was greeted with maximum enthusiasm from both staff, crew and crowd from the outset of the evening. We set up along the walkway to the big screen with plenty of free mags to give away and some special libations supplied by Papa Pilar’s Rum, including a special Greg Noll Legacy edition rum that we acquired specifically for this motivational evening.

As nominees, guests and spectators began to find their way to the big lawn, beautiful purple leis were placed around the necks of the nominees and visiting notables within the crowd. The energy was high and the vibe electric. Everybody was here to have a good time. 

Fun for me, I began to meet some folks that I’d been in communication with for years, including photographer Frank Quirarte and the man himself, Jeff Clark, as well as multiple other enthusiastic, amazing people who were as welcoming as the Hawaiians towards this east coast interloper into their west coast event. Chris Cuvelier, logistics man-behind-the-scenes for the Mav’s Awards was in the house, ensuring the smooth execution of the evening, sorting out logistical issues for me, working the crowd, and keeping the evening running on track and according to schedule. 

When the awards ceremony started, the crowd immediately filled the tented lawn area (skies had been pretty damp all day) to jostle for position in front of the Jumbotron screen for best viewing of the highly anticipated clips from the 2023-2024 big wave surf season at Mavericks in Half Moon Bay. Cuvelier and Clark worked the crowd, building the energy before launching into the main event: namely awarding surfers and videographers with hard-won prize money for the year’s best surfing moments captured on video.  

“Mavericks is that rarest of things: not just a perfect wave and not just a giant wave but a perfect, giant wave. The peak lies a little less than a half-mile off of Pillar Point and is marked by a clump of Stonehenge-like boulders lining the inside. Massive swells looming out of the deep approach a shelf - made up of black, ungodly reef and boulders, 20-feet beneath the surface – at breakneck speeds. From there, Maverick’s becomes a 20-foot version of Stockton Avenue: a perfect, jacking AAA-frame breaking both ways, the right going long and the left a short-lived explosion of hell and spitfire.” - Surfline

The three categories for both men and women are:  Mavericks Ride of the Year, Biggest Wave, and Performer of the Year.  The 2024 Nominees included  (in alphabetical order): Alo Slebir, Bianca Valenti, Colin Dwyer, Hunter Murison, Jack Akrop, Jojo Roperr, Rolando Ozuna, Ryan Augenstein, Sage Burke, Wilem Banks and, Zoe Chait.

On the women’s side, big wave rider Bianca Valenti swept the podium for the third year in a row, defending her reign as Women's Champion in all three categories:  Women’s Ride of the Year, Biggest Wave and Performer of the Year. Her video footage was captured by Jack Sandler, Euan Rannachan, Sachi Cunningham and Tucker Wooding. With all that being said, the crowd was going wild for local charger and US Junior National Surf Team Rider Zoe Chait’s clips at the awards ceremony. It is only a matter of time before this young athlete claims her spot on the podium among the top female big wave athletes in the field. Congrats, Bianca!  Let’s go, Zoe!

The men’s categories definitely showed more diversity in winners. To no one’s surprise, JoJo Roper of San Diego claimed the top prize for Biggest Wave of the Year for a wave he paddled into in March 2024 after a wild 24-hour travel slog to get to Mavericks on a sleeper swell that was not on everybody’s big wave radar. Shot by videographer and cameraman Fred Pompermeyer, the effort paid off for JoJo as he took home the top prize for this mammoth drop and ride which you can watch on the Mav’s Surf Awards YouTube channel.  

Next, Santa Cruz’s own Wilem Banks snagged Ride of the Year for a wild airdrop which he landed and rode out to completion. Belly dropping video footage was captured by Tucker Wooding.  We know Wilem was grateful to have landed that one. Congratulations, Wilem!

A special mention and shout out was made to rider Lucas Fink who stunned riders, judges and spectators this year by showing up and surfing the Mavericks beast on a finless skimboard. Lucas is a 3x World Skimboarding Champion, but as he said about his jaw dropping video, “It was my first time ever at a gnarly big wave spot and during the biggest wave of the season.” Shot by Tucker Wooding, this clip is well worth watching HERE.

And finally, 2x champion Alo Slebir defended his title as Men’s “Performer of the Year”  with back-to-back wins at the Mavericks Awards. This year’s crazy footage was captured by Daniel Gorostieta, Drake Stanley (also on Mavericks Rescue Team), Euan Rannachan, and James Rymer. This talented tribe turned in a series of epic clips to put Alo out on top.  Congrats Alo!

To be in the mix at the Mavericks Surf Awards and finally be able to participate in the energy, the camaraderie and the ceremony celebrating one of the greatest waves on the planet and the daring men and women who choose to ride it, left a feeling of deep satisfaction in my soul. It’s not only because this long ago dream finally came to fruition but because of the vibe, the generous and welcoming tribe I discovered in HMB as well as the incredible atmosphere that surrounds a big wave surf event like this.  There are no greater risk-takers in my mind than those who choose to paddle into massive, moving mountains, stand up, drop down the face of 20’+ waves and ride them to completion. This is big wave surfing. These are the champions of Mavericks. 

As one friendly spectator said to me, “It’s not a wave; it’s an obsession.”  From seeing Pillar Point and the Stonehenge formation of rocks out in the ocean, looking at the currents and feeling the energy of the land and sea beneath my feet, and also meeting these other mavericks who choose to put themselves out there again and again…I get it. 


See you all next year in Half Moon Bay!

Evelyn O’Doherty
Editor in Chief, Session Mag