Star-Bulletin Sports

Thursday, February 18, 1999

Associated Press
Darryl "Flea" Virotsko of Santa Cruz, Calif., races a
wall of water in the "Men Who Ride Mountains" big
wave contest at Mavericks near Half Moon Bay, Calif.

Meet a first for big-
wave riders at Mavericks

By Greg Ambrose
Special to the Star-Bulletin


The lure of Quiksilver's Men Who Ride Mountains, the first contest ever at Mavericks, jammed the roads in the sleepy hamlet of Half Moon Bay as hopelessly as Kamehameha Highway when Waimea Bay is booming.

Hordes of Northern Californians were attracted by the menacing mystique of Mavericks, a surf spot 20 miles south of San Francisco, whose huge, cold waves had killed Hawaii big-wave specialist Mark Foo on Christmas Eve in 1994.

Yesterday, the crowds discovered something that most surfers are painfully aware of: There is a lot of down time involved in riding waves.

Contest officials and contestants bobbed aboard boats for hours in Pillar Point Harbor, waiting for the coast's first fog in months to burn away and allow a glimpse of the booming waves.

Finally fog-free just before noon, the flotilla left the harbor, and before long 11 boats, 10 thrill craft, two helicopters and a kayaker surrounded the five surfers in the first heat.

Unfortunately, a 6-foot tide had cut the heart out of the swell and made the waves less than fearsome.

Spectators lining the cliffs for miles, many whose only contact with surfing had been the nonstop action of videos, eventually became bored by the long lulls between waves.

The quarter-mile distance from the surfers drained the drama from the rides, making the act of riding triple overhead waves seem deceptively easy.

But because traffic was hell and because this was the first contest at Mavericks, most remained, and were rewarded when the ebbing afternoon tide linked up with sunny skies, offshore winds and booming sets.

"The big ones were magnificent," said Bernie Baker, contest director for the Triple Crown on Surfing held on Oahu's North Shore.

"A small wave is a small wave, whether it be here or Waimea, and before the tide dropped there were quite a few small waves. But the big ones were bombs."

Baker was a judge for Men Who Ride Mountains, and part of a large Hawaii contingent that included judges Jack and David Shipley and Bruce Pleas, administrator Faith Wentzel, and water safety experts Craig Davidson, Mel Pu'u and Dennis Gouveia.

Ken Bradshaw and Brock Little represented Hawaii among the 20 invited surfers, along with two Australians and 16 Northern California surfers.

At the end of the half day of competition, Darryl "Flea" Virostko, 27, of Santa Cruz, was judged the biggest maverick on his best four rides and took a $15,000 slice of the $50,000 contest pie. He dedicated his victory to a friend who had died unexpectedly at home just before the contest.

Richard Schmidt of Santa Cruz took second place, followed by Australian Ross Clark-Jones and Peter Mel of Santa Cruz.

Little placed seventh and Bradshaw landed in the 17th spot after taking an all-night flight and heading straight out into the waves.

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