Apr 052012

Surfers come from all over the world to take on the challenge of riding the waves at Half Moon Bay, about 30 miles south of San Francisco on the Pacific Coast Highway.

But this looks pretty tame

Surfer at Half Moon Bay

Surfer at Half Moon Bay

This surfer is heading into the water at one of several beaches along the coast in Half Moon Bay. As you can see, at Northern California beaches surfers wear wetsuits, not bikinis. The water is just too cold any time of year.

Like it rougher?

Just a couple of miles from where the photo was taken is Mavericks Beach at Pillar Point Harbor, a spot known for its giant waves and invitation-only annual surf contests attended by some of the best surfers in the world. Unfortunately, this year’s swells didn’t quite reach heights to warrant the contest, but high waves are the norm for Mavericks, especially in the winter. Last weekend, weather patterns had brought some big waves to Mavericks, so Mr. TWS and I headed out there to get a glimpse.

We weren’t alone watching the waves at Half Moon Bay

Professional photographers, vicarious surfers and ocean enthusiasts were situated on top of a bluff to maximize their views of the action.

photographers on Pillar Point

Tame this, dude

waves at Mavericks

Although these waves were impressive, they were not close to being among those that were breaking at other times over the weekend or the 50 ft. waves seen in the past. In winter, 25 ft. wave faces are not that unusual. This year the swells and conditions didn’t meet the standard for holding the annual surf contest. But that’s a mighty high standard.

waves at Mavericks

waves at Mavericks

waves at Mavericks

waves at Mavericks

There is danger, even for experts

Sadly, there have been many accidents at Mavericks. There are a few hand-painted memorial signs on the beach, such as the one below. A recent tragedy was the death of Sion Milosky, an experienced surfer from Hawaii who drowned at Mavericks during last year’s surf contest on March 16, 2011.

RIP Joe and Ridge

Before leaving, we decided to join the watchers at the top of the bluff. It was a fairly steep, but manageable climb from the beach.

Pillar Point bluff

However, when we reached the top I realized that going down would be much more challenging and I was momentarily afraid that I’d have to be airlifted out of there. But encouraged by Mr. TWS and recognizing that people with bulky camera equipment and even small children go up and down this trail all day, I put on a brave face and made it back down on my own.

It’s always exhilarating and quite humbling to witness the power of the ocean up close.

View from bluff at Mavericks

For another day at Half Moon Bay: Half Moon Bay Getaway

This is my contribution to this week’s Travel Photo Thursday originated by Nancie at Budget Travelers Sandbox. Be sure to check out other contributions on her website.

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  59 Responses to “Braving the Waves at Half Moon Bay”

  1. That’s true, watching the power of the ocean humbles you and tends to put things into proper perspective. Glad you made it down from the bluff in one piece and on your own. I have a very unelegant way of braving such situations: sliding down on my bum.

  2. Serious waves and I can understand why they can be so dangerous, now. That’s a shame, hearing even experts expire in those waves.

  3. I think I like pic #4 the best.

    Surfing is something I’ve never tried, and probably never will. I certainly do enjoy watching and listening to waves.

  4. I’d be one watching from a safe distance.
    That is a steep hill, Cathy! Glad you put on a brave face and made it down on your own.

    • It was one of those time when you don’t realize how steep it is until you’re at the point of no return! 🙂

  5. I love watching waves and you’ve transported me to the beach today. Got a chuckle out of your hill climb. . .those are the types I usually end up ‘sledding’ down on my well-padded posterior much to the embarrassment of Joel and amusement of those watching.

  6. Wow, those waves! Sadly, I’m too much of a wimp to try surfing in waves like that.

    • I’m too much of a wimp to surf any waves! Wish I had learned to be a really good swimmer when I was young. Would love to have tried a little surfing.

  7. Yikes! Big waves scare me!!! I’m always impressed by those who venture out in them. And BRAVO to you for capturing such awesome images. You are SO good with your camera!!!!

  8. I can certainly see the thrill of braving a surf like that but I prefer to watch from a very safe distance! Great shots!

  9. Those waves are huge! I love watching the sea when it’s raging, but I really don’t understand who is willing to risk their lives just to say they’ve surfed them..

    • It does make me think about those extreme surfers — or people who get into other extreme sports, too. Big risks involved.

  10. Wow, I admire anyone who is brave enough to take on those waves. Your climb was definitely worth the view, but I missed seeing your surfing moves 🙂

    • Darn, I wish that someone had taken a photo of me while I was riding the waves! 🙂 — Haha, I’m not even a very good swimmer, so you won’t find me surfing on any sized waves.

  11. I’m a total water rat, but these look way too scary for me to ever consider jumping in. Great to look at though 🙂

    • I wouldn’t want to encourage anyone to go in these waves and especially not the really BIG ones they get at Maverick’s. Leave it to the real extreme experts!

  12. I love watching waves and surfers but found them difficult to photograph. You definitely caught some big waves.

  13. Oh boy! I’ve been to the beach when there was 25 foot waves before and I thought I might have to bail out…and I was only standing on the beach. I can only imagine how crazy it must be when the waves get up closer to 50ft. Insane people!

  14. So excited to see Half Moon Bay mentioned. I love that area! And there is NO WAY I would surf that water…brrrrr 🙂 Great photos, Cathy!

    • Thanks, Andi. I love spending time in Half Moon Bay. It’s only about 15 minutes from my house, but I still don’t make it out there often enough.

  15. Wow! Those waves are intense! Great pics!

  16. Beautiful pictures, Cathy! This looked like a fun event to witness. Those waves are pretty majestic. Glad you made it back down safely.

  17. Yeah I would not be getting in that water!

  18. Gorgeous pictures!!! I just love looking at waves – so calming for me- even HUGE ones like these!

    Happy Easter – I would love it if you’d consider linking up to Friday Daydreamin’ this week – I am trying to grow this meme. Thanks!!

  19. Like you said, exhilarating to WATCH the ocean. I can spend many an hour watching the big waves come crashing in and admire the power of the sea – but I have no desire to be in it even when the waves are a tiny fraction of the size as the ones in your photos.

  20. I love watching the high waves at winter in my hometown. They are so alluring. The thundering and splashing never seems to get old and can keep me entertained for hours. And like here, photogs are always in abundance; but who can blame them?

    • I love that thundering of the crashing ways — As if the vastness of the ocean isn’t a big enough wonder to keep us enthralled.

  21. Great photos, Cathy. To answer your question, I have never surfed this area. I lived in Santa Cruz for 3 years but I was afraid of the ocean then. 😉

  22. Those are some great photos but scary looking water. Read the book last year The Wave – In Pursuit of the Rogues and the waves some of these surfers are going after is getting scarier and scarier.

  23. Beautiful shots, Cathy. I grew up close to the ocean and never tire of looking at it. I’m not sure how I would have handled that hill. I’m sure my vertigo would have kicked in !

    (I tired to stumble this and kept getting a message “This website is unavailable”)

  24. There’s no way you’d catch me in that water….even with small waves. It’s way too freezing! 😉

  25. What a great view. I always loved the big winter waves on Oahu and seeing the surfers.

  26. I love surf posts – I only tried it a few times in New Zealand but absolutely loved it. The waves you captured up there look very intimidating though, and not without a good reason as you explained. It is so true that looking at the ocean is humbling. I get the same feeling when I go to the coast.

  27. For the young and brave at heart indeed! Wonderful photos my friend. Surf’s Up!!!

  28. Oof, this reminds me of the time I foolishly went swimming on Stromboli when the seas were rough. My California upraising, along with my shins and feet, took a mighty bruising on the volcanic rocks. *shivers* Dang, why would ya dive into this? Does not look fun at all.

  29. O_O Eeek, those waves look crazy….but probably stunning to stand there and watch.

  30. […] close to the Pacific Ocean in Northern California, I’ve often seen surfers braving the waves at Half Moon Bay, but most people wouldn’t expect to find them on a narrow waterway in the middle of a major […]

  31. […] Moon Bay on the Northern California coast and they’re great for taking walks and watching surfers brave the waves, but they’re not so great for taking a swim. Those surfers are wearing wetsuits and the waves can […]

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