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U.S. big surfing contest wipes out, no waves

By Gabrielle Saveri
/ Source: Reuters

By Gabrielle Saveri

SAN FRANCISCO, Feb 23 (Reuters Life!) - An epic U.S. surfing contest that in the past featured athletes riding huge waves is washing out this year, due to a lack of big surf, organizers said.

The Jay at Maverick's Big Wave Surfing Invitational, near scenic Half Moon Bay in California, often attracts some of the surfing world's top talent. But the competition is only held if the right weather conditions produce giant swells.

Those conditions would need to happen by Feb. 28, the final day in the window of time set by organizers of the northern California contest, and they have discounted that possibility.

"It's been a bad year for big waves," Grant Washburn, a veteran surfer who has ridden in all the past Maverick's competitions, told Reuters on Tuesday.

The window of the time for the contest to happen began back on Dec. 1.

If a storm offshore had produced the right conditions for potentially big waves, the 24 surfers slated to compete would have held a vote on whether to gather shoreside at Maverick's.

"There's been nothing really legitimate," Washburn said. "If there had been a good swell pattern, we would have voted."

This will be the fourth year since the founding of the Maverick's surf contest in 1998 that the event has not happened, said Katherine Kelly Clark, a co-director of the competition.

"It just didn't happen this year because there were no waves. But that's not unusual in the world of big wave events," she said.

Washburn attributed the lack of waves at Maverick's to the La Nina weather system that moved in this year.

A La Nina is the lesser known cousin to the more famous and potentially devastating El Nino, and while the effects of the two systems on weather patterns vary by region, Washburn said it has resulted in no waves for Maverick's this year.

"Last year it was an El Nino year. It was so rare, so special -- something that you might only get to see every 10 years. Last year was the biggest we ever did," he said.

In 1994, big wave surfer Mark Foo drowned at the surf spot where Maverick's is held, after wiping out on a giant wave.

But the dangerous power of the waves at Maverick's is not always evident to those watching from the shore -- especially on a typical day.

"The funny thing about Maverick's is there are no waves," Washburn said. "If you were there today, you could go fishing. It's a deep water reef, so if the waves don't break at 30 feet, the waves just pass right over it." (Editing by Alex Dobuzinskis and Greg McCune)