The Selling of a Wave

Three sports clothing companies are sponsoring contests that encourage surfers to ride the 60-foot waves at Maverick's Point. Someone may be encouraged to death.

The media churned out often contradictory versions of Foo's death. Jon Krakauer wrote a lyrical tale for Outside magazine. The obituary ran in the New York Times and on CNN and network news. Photos and video clips were sold and resold. Pillar Point also showed signs of overexposure: The cliff was tromped bare of vegetation, and trash littered the parking lot. If Maverick's had once been a local secret, it was now world-famous as The Wave That Killed Mark Foo.

With the death of Foo, Half Moon Bay changed. Surfers made the pilgrimage to Maverick's not so much to surf as to prove their manhood. To Jeff Clark, these guys were simply "bounty hunters." Other local surfers were upset, not only with the newcomers, but also with Clark; their little secret was ruined forever, and Clark had become the media's favorite commentator on Maverick's.

In the wake of Foo's death, some residents of Half Moon Bay headed for the hills to avoid the spotlight. Jeff Clark was different. He made himself available to meet the media head-on and give the soundbites they begged for, his Paul Newman-blue eyes dripping with courage. And Clark had a story to tell. He'd surfed Maverick's by himself for 15 years. As far as some were concerned -- including many in the national press corps and Clark himself -- The Wave was his.

Clark always seemed to deliver the perfect line at the right time:
"I had this desire to surf big, powerful waves."
"It's the meanest wave on the planet."
"Maverick's takes care of itself."

In most small towns, there is an unspoken code of egalitarianism. Half Moon Bay, population 9,000, is no different. Anybody can be mayor, but nobody better get too big for his britches.

Surfing has a more complex code -- a laid-back, Zen relationship with nature, combined with the incredible ego essential to paddling out and tackling The Wave and a strong sense of propriety. And usually it is not cool for outsiders to clutter the local surf break.

For Half Moon Bay, where (except for Maverick's, far offshore) the breaks are not that great, surfer attitude and ego had always been minimal. But Maverick's and Jeff Clark have now stretched the boundaries of economic and personal ambition in and around Half Moon Bay, and not everyone is happy about it.

The Wave became an official financial entity in 1995, when Clark and his girlfriend opened the Maverick's Surf Shop in downtown Half Moon Bay. The Wave now had an address the curious could track down in the phone book. The store's walls filled up with autographed posters and photos of big-wave surfers, and videos shot at Maverick's. In front of the surfboard display, Jeff Clark gave interviews about the most hyped big wave in the world.

Depending on who you talk to, the local competition -- Cowboy Surf Shop and Half Moon Bay Board Shop -- was either happy for the increased attention, or incredibly angry, believing the town wasn't big enough to support three full-time surf shops. Maverick's had the best location by far, right on Main Street.

But if resentment toward Clark began to simmer, surfers soon had more to resent.

Jeff Clark and the Maverick's legacy took on a soap opera tone earlier this year, when Half Moon Bay's native-son surf celebrity and his girlfriend split up, leaving the future of the Maverick's shop up in the air. A mutual friend was called to mediate the dispute. Clark was allowed to keep the use of the name Maverick's, but his girlfriend kept the store, since she had put up the money to open it. (The store now operates under the name Coastside Surf & Skate. Dated Maverick's memorabilia remains on the walls.)

Clark has since married another woman, who owns a cafe in Princeton, a few miles up Highway 1, and within walking distance of Pillar Point and The Wave. They have renamed the cafe Maverick's Roadhouse Cafe, and do a sideline business selling Maverick's T-shirts and stickers.

Up the street from the cafe is Maverick's Surf Shop, essentially a room in a warehouse where Clark shapes and sells his custom Maverick's surfboards. Also this year, he launched the Maverick's Water Patrol, a volunteer surf rescue team, and he consults for the Web site, which features a list of all 52 alumni who have ever ridden Maverick's.

Although Clark is the legal owner of all the Maverick's businesses -- the cafe, surfboard shop, surfboard company, and water patrol team -- he recently told a film crew: "Big-wave surfing is about that -- big-wave surfing. It's not about how much money I'm gonna make."

After an initial phone conversation for this article, Clark missed an appointment to be interviewed, and did not return messages left at his shop.

The Wave is approaching maximum surfing usage. Some say it's already ruined, and all signs point to Jeff Clark as the person most responsible for popularizing and marketing the name of Maverick's.

The Jeff Clark Bad-Mouth Club has many members.
"He did all he could to drag this into the spotlight," says one Half Moon Bay surfer who asked not to be identified. "It kind of backfired on him. If you take away the media, what is he? He's a surfboard shaper in a small town. The media's essentially created that guy."

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