Half Moon Bay Surf Team Speaks

by Kristine A. Wong

I produced, shot, and edited this video of Half Moon Bay competitive youth surfers at the opening ceremonies of the 2011-2012 Mavericks Invitational big wave surf contest in Half Moon Bay, Calif., on Jan 6, 2012. I produced this video along with a photo gallery of the young surfers for Half Moon Bay Patch, including the photo below.

Half Moon Bay Surf Team Speaks from kristine a. wong on Vimeo.

A Prayer and a Paddle Out

by Kristine A. Wong

I produced, shot, and edited this video of the world’s top big wave surfers at the opening ceremonies of the 2011-2012 Mavericks Invitational big wave surf contest in Half Moon Bay, Calif., on Jan 6, 2012. In addition to the video, I shot photos (including the one below) and wrote a print article for Half Moon Bay Patch.
See the rest of the photos here and read the article below.

A Prayer and a Paddle Out: 2012 Mavericks Opening Ceremonies from kristine a. wong on Vimeo.

Surfers from as far away as South Africa, Australia, Brazil and Hawaii — and as close as Half Moon Bay and Santa Cruz — converged on Mavericks beach in Half Moon Bay, Calif., less than a mile in from the surf break known as one of the most treacherous waves in the world.

Seventeen competitors, alternates, and former Mavericks contest champions participated in the ceremony, including 3-time winner and now-retired Darryl “Flea” Virostko from Santa Cruz.

Oahu’s Kohl Christensen wore a “Live Like Sion” shirt commemorating Sion Milosky, the surfer who traveled from Hawaii and died while riding Mavericks’ last big waves of the 2010-2011 winter season.

San Mateo County Supervisor Don Horsley and State Assemblyman Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo) provided opening remarks, while Mavericks Invitational CEO Rocky Raynor presented each surfer with a ceremonial ti leaf and led the group in an opening prayer.

Afterwards, the group completed the opening ceremonies by paddling out to form a prayer circle on the water modeled after the Hawaiian tradition.

Adding to the afternoon’s excitement was the buzz of a helicopter flying over the surf break, blufftops and beach filming Of Men and Mavericks, the Hollywood film portrayal of Mavericks surfer Jay Moriarity starring Gerard Butler. The film has been shooting in the area since October. Contest director and Mavericks veteran Jeff Clark was out on the water with the film crew and other Mavericks competitors shooting scenes for the movie.

On Friday evening, surfers celebrated into the evening at a dinner and party at the Oceano Hotel in Princeton. They also drew their heat position for the day of the contest. Results are as follows:

1st Heat
Carlos Burle
*Shane Desmond
Tyler Smith
*Ben Wilkinson
*Chris Bertish
*Ken Collins

2nd Heat
Nathan Fletcher
Matt Ambrose
Grant Baker
Mark Healy
*Anthony Tashnick
*Ryan Seelbach

3rd Heat
Dave Wassel
Rusty Long
*Shawn Dollar
Ryan Augenstein
Jamie Sterling
Zach Wormhoudt

4th Heat
Shane Dorian
Grant Washburn
*Alex Martins
Kelly Slater
Greg Long
Peter Mel

*=present at opening ceremony and paddle out at Mavericks Beach

See coverage of last year’s Mavericks opening ceremonies on Half Moon Bay Patch here.

Etches in the Sand: Sion Milosky Remembered

This article was published on Half Moon Bay Patch on March 18, 2011.

message from daughters to sion miloskyA day after Sion Milosky died surfing the powerful Mavericks surf break on Wednesday evening, he was remembered by his family and friends on the beach at Mavericks with a line of hearfelt messages etched in sand, each accompanied by flowers.

“WE LOVE YOU DADDY,” read one message written to Milosky which appeared to be from his two daughters. Delicate pink roses marked the top of another message which appeared to be from his wife, reading “To the Love of my Life forever.” The letter “o” in the word “love” was written as a heart, and the names of the couple written inside a heart at the bottom.

Some messages referred to Milosky’s passion for surfing big waves that he had turned into a lifestyle in his home state of Hawaii: “SION/THANK YOU FOR SHOWING US THE RECIPE OF LIFE!” and “INSPIRATION/YOU DA MAN.”

And a few others included in their messages to Milosky with the simple — yet complex in meaning — Hawaiian word “Aloha.”

Milosky’s wife went out to the break located less than a mile past Pillar Point Harbor on a jet ski yesterday and saw where her husband spent his last moments before drowning after a fatal wipeout that witnesses said took place at approximately 6:30 p.m.

Milosky was found tethered to his surfboard floating face down about twenty minutes later, according to the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office, which handled the emergency dispatch call for aid at 6:50 p.m.

Three emergency firefighters/paramedics arrived to find Milosky receiving medical care from other surfers, the Sheriff’s Office reported. After the crew performed advanced CPR on Milosky, he was transported to the emergency room at Seton Medical Center Coastside in Moss Beach, where he was pronounced dead at 7:46 p.m. by the physician on duty, according to the Sheriff’s Office.

mavericks surfersMilosky’s misfortune on Wednesday night didn’t stop surfers from hitting the waves at Mavericks. About six to eight surfers were out surfing the break at midafternoon yesterday and were being watched over by one on a jet ski, according to a few observers who had climbed up on the bluffs at the edge of the beach during low tide to watch.

Although the surfers were barely visible to the naked eye from the bluffs, Kathe Goria-Hendrickson was able to amplify her view with binoculars.

“I’ve seen a couple of nice rides on the waves — and I’ve also seen a lot of surfboards up in the air,” she said.

Goria-Hendrickson, a resident of Clipper Mills, had wedged herself into a tight vertical space on the edge of a bluff with a pair of binoculars with her golden retriever dog Oso sitting patiently next to her. She had been there for about an hour, she said.

“It’s scary because they’re so huge,” she said, referring to the size of the waves, which dwarfed the surfers in comparison.

sion milosky memorialized on signBack out at the entrance to Mavericks, Milosky had also been memorialized on the wooden sign noting the beach’s location at Pillar Point Harbor, with “RIP SION” and “ALWAYS IN OUR HEARTS” carved into the top and left hand side of the sign. Flowers had been placed at the sign’s bottom ledge.

At Mavericks, Milosky will not be alone: his remembrances are a few steps away from a rock-and-shell memorial erected for Mark Foo, the first-known Mavericks casualty and another Hawaiian. Foo died surfing Mavericks in December 1994.

A memorial fund has been set up for Milosky’s wife and two daughters by Vans, the company which gave him $25,000 last December for winning the Project North Shore Underground contest co-sponsored with Surfing Magazine. Donations can be made at any Bank of Hawaii branch or through PayPal.

Volcom has also set up a memorial fund for Milosky’s family. Donations can be sent via PayPal here.

Milosky reportedly funded his trip to Half Moon Bay using some of the money he won from the North Shore contest, which was designated to be used as a surfing travel fund.

Photos by Kristine A. Wong

Forecasting Big Waves for Mavericks Surf

This story was published on Dec. 3, 2010 on Half Moon Bay Patch. It won a second-place prize in the San Francisco Peninsula Press Club’s 2011 Greater Bay Area Journalism Awards competition for the “Sports Story” category in the Broadband/Web division.

To a nonsurfer, it may seem like a formidable task and a lot of pressure—forecasting big waves for The Jay At Mavericks Big Wave Invitational, one of the top surfing competitions in the world. But to Mark Sponsler, official surf forecaster for the contest, it’s a fairly simple task that can be boiled down to a basic science.

Instead of being held on a set date, the competition has a three-month contest window from Dec. 1 to Feb. 28, meaning that the event can take place at any time during this period. The window ensures that the surf conditions on the day of the event are befitting of The Jay At Mavericks’ prestigious nature. Invited competitors are essentially on call to arrive in Half Moon Bay. In previous years, competitors had only 24 hours to arrive after the call was made for the competition to begin.

Sponsler, an unassuming man who is quick to smile and laugh—and is also a surfer himself—runs stormsurf.com, a global surf forecasting site. He is not a formally trained meteorologist, but is self-taught. Though he is the one to notify contest organizers when he thinks it’s the right time to hold the contest, Sponsler says that the process is more collaborative than his title betrays.

“By looking at the surf report, the surfers already know pretty much when the competition will be held,” he said this past Monday, standing on the beach at Mavericks as he looked out to the ocean where surfers were engaging in the traditional prayer circle as part of the day’s opening ceremonies.

When the data looks right, Sponsler talks with the organizers, and more in-depth analysis of the conditions take place.

“When we think it’s time, they [the competitors] talk about if they think the conditions are right, and if they agree, then the call is made,” Sponsler says.

Though Sponsler is on call for what could potentially be almost three months, he doesn’t appear to be burdened at all by the assignment—nor does he let his added responsibilities hinder his regular activities during the period—responsibilities that include a day job.

“I can do it all by digital device,” he said. “I check the data about three or four times daily—I can even be skiing at the top of a mountain and look at it,” he said. The first time he looks at the surf conditions data each day, he says, is at 6:30 a.m.

Sponsler got started in surf forecasting by building the analytical models that he uses to predict surf conditions. As a software project manager by trade, he drew upon his programming experience to capitalize on data collected from buoys essential in forecasting surf conditions that are stationed around the world by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and other countries.

Equipped with digital Iridium Satellite sensors, the buoys’ sensors measure wave height, wave period, wind speed, and barometer pressure, according to Sponsler. The buoys relay this data by satellite to NOAA’s headquarters, which then makes its way to Sponsler’s computer, thanks to a Freedom of Information Act request Sponsler filed to get access to the data.

“Because the buoys are off the coast, you can really see the swell coming,” Sponsler says.

Sponsler’s computer is able to render the data live, he says, and the data gets fed into algorithms and surf forecast models he developed. The models update three or four times a day, which is when Sponsler checks the data during the contest window period. In addition to Mavericks’ swells, Sponsler’s website shows data from around the world, and provides a tutorial section so that anyone interested in learning how to read the data can do so.

What kind of surf conditions is Sponsler looking for? Buoys reading a “pure swell of 10 feet with wave crests of 18 seconds apart,” he says. “The wind has to be just right when the swell arrives also, along with having low tide and sunlight.”

Though the word around Monday’s opening ceremonies was that no big wave action would be happening at Mavericks in the first part of this month, Sponsler seemed as positive as ever for the opening of the contest window to begin.

Ironically, Sponsler’s surf-forecasting career got started at the time when he had to move away from Mavericks—all the way to the East Bay, where he lives now in Castro Valley. “I couldn’t just check the conditions out here anymore,” he said.

Though Sponsler can’t be out surfing as much as he did before, the big wave competition at Mavericks is all the better for it.

Photo by Kristine A. Wong