Though it’s technically a competition, the results aren’t close. For the second straight year, San Francisco’s Bianca Valenti swept the podium for the women’s division at the Mavericks Awards, further cementing her status as the most accomplished woman to regularly surf the famous wave.
Valenti, 35, took home Biggest Wave, Ride of the Year, and Performer of the Year in front of a packed crowd outside San Benito House on Saturday. The third annual award show organized by Mavericks pioneer Jeff Clark and local businessman Chris Cuvelier attracted about 400 surf fans.
The video submission-based surf contest features a $25,000 prize purse across three awards each for men and women. Sixty percent of the cash goes to the surfer while 40 percent goes to the videographer who submitted the ride for each award. After a challenging winter plagued by months of storms, Cuvelier and Clark focused on producing high-quality videos and interviews profiling locals and visitors who are fixated on Mavericks. The two are planning to have a two-day festival at Pillar Point Harbor on Sept. 30 and Oct. 1 to generate more prize money for next year’s winners.
“The Mavericks Awards promote that friendly rivalry that pushes the other person to the next level,” Clark said. “Are you going to the next level, or is your buddy going to go to the next level? That comradery, brotherhood, that kind of competition between the crew is so healthy.”
Each award is judged by a five-member panel including Clark, Mavericks Invitational winner Chris Bertish, four-time Mavericks contest finalist Matt Ambrose, three-time Mavericks winner Darryl “Flea” Virostko and Maya Gabeira, the world record holder for the largest wave surfed by a woman.
Greg Long, a perennial nice guy and fixture among the Mavericks elite for nearly 20 years, took home the men’s Biggest Wave title. In a classy move, the 39-year-old from San Clemente and 2008 Mavericks Invitational winner donated his prize money to the Mavericks Water Rescue, a group of Jet Ski drivers and filmers who volunteer their time and effort to rescue surfers. Long, who claims that was the only wave he caught, was quick to acknowledge the behind-the-scenes work organizers put into the event.
“Awards like this are always amazing,” Long said. “What you guys have created, money aside, it’s the community and the love and appreciation for the town, the wave and the family that has been brought together. I’m grateful to have lucked into my one small big wave of the year.”
Santa Cruz’s Ryan Augenstein, 40, and Alo Slebir, 21, won male Ride of the Year and Performer of the Year, respectively. Clark said that Slebir narrowly edged out Half Moon Bay’s Hunter Murison, who had another standout winter.
One of the video segments featured Kalani Lattanzi, the first person to bodysurf the unholy trinity of famous big-wave spots: Mavericks, Nazaré in Portugal, and Jaws in Hawaii. Lattanzi bodysurfed sizable Mavericks waves for the first time in February and flew from Rio de Janeiro to attend on Saturday.
“That was my first time at Mavericks, and I want to go for the second,” he said. “If it’s bigger, let’s go. I was training all my life for that, and I feel ready. It was amazing, a dream come true to survive with all my arms and legs.”
Though she didn’t take home any cash, Half Moon Bay’s Zoe Chait arguably got more shoutouts than any of the other nominees. The 16-year-old was the only other woman besides Valenti nominated for the three female awards. With Valenti’s guidance and the blessing of her parents, Chait paddled into her first wave at Mavericks in November. The replay of her ride drew cheers and whistles from the hundreds of attendees.
Chait’s skill set, work ethic and genuine positivity make her a popular figure in the local surfing community. She’s got no shortage of support and had “one of the best winters of my life” surfing with Valenti in Hawaii, Mavericks and Ocean Beach.
“I hope that Bianca and I compete against each other for years to come and it becomes a battle,” Chait said. “She’s my mentor, but I’m coming for that award. I’m going to try to win.”
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