Interview: Sal Masekela on the Mavericks Invitational

By Seth Rubinroit

The Mavericks Invitational is the world’s premier, high adrenaline big wave surfing contest.

Two dozen of the world’s bravest and best surfers gather annually at the legendary Mavericks surf break just 20 minutes south of San Francisco and compete in waves reaching more than 30 feet, in what many consider the toughest big wave conditions in the world.

Universal Sports aired the event live on national television for the first time ever in 2014. Commentator Sal Masekela discussed the Mavericks Invitational with at Sports Spectacular, a charity event that raised money to combat diabetes and obesity.


Sal Masekela (Alberto E. Rodriguez, Getty Images)

Universal Sports: What makes the Mavericks Invitational different than any other surfing competition?

Masekela: Mavericks as a wave is almost not a wave. It breaks in really deep, cold water in Northern California and it’s the biggest wave in the continental United States. It gets up to 30, 40 feet, 50 feet in some cases. So it presents a whole new landscape than you would find with any other wave. It’s not a place where a non-expert could go and even think about having success. There’s rocks and underwater caves, and basically a million ways for you to die.

USN: One of the most exciting things is that competitors only get 48 hours before the event happens.

Masekela: You have to rely on a small window. The place only breaks a few times per year. You need a really big storm that’s happening a few thousand miles away out of the north with the right swell direction. Then you need the wind and time conditions for it to come together. And surf forecasters basically have to sit and huddle around their maps and go, ‘Okay we feel confident enough to make it a go.’ Then these guys have to fly in from all over the world at the drop of a hat to surf this contest for one day.

USN: During the contest window, do you keep a suitcase packed, just in case?

Masekela: I literally have a standby Mavericks bag ready to go. And in [2014], I think I flew home from an event in Australia and was home for a day. Literally when I landed and got off the plane, I felt like a special agent. They were like, ‘You will be getting on a plane tonight off to San Francisco to Half Moon Bay because Mavericks is a go.’ I went home, changed my stuff, grabbed some warm clothes and off we went up to NorCal. It was spectacular, really spectacular.

USN: Do you think Grant “Twiggy” Baker will repeat in 2015?

Masekela: He’s on his game right now, and big wave surfing is all about momentum. It’s about being able to have a long string of success without a major tragic incident that shakes your confidence. It’s about being able to have your confidence run high. And he’s on a roll right now. The guy, when he’s out there surfing 25, 30-foot waves, looks like he’s surfing 2 or 3 foot waves. He doesn’t hold back. If he can keep that run going, especially at 40 plus, it’d be pretty cool.

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