Titans of Surf Come to Play with Giants of Swell at Mavericks Beach

A surf photographer checks a bucket list item while shooting the epic waves of the infamous NorCal coast.

As we pulled out of the safety of the harbor, I could see the enormous predicted ground swell testing the limits of the deep channel that would normally be the path of safety.

The mood on the boat was a quiet underlying fear, overshadowed by excitement and anticipation. My heart was pounding. I was nodding and pretending to listen to conversations while most of my attention and focus were spent scanning the horizon in hopes of catching a glimpse of the beast we were all there to see. It was a very slow and deliberate crawl through that channel. I’d hold my breath and tighten my grip on the rail in every trough and quietly rejoice and breathe again once we made it over the crest of a wave.

The captain gave word that we were getting close so I went down below deck to where I was safely storing my camera gear. A few minutes later as I was getting ready, the mighty Valhalla came to a stop. I could hear muffled hooting and cheers indicating that we had arrived. I instantly felt the excitement well up. My hands were shaking and I had to tell myself to relax and breathe but I could barely fight the adrenaline rush.

Back in 1990 when Surfer Magazine first published a photo of Mavericks, and before I was even close to having any interest in photography, the top of my head blew off when I saw the photo. Now here I was almost 30 years later about to get my first look at it up close.

I finally got my equipment straight and headed up. The first wave I saw my jaw dropped and the whole boat erupted in hoots and cheers at the vortex of white water careening past our boat. Before my brain could process this I heard someone say, “Here we go. Outside!” I turned to see Kai Lenny getting towed by Jeff Clark into a huge wave way outside. It just kept growing in size until it threw out a huge avalanche of water. Kai surfed it like he was in a wave pool. A hard carving bottom turn and then climbed the huge face for a high top turn off of the lip and back down for another controlled powerful bottom turn, finishing up with an air! A huge eruption from everyone in the channel. Kai was definitely the stand out but I have serious respect for everyone who threw themselves over the ledge that day.

It was a long time dream realized and a mind-blowing experience. I’m truly grateful to have had the opportunity and look forward to doing it again soon.

Ken Pagliaro is an internationally recognized commercial, adventure, travel and surf photographer based in southern California. See more of his work at www.kenpagliaro.com.

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