August 03, 2012
Mavericks Surf, off the coast of central California, is well known among surfers for its huge waves – likely the biggest in the U.S. outside of Hawaii and Alaska. Waves here have approached 80 ft (24 m) during and after powerful winter storms. The waves in the photo above are puny by comparison – about 25 ft (8 m). Surfing at Mavericks is relegated to the most talented and the most fearless. In fact, several renowned surfers have been killed here, and in 2010, waves even injured spectators onshore.
So what causes the waves to break here the way they do? NOAA bathymetric maps in the vicinity of the Mavericks reveal that a narrow band of the seafloor acts like a ramp –increasing in elevation toward the shoreline. The base of a wave approaching this “ramp” is considerably slowed by friction with the seafloor but their shallower tops are only slightly slowed, which forces the wave to lurch upward and pitch forward. The result is a steep wave face so highly regarded by all surfers. Additionally, deeper water on either side of the ramp acts to converge the waves at Mavericks, which further enhances wave height.
A surfer during a competition is pictured within the white circle. The dark object in the foreground is a a jet ski.
Photo details: Camera Maker: Canon; Camera Model: Canon EOS DIGITAL REBEL XTi; Focal Length: 300.0mm; Aperture: f/9.0; Exposure Time: 0.0003 s (1/4000); ISO equiv: 400; Exposure Bias: none; Metering Mode: Average; Exposure: Manual; Exposure Mode: Manual; White Balance: Auto; Flash Fired: No (enforced); Orientation: Normal; Color Space: sRGB; Software: Adobe Photoshop CS3 Windows.