Video by Gavin McIntyre, Craig Lifto and Daniel A. Nelson
The window for Mavericks Invitational in Half Moon Bay officially opened this November, and the wait for Northern California’s surfing spectacle has started.
The competition summons the world’s best big-wave surfers, like Hawaii’s Shane Dorian and South Africa’s Grant “Twiggy” Baker, to local phenom and last year’s champion Peter Mel, to battle some of the Pacific Ocean’s biggest waves, once the weather permits during the time window. But this year, one of SF State’s own will join the competition.
Colin Dwyer will face his surfing idols as one of the 24 selected to participate in Mavericks. Dwyer, a senior psychology major from Pacifica, is the youngest at age 23 to participate this year. But he isn’t intimidated by the competition before him.
“I’ve surfed the place more than a lot of guys on the list. I am the most local person in the contest,” Dwyer said. “I think time spent out there gives me an advantage.”
But Dwyer’s path to the title is tricky. The waves at Mavericks can hit up to 50 feet.
“The higher the risk, the higher the reward,” Dwyer said.
Dwyer’s cousin, Travis Payne, is an alternate for this year’s invitational and said Dwyer is fearless when it comes to surfing Maverick’s.
“I definitely think he could win,” Payne said. “He’s not scared of the biggest waves out there.”
Dwyer’s road to the Mavericks Invitational started with his first surfing competition when he was 7 years old, but it took him time to switch from land to water.
“I mostly wanted to play baseball when I was kid. Around 12 or 13, something clicked and I wanted to surf every day,” Dwyer said.
This change thrilled his father, Steve Dwyer.
“When my wife was pregnant, the only thing you give a shit about is your children come out normal,” said Dwyer’s father. “Then after they come out normal you’re like God, I hope they fall in love with at least one sport, and if it’s surfing it’s a bonus.”
Steve Dwyer, who also competed in the Mavericks Invitational in 2001, decided that when Dwyer was 15, he was ready to enter the cold Mavericks waters for the first time. He surprised his son one day with an early wake-up call. His orders: Gather your stuff, we’re going surfing.
When Steve Dwyer stopped his truck at Mavericks he suggested they paddle out, much to Dwyer’s surprise.
“I looked at him and said ‘Wait, are you serious?’” Dwyer said.
But that father and son trip to Mavericks lead to Dwyer’s most momentous surfing lesson.
“To quote one of those cheesy surf movies: The wave breaks here, don’t be there. That’s more or less what he told me to do.”
His father’s guidance, and his own growing love for surfing lead Dwyer to compete in the Association of Surfing Professionals (the NFL of surfing) world qualifying series.
Dwyer competed in ASP from ages 18-21, but didn’t earn a high enough ranking to clinch a spot on the world tour with the likes of surfing icon Kelly Slater. His best finish in any event was advancing to round 16 in a 2010 contest in Huntington Beach, Calif. But the opportunity to surf at Mavericks, his familiarity with the waves and how they break, could bring the young surfer his first title.
“It’s a really perfect wave. It’s like a major league pitcher throwing a really fast fastball and saying here it is, hit it. Everything about it is as good as it gets,” Dwyer said.
The window for Mavericks ends March 31, and conditions could prevent the contest from happening at all. But should the tides, wind and waves allow, Dwyer will receive a call and have 24 hours to show up. Until then, Dwyer will finish up his semester at SF State. In between classes, Dwyer works with fellow surfer Matt Ambrose at his flooring business.
“I get generalized anxiety when I haven’t surfed in a while,” Dwyer said. “Surfing is like hitting a reset button for my life. I feel like I can tune out everything, and go into something that is primitive functioning.”