Scattered around the globe, 24 elite surfers and thousands of surf fans are keenly aware that the infamous waves off Pillar Point at Half Moon Bay will likely top 30 feet today.
With a chance of rain, conditions are not quite perfect for the Mavericks Invitational surf contest. When they are, those surfers will be summoned with 24 hours' notice to get to Half Moon Bay to ride Mavericks' legend-making waves.
Australian Ben Wilkinson, who is tracking the swells from the north shore of Oahu, is ready with cellphone and wet suit.
"Only a few of us in the world get to do it," he said. "Going to Mavericks is one of my dreams."
Since 1999, the contest has been held only seven times; the last in 2010.
If the conditions align and the call goes out before the contest's March 31 deadline, this Mavericks will be a drastically different experience for fans.
Drawing more than 100,000 spectators, the 2010 Mavericks contest was a turning point for the planet's most epic big-wave contest. While surfers scaled 50-foot waves, a surge of water plowed over a seawall, knocking down scores of spectators and injuring at least 13.
The humongous crowd overwhelmed the beach and wetlands, trampling wildlife in the oceanside nature preserve, and organizers failed to provide enough facilities.
Since then, the surfers have ousted event producer Mavericks Surf Ventures and retaken control of the contest. They've worked with officials to make Mavericks safe (at least for fans) and environmentally responsible.
San Mateo County officials would grant the new organizers an event permit only if the beach and neighboring bluff were closed to all spectators.
It will be like holding the Super Bowl in an empty stadium. But the surfers are stoked.
"We're still working on the water and land logistics," said Mavericks pioneer and contest director Jeff Clark. "But everybody is onboard. We're just waiting for the wave and the right weather."
On contest day, a new surf festival will entertain up to 12,000 fans at a nearby hotel. The contest will be shown live on big screens. After their heats, the surfers will mingle with the crowd.
"I think it will be better than it's ever been," said Clark, who was the first surfer to conquer Mavericks and founded the original contest. "Fans can experience it and enjoy it. You can know what's going on and actually see the action. It's going to be fun."
Several Half Moon Bay restaurants plan to host Mavericks viewing parties. Away from the ocean, fans can watch live streaming video at two websites: the official MavericksInvitational.com and Surfline.com. Webcast viewership of past contests topped 1 million.
"If you spend any time in Northern California, you'll eventually hear about Mavericks," said Mark Kreidler, author of "The Voodoo Wave: Inside a Season of Triumph and Tumult at Maverick's."
"Even if you don't know where it is, you know what it is. It's become so big."
Kreidler, a former Bee sports columnist who lives in Davis, described the magnitude of the waves. "Imagine a house. Set another house on top of it, then maybe another house on top of that. Then stand on the roof. That's the wave. It's hard to fathom why anyone would attempt it."
The danger heightens the draw.
In December, actor Gerard Butler who portrays the mentor of late Santa Cruz surfer Jay Moriarty in an upcoming movie called "Of Men and Mavericks" almost drowned during filming.
Hawaiian pro surfer Sion Milosky died March 16 when waves pinned him underwater at Mavericks.
"There's a huge element of risk," Kreidler said. "When a surfer comes off the lip, it's like falling down an empty elevator shaft. And it's not just the size of the wave; the water is churning within the wave like a gigantic washing machine. It's malevolent. It's fascinating."
On the surfing calendar, Mavericks collides with the world's other big-wave contest the Quiksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau on the north shore of Oahu at Waimea Bay in Hawaii. Named for a legendary island waterman, "The Eddie" has been held only eight times in 27 years the last in December 2009. (California's Greg Long, the 2008 Mavericks champion, won that Eddie.) Like Mavericks, it's up to Mother Nature to provide the perfect blend of waves and weather.
Both Mavericks and the Eddie are winter invitationals, pulling from the same pool of pro surfers and sponsors. Many of the invitees wait and practice in Hawaii.
Wilkinson, the Australian, is among them. At 6-foot-3 and 250 pounds, the 29-year-old is brawnier than most surfers. He works as a carpenter to support his pursuit of big waves.
"My size helps," said Wilkinson, who rides a 9-foot-6-inch board. "But it's a blessing and a curse. Because I'm a bigger guy, I have to take off under the lip; it's more dangerous. But because I'm bigger, I can absorb more of the pounding. I have the strength to deal with it underwater."
Clark tabbed Wilkinson as his director's pick in a 2012 field that includes 11-time world surf champion Kelly Slater and past Mavericks winners Long, Santa Cruz's Anthony Tashnick and South Africa's Chris Bertish and Grant Baker.
"Ben shows up every swell and stays in the water longer than most people, charging the biggest waves," Clark said. "He's a great guy who has the dedication that makes him a real threat to win the event."
Although the Aussie has never competed at Mavericks, he has surfed the break and experienced a Mavericks-size wipeout.
"It was like getting hit by a bus," Wilkinson said.