Santa Cruz surfer conquers wild waves to win Mavericks competition

Titans of Mavericks lived up to its thunderous reputation when the big-wave surfing competition commenced Friday morning off Pillar Point.

Santa Cruz surfer Nic Lamb prevailed in an international final, which wrapped up at 3:15 p.m. in near-perfect conditions. Considered the Super Bowl of big-wave surfing, the Mavericks’ surf contest had not been held since 2014.

Lamb, 27, grew up surfing Mavericks. Often an alternate, he’d only competed at Mavericks twice including Friday. He’s believed to be among the youngest surfers to ever tackle the epic break, surfing Mavericks at age 14.

“I’m over the moon,” said Lamb, before thanking the contest organizers on RedBull.TV.

His final was almost over as soon as it started when Lamb wiped out at the beginning of the final heat. A 20-foot wave knocked him head first off his board and held him under water as he was hit repeatedly by more waves. But within minutes of resurfacing, he was back in the lineup.

Driven by a massive Pacific swell, the waves kept building as the heats continued throughout the morning into the afternoon and helicopters buzzed overhead. Early surf hovered around 20 feet amid foggy conditions before breaking through with steep giants and drops of 40 feet or more. Fans can watch heat replays and highlights of the seven-hour contest at RedBull.TV.

With long lulls in between, the sets featured powerful waves with faces of 35 to 40 feet. Out of the original 24 invitees and top alternates, six surfers advanced to the finals and a chance at $120,000 in purse money.

With the championship up for grabs until the final wave, the hourlong final heat featured Australia’s Jamie Mitchell, Brazil’s Carlos Burle, San Clemente’s Greg Long and local Santa Cruz surfers Lamb, Tyler Fox and Travis Payne, an alternate for the contest. Payne, who finished second overall, was a last-minute replacement when the contest began shortly after 8 a.m.

Long, the 2008 Mavericks champion and third overall in Friday’s final, won the $10,000 “Peet’s Coffee Boldest Drop” bonus for a spectacular ride deemed the best of the competition. Mitchell took home the $5,000 bonus for the day’s best barrel ride.

‘Skindog’ ruptures his ear drum

Ken “Skindog” Collins, a local hero among Santa Cruz surfers and Mavericks regulars, ruptured his left ear drum when he wiped out during the second quarterfinal and was held down under the water for more than two minutes. He inflated his emergency life vest, pulling him to the surface. Despite his wipeout, Collins had already qualified for the semifinals but had to drop out of the contest.

“I’m super frustrated,” Collins told RedBull.TV after his release from the medical crew. “Physically, I feel 100 percent, but I literally have a hole in my head. I can’t take that risk to go back out or my head will fill with water. ... I want to put duct tape on my head, but that’s not smart.”

Debbie Arrington: 916-321-1075, @debarrington

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