Winds blowing far across the Pacific generate waves that organize into long swells travelling inexorably toward the coast of California. Nearing shore they feel the drag of the bottom and begin to slow, piling up, rising and ultimately toppling as breakers.   As they ride these waves, surfers feel beneath them the energy and power of the sea. It is a power that must be experienced to be fully appreciated.

As swells become larger, the motion of the water reaches farther down toward the bottom. The larger swells begin to drag and build in deeper water.

In a few places around the world, the contours of the bottom focus the swells over hidden shallows offshore. Here, when large, deep swells generated by stormwinds encounter the bottom they can rise into mountainous waves over twenty feet high.

One such place is Mavericks, with a reef half a mile offshore near California’s Half Moon Bay. Once a year when conditions are forecast to be just right, twenty-four of the most skilled surfers from around the world gather to measure themselves against these monster waves in what has been called the “Super Bowl” of surfing.

Visit the Mavericks website ( ) and watch the videos.

Here’s another video from U-Tube. The driver of a personal watercraft tows a surfer into position with forward momentum on the leading edge of a broad swell. As the helicopter carrying the camera flies ahead of the wave, we see it slowly build higher and higher as the surfer, dwarfed by its size, skis down the ever-steepening face. Finally the crest begins to topple into the gulf below in a growing maelstrom of boiling white foam which envelops the surfer.

As I watch I feel awe and wonder at the power and dynamism of the ocean and of the atmosphere which bring the waves to life—awe at the wonder and immensity of this natural world to which I belong, of which each of us is part. I remember too the powerful life force of rain forests, of tenacious alpine tundra, and of the wonder of human life, aspirations and endurance.

I remember that I personally am part of this grand world of nature, as is each of us. I share in this power, this sweep of energy and life given to me by God. Empowered by this reminder, I can carry on with my life through the difficult times.


About David McCoard

After earning my MS in geology I've done various things including managing the ski touring program at a small lodge in the Sierra. In 2010 I retired from Contra Costa College in California. I've always been fascinated by the mountains and nature and have spent countless days hiking, backpacking, climbing and skiing in the Sierra. The spiritual insights I've learned there have set the course for my life. Now I have time to share them and strike up a conversation.
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