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 Three surfers, one wave at Mavericks.

Jeff Clark surveying the Mavericks site in Half Moon Bay. (Patrick Trefz)

Keir Beadling (left) and Jeff Clark in 2006, before their “breakup.” (Seth Migdail)

Clark and competitors on the opening day of Mavericks in 2010. Even after being kicked out as contest director the year before, Clark says he “wasn’t about to be removed from the grounds.” (Seth Migdail)

Who Owns This Wave?

After three years in exile, Mavericks godfather Jeff Clark has won back the world's most aggro surf competition. But whether it'll remain in his hands—as well as thrive under his leadership—is a whole other question.

CLARK FILED A LAWSUIT AGAINST BEADLING in January of 2010. Neither would discuss details of the proceedings, but the outcome is a matter of public record: On July 14, 2011, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Peter J. Busch determined that Clark had presented “uncontroverted evidence” that Mavericks Surf Ventures had breached its contract with him, and he ordered Beadling and MSV to pay Clark $639,000 by the end of 2017.

Washburn insists that Clark isn’t the only one owed big-time cash. “I mean, 2010 was the best contest ever,” he tells me, “and nobody has even seen any of the footage. It’s in a box in a garage in Boulder, Colorado, because the guy who shot it only got a fraction of what he was owed.”

Beadling says that he feels terrible about coming up short on various payments, but points out that he hasn’t even compensated himself since MSV lost its sponsors in 2010. The sponsor bailout was the result of a near-disaster during the contest: MSV had located a viewing section in an area that was breached by the surf, resulting in injuries to some of the onlookers. Washburn says that he had cautioned MSV about the danger, and the fact that MSV ignored his warning was the last straw for him and the other Mavericks surfers. So, in 2011, Washburn and another senior competitor, Peter Mel, put in for—and won—the coveted contest permit issued by the San Mateo County Harbor Commission once each year. The surf media celebrated, but when Washburn realized how difficult Mavericks was to execute, he decided to drop out.

This year, fresh off his lawsuit victory, Clark stepped back into the ring and won the Harbor Commission permit. He feels vindicated, but folks who know Beadling believe that the battle isn’t over by a long shot. Beadling tells me that as CEO of MSV, he has obligations to his investors to defend MSV’s intellectual property, arguing that Clark is legally bound to license the contest through him and MSV. Clark considers this assertion a joke. “The fact that this guy is out there still claiming he has something to do with Mavericks at all is sacrilegious,” he says.

Although he won’t say it outright, Beadling seems to know that he may not have the upper hand. What he does still want is for Clark to use MSV’s apparel line, a move that he thinks would legitimize MSV again and maybe even allow the company to pay off its debts. If he can’t get at least that, he says, he’ll be forced to “protect his legal rights,” which presumably would mean going back to court.

Only time will tell who will end up owning the Mavericks surf event, but for now, Clark doesn’t seem worried. “I’m very excited about where the contest is headed,” he tells me—meaning back to the good old days when Mavericks was all about finding the best waves to show the world, unsullied by commercialism. He claims, for instance, that even though it took Beadling $500,000 to put on the contest, he can do it for half that amount by cutting out a lot of the marketing bells and whistles (the film and concert tours) that mattered so much to Beadling.

It remains to be seen whether Clark can make that happen. Last year’s contest didn’t materialize because the waves weren’t good enough, Clark says, but the buzz in the surf community is that even if they had been, Clark’s group wasn’t ready to pull it off. Some people question whether a corporate type like Beadling—despite his flaws—might actually be needed, but Clark hopes to prove those suspicions wrong.

As he paddled away from me on that balmy November day, Clark looked back and asked, “Oh, did you hear about Keir?”

“No,” I responded.

“I heard he got a contract for something related to the America’s Cup,” Clark said, shaking his head and smiling with relief that he no longer had to worry about such dealings. (Beadling would neither confirm nor deny that rumor.) Then, turning away, he caught a gorgeous six-foot wave, riding it all the way to the sand.

 

Originally published in the January 2013 issue of San Francisco.  

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