Thousands flooded into Half Moon Bay on Sunday to witness ... many seagulls.
They were hoping to see Mavericks, one of the world's toughest, most revered surf competitions. Mavericks was indeed happening, a half-mile offshore, but you'd need a Jet Ski or telescope to actually see it.
"I think it's over there. Or there," said Tommy Cassorla, 18, a Cabrillo College student who crouched on a jetty near Pillar Point squinting at the horizon. "Wait, I can kinda see it. Not really. It'd be awesome, though."
The lack of prime viewing spots was not unexpected. The beach and bluffs at Pillar Point were closed to the public to prevent a repeat of spectator injuries during previous contests.
But that did not deter anyone's enthusiasm. Half Moon Bay was jammed with more than 30,000 giddy surfers and fans, none of whom seemed to care there was nothing to see but blue skies, a beer garden and each other.
Many paid $10 apiece to stand in a parking lot and watch it on a giant TV. Others lolled on the beach and checked for updates on their iPhones. Hundreds roamed between Barbara's Fishtrap and Sam's Chowder House, basking in the 60-degree sunshine and watching the sailboats.
A hefty portion gave up entirely and retreated to local bars to watch the 49ers game.
Ricardo Poveda and his wife drove from Los Banos (Merced County) just to be near Mavericks, even if they couldn't see it. Poveda, a caterer, grew up surfing in El Salvador in the 1970s, and Mavericks has long loomed in his imagination. He recalled how his mother spent a month's salary to buy him his first surfboard when he was a teenager.
Diligence pays off
"I've been checking and waiting, checking and waiting, and then Wednesday it was Bingo!" he said, referring to the recent announcement that Mavericks would commence at 8 a.m. Sunday. "Getting up early, being at the ocean, the excitement ... I wanted my wife to see all this."
Specifically, Poveda wanted to meet Floyd Smith, a pioneer crafter of wooden surf boards. Smith was holding court near the giant outdoor TV on Sunday, demonstrating the nearly lost art of sanding balsa planks into gracefully curved surfboards.
"This is most excellent," said Smith, 73, who now lives in Placerville (El Dorado County), as he signed autographs and posed for pictures. "Everyone's here - people who've never been surfing in their lives, people who go every day. Lots of gremmies (kids), and they're totally stoked. I love seeing this. Gives me hope."
Smith has been a fixture in the surfing world since the 1950s but hasn't caught a wave since Sunset Beach in Hawaii in 1970.
"A giant set came in and I just barely made it. I had a wife and young son, and I thought, 'That's it,' " he said. "I've never surfed Mavericks and I'm never going to surf Mavericks."
That was the consensus among fans Sunday: Those who brave the steep, unpredictable 30-foot waves off Half Moon Bay are talented and fearless athletes, but they're probably nuts.
'Awesome, but insane'
Hazel McDougall, 28, who grew up surfing in the snow in Scotland, knows a thing or two about cold oceans, and even she was daunted by Mavericks.
"They're insane. Awesome, but insane," she said while lounging on the jetty with a friend. "The waves are too big. I'd never do it."
Shopping was a far safer task, hundreds of would-be spectators could attest. The busiest spot in town was the surf shop owned by Jeff Clark, a Mavericks founder and one of the contest organizers. Hundreds filtered through the rows of wetsuits and sunglasses, buying up $25 T-shirts and chatting excitedly about what they imagined to be occurring offshore.
"I love the individual spirit, the guts it takes to ride waves of that caliber, the camaraderie," said Beth Mullen, a saleswoman from Mill Valley. "They're fiercely competitive, but they look out for each other."
Also very busy was the pier, where Tony Khattavong, 31, was fishing for crab for dinner. He usually has the pier to himself, but Sunday he had to jostle for space with dozens of hopeful surf spectators.
"It sucks because no one can really see it. I feel bad for them," he said as he cast a line of sardines into the bay and checked the 49ers score on his phone. "I think Mavericks is great, but it's not something I'd want to do. Too cold."