Maverick Wave Theory

Flickr: Jurvetson

Yes, those are actual people on either side of the white part of this crashing wave. This was Saturday, at the big-wave break known as Mavericks just south of San Francisco. A surfing contest drew some 20 demented surfers from all over the world, where they took turns throwing themselves over the edge of a 30-foot-high wave.

If you missed it, you can get a recap and see up-close photos at a prominent surfing website - or watch the archived play-by-play on Myspace. Alternatively, well-spoken surfer Grant Washburn can give you a first-hand account without resorting to the word "gnarly" - listen to him on NPR here and here, describing an even bigger day earlier this season.

Wondering what it is about a place that makes waves lurch 30 or 50 feet out of the ocean, to crash ashore with enough force to register at earthquake sensors? Check out Quest, a show about science on San Francisco public television. They've put together a segment revealing how big waves come to be (watch it online). Turns out it takes a combination of storms hundreds of miles away, and rock ledges just a few feet below the surface.

If you're curious about how to get a surfboard to do what you want, San Francisco's Exploratorium museum has a primer on surfing and physics. The sport is a complex mixture of buoyancy battling gravity, but this piece breaks down the major ingredients of a ride. So hop into your wetsuit and grab your surf wax - you're ready! Just promise me you'll keep to waves one-tenth the size of Mavericks.

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