Stab Magazine | The Mavericks Volunteer Rescue Team Is Free
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The Mavericks Volunteer Rescue Team Is Free

But saving lives ain’t cheap. 

news // Feb 1, 2017
Words by Jake Howard
Reading Time: 3 minutes

There are no shortage of causes to support these days. From freeing detained five-year-olds, protecting Native American land rights, knitting pink pussy hats, et. al.—but when it comes down to life and death, if you reckon yourself a Maverick’s surfer, or even just a fan of the Half Moon Bay hell pit, throwing a few bucks in the tip jar for the volunteer water patrol guys comes recommended.

Last week Mav’s was “as good as it gets.” Pristine conditions greeted a robust, northwest ground swell, and for the first time all winter the joint was jumping. Frank Quirarte, one of only a handful of guys that volunteers for the water patrol, was out on his ski splitting time between shooting photos and saving lives.

“Everybody always asks if I got a shot of them, but most of the time I can’t because I’ve got to go pull somebody out of the rocks,” laughed Frank. 

For the most part it’s Quirarte, Jeff Kafka, Tyler Conroy, Tucker Patterson and Mav’s pioneer Jeff Clark that make up the core volunteer cadre of lifesavers. Greg Long, Jamie Mitchell and Pato Teixeira also take up the responsibility when they’re in town. Last week the volunteers reckon they executed close to 100 rescues. In the process, they sustained about $3,000 worth of damage to their skis and equipment. Although happy to do the work and contribute to the Mav’s scene, they haven’t been exactly stoked to take on the burden of the cost.

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From where you’d rather not be.

“I would sit out at Mavericks and take $100 donations per rescue to go towards ski, gear, time ect. Problem is no one needs a rescue until they need a rescue. Then I’m a dick for not picking you up,” said Kafka. “It’s not a likely simple solution,” so they thought, “maybe a safety summit/ annual fundraiser?”

After much discussion, the crew launched a GoFundMe campaign this week to try and recoup their losses. The aim was to fix their skis and provide complete transparency in the process. Donations are being audited by Long, Conroy, rescue boat operator Matt Cavaco and Operation Surf’s Rob Oliveros. 

“We have started a campaign to cover the cost of annual CPR, environmental and survival training for the Mavericks surfing community and equipment maintenance and repairs for the RBO volunteers. Wear and tear on the equipment can be expensive and the cost of a repair can be overwhelming. In order to be able do a rescue in the Mavericks arena you have to have a PWC that is in top condition,” reads the GoFundMe description.

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Peter Mel knows it’s a long way from the top of the mountain to the bottom of the ocean.

In less than 24 hours they exceeded their goal of $3,000, raised it to $5,500, and appear to be set to blow by that today. Everyone from Mark Healey, to the Titans of Mavericks, to Paige Alms have been chipping in. A total of 46 donations have been made thus far.

The fine line that they are walking, as are most of these volunteer rescuers around the world, is that because of insurance liability they can’t formally organise. The insurance costs of covering big-wave lifeguards for any of the myriad of problems that could go wrong is simply too cost prohibitive. It’s a similar issue that the WSL is running into with the Big Wave World Tour. Big wave surfing is simply so dangerous and there are so many variables that insurance companies demand huge premiums if they’re even going to consider diving in. That means unifying and creating a legit organisational structure is more or less out the window. The rescuers have to operate somewhat under the radar, banking on “good Samaritan” laws to save their bacon if they do end up getting sued.

At the end of the day, no matter how heroic the volunteers perform, the onus falls on individual surfers making the calls that are best for them. 

“Make smart personal decisions, don’t surf Mavericks on the best days of the year, you know it will be too crowded and if you do only catch waves that you know you have a good chance of making. Stop the straight and inflate mentality,” said Grant “Twiggy” Baker on Facebook. 

If you’d like to learn more, or donate to safer sessions, head here

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