Photo: Chris Dixon
Photo: Chris Dixon

When I heard the announcement that Apple Inc. had chosen to name its new operating system after Mavericks, one of the most dangerous and storied surf spots on Earth, I was rather intrigued.

As the former online editor of Surfer magazine in the late 1990s, I was proud of my Mac geekdom, pasting “Made with a Mac” at the bottom of our first homepage in 1995. Apple noticed, taking out at least one full-page Wall Street Journal ad that used Surfermag.com to tout the Mac’s coolness. Apple has since tapped surfing in innumerable ways to sell its products.

Of course, I don’t really begrudge them for this. Companies such as Coca-Cola Co., Ford Motor Co. and Walt Disney Co. have all jumped on the surfing bandwagon, tying their tangible products to the intangible sensations of paddling out in the morning glass, stroking into that perfect wave.

That’s the dream. Mavericks, on the other hand, is kind of the nightmare.

In 1975, a kid named Jeff Clark, from Half Moon Bay, in northern California, dared to paddle the half-mile to ride the waves at Mavericks. Clark surfed Mavericks’ skyscraper-sized waves alone for 15 years before the editors of Surfer magazine realized that some of the best surfing lay just off the Pacific Coast Highway, south of San Francisco.

Peak Experience

Mavericks has become one of the sporting world’s greatest spectacles. It has provided apex -- even world-record -- moments; it has also killed Mark Foo and Sion Milosky, two of the world’s best big-wave surfers, and it has injured, or psychologically scarred, many more.

So in a way, when you consider the mythical nature of a spot literally over the hill from its Cupertino headquarters, Apple’s decision to name its new operating system Mavericks makes perfect sense. Though the company promises a groundbreaking fusion of desktop and mobile operating features, this is still just a computer operating system. Mavericks is an untamed wilderness.

Maybe I was missing something, so I called a few other surfers to see what they thought. The first, of course, was Jeff Clark.

“Mavericks has always been a unique and powerful place, it’s not just a surf spot. It’s been my sanctuary, my life and my business,” Clark said. “Now, it’s grown into a worldwide phenomenon. But at the same time, I was sort of wondering, does Apple even really know what Mavericks is? The story of Mavericks is unique. It’s about respecting nature’s power while taking all of our knowledge, ability and experience to bold new levels.”

Bill Sharp, the director of the Billabong XXL Global Big Wave Awards -- the Academy Awards of the big-wave set -- has been a self-professed Mac geek for 20 years. While he’s excited about the exposure the new OS provides for what he feels is still an underappreciated pursuit, big-wave surfing, he wondered whether Malibu might not have better symbolized the carefree user experience that Apple has long prided itself on.

“Mavericks is a sketchy-as-hell place that you can never totally figure out, where the good days are far more rare than you’d like,” Sharp said. “You can also never be truly backed up, and most of the time there are more users than can possibly be handled. But then again, if you’re trying to portray Mavericks as the ultimate immersive experience that sucks you in, and may never let you out, then maybe it works.”

This was echoed by Brendon Thomas, editor-in-chief of Surfer. Thomas pointed out a fact that Apple, perhaps, wasn’t aware of. In 1961, Alex Matienzo, one of the first surfers to venture out into the waves at Mavericks, was forced back to the beach because his white German shepherd kept following him into the waves -- the dog’s name was Maverick. So, after a series of Apple operating systems named after big cats, “this OS is just ultimately being named after a big dog.”

(Chris Dixon is the founding online editor of Surfermag.com -- a site always built with a Mac. He’s also the author of “Ghost Wave: The Discovery of Cortes Bank and the Biggest Wave on Earth.”)

To contact the writer of this article: Chris Dixon at dixoncj@aol.com

To contact the editor responsible for this article: Alex Bruns at abruns@bloomberg.net