Mav­er­icks, in North­ern Cal­i­for­nia, is a rel­a­tive new­com­er to the big wave surf­ing scene. Three surfers first attempt­ed the break in 1961 with a white-haired Ger­man Shep­ard named Mav­er­ick that wouldn’t stay put on the shore. The surfers had lim­it­ed suc­cess, and by all accounts, Mav­er­ick had the most fun that day. It would be more than a decade before Jeff Clark, a 17-year-old high school stu­dent in Half Moon Bay, became the first per­son to suc­cess­ful­ly ride the 20-foot waves.

The break remained a secret for the next 15 years.

It wasn’t until 1990, when Clark’s friend pub­lished a pho­to in Surfer mag­a­zine that the surf­ing com­mu­ni­ty tru­ly noticed. It was like find­ing Pipeline or Jaws, leg­endary Hawai­ian surf breaks, right in their own back­yard. But there was a catch; a very good rea­son why no one was surf­ing there.

In 2007, NOAA released maps of the sea floor at Mav­er­icks. They show a long, slop­ing ramp of ocean­ic crust that ris­es from the depths toward shore. Surfers call this ramp “The Thumb,” and there are numer­ous shelves of rock on it. Pow­er­ful win­ter swells gen­er­at­ed from mid-Pacif­ic storms ride The Thumb as the first point of con­tact with land and then explode with tremen­dous force upon the reef, near­ly two miles offshore.

It’s a very dan­ger­ous place to wipe­out. As leg­endary surfers began flock­ing to Mav­er­icks through­out the 90s they began to learn that the hold downs could be par­tic­u­lar­ly long and bru­tal. Mark Foo’s trag­ic, and untime­ly death in 1994 high­light­ed the extreme dan­ger of get­ting pinned among the under­wa­ter rocks, but even still, the surf break’s rep­u­ta­tion grew.

Now it has reached super­star sta­tus with a cameo in the surf doc­u­men­tary Rid­ing Giants in 2004, a Hol­ly­wood biopic called Chas­ing Mav­er­icks, and it plays host to the infa­mous Mav­er­icks Invi­ta­tion­al surf com­pe­ti­tion that kicks off this week.

Dur­ing the com­pe­ti­tion, you can watch live-stream­ing footage here.