Maverick’s, the notoriously powerful big-wave surfing destination a half-mile beyond the Central California coast, has claimed another life.
Sion Milosky, an emerging star in a thrilling but dangerous sport, died Wednesday evening after a violent wipeout. The married father of two, who lived on the Hawaiian island of Kauai, was 35.
He becomes the second surfer to have died at Maverick’s. The other was legendary big-wave rider Mark Foo, also from Hawaii, who drowned after a wipeout in 1994. After Foo’s death, surfers began to keep a closer watch on one another from aboard jet-powered personal watercraft.
Conditions, however, were sketchy on Wednesday afternoon, with bumpy storm surf and wave faces measuring to about 50 feet. About a dozen surfers were out. Three people reportedly rode the perimeter on jet-skis.
Milosky, after a long afternoon of surfing, caught a large set wave at dusk. He was knocked from his board by the wave’s cascading lip and held underwater by successive waves, according to witnesses.
Several minutes later he was plucked from the foamy surface by fellow surfer and friend Nathan Fletcher, who was returning to the lineup after delivering another surfer to nearby Pillar Point Harbor. Paramedics on shore were unable to revive Milosky and he was rushed to a nearby hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
“Sion was dominating it,” Ken “Skindog” Collins, a local surfer who letting Milosky stay at his home, told the Santa Cruz Sentinel. “Everybody was like, ‘Who is that? What are you doing letting Hawaiians take over your wave. That’s what blows my mind the most, is that he was doing all that, and then he drowned.”
The incident underscores just how powerful the waves at Maverick’s can be. Fast-moving deep-water swells jack up over a rocky reef and break with ferocious power. Surfers have endured two- and even three-wave hold-downs. Many have suffered dislocated limbs and ruptured ear drums because of the force with which they’re shoved downward or hurled toward shore.
In January, Orange County surfer Jacob Trette was knocked unconscious after falling on a large wave and probably would have died had he not been rescued by a jet-ski photographer.
However, it is this raw power, and the adrenaline rush associated with riding gigantic waves, that is so appealing to a small but growing number of big-wave chargers. For some, chasing these types of waves is a year-round passion.
Milosky, a lifelong surfer who fairly recently developed this passion, this winter was named North Shore Underground Surfer of the Year. He earned $25,000 in the Vans competition and used some of that money to pay for his trip to Santa Cruz, which is just south of Half Moon Bay and home to many Maverick’s regulars.
Last winter, however, was when Milosky had really announced his presence. At an outer reef beyond Oahu, he paddled into what many were calling the largest wave caught without the benefit of a jet-ski and tow rope.
News of Milosky’s passing began to spread Wednesday night on social network websites. Most of the posts were heart-felt condolences, including this one on a friend’s Facebook page: “Sion Milosky … so sad to hear that we have lost you … another great brother from Hawaii. Our deepest sympathy and aloha to your family.”
Photos of Sion Milosky surfing Maverick’s by Todd Glaser of Surfer Magazine.