The best reason to shoot Maverick's isn't the photos of surfers riding four-story walls of water; it's being so close to the action that you can actually feel each impact. "Your body aches from the concussion of the wave," says Seth Migdail, a photographer for Mavericks Surf Ventures, the company that hosts the big-wave competition there each winter. The only way to get that feeling is to reserve a spot on a boat with an experienced captain (try Huck Finn Sportfishing; day trips from $225; huckfinnsportfishing.com). The sea is rough, so bring Dramamine and extra towels to dry gear. Camera essentials: a 70210mm zoomyou'll be within 100 yards of the breakand a UV filter so you can wipe off the spray without scratching your lens. Being on the water gets you close-up wipeout shots that the crowds of photographers on the bluff a quarter-mile north of the break can only dream of. The contest is held with 24 hours' notice during a huge winter swell, so sign up for the text-message service ($1; maverickssurf.com), which alerts you when the event's going down. Crash at the new Oceano Hotel & Spa (doubles from $200; oceanohalfmoonbay.com), which offers rooms with balcony views of the break and hosts a boozy after-party for the surfers.
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