The swells travel through deep water for five days before hitting a small, finger-like section of shallow reef that juts out into the sea.
When the swell meets the reef, the wave jumps upward and crashes back down with a fury, eventually washing through a section of craggy rocks.
The takeoff is often so steep that the surfers' big-wave "gun" surfboards leave the wave face, forcing the surfers to land near the bottom and make a quick turn before being pummeled by the wave's lip.
The spot — named after Clark's dog — has earned a nasty reputation. Mark Foo, a legendary big-wave surfer from Hawaii, died while surfing Mavericks in 1994. In 2011, another seasoned waterman, Sion Milosky, died there just weeks after another surfer nearly drowned.
Eleven-time world champion surfer Kelly Slater was scheduled to surf Sunday but pulled out at the last minute after a reported conflict with another pro tour association. Shane Dorian, who is considered the world's best big wave surfer, pulled out at the last minute due to a shoulder injury.
This year's contest was different than previous years: Spectators are forbidden access to the beach or bluffs. After a large set of waves crashed into the crowd in 2010, injuring dozens, local officials barred crowds from congregating there.
Also, people congregating on the bluffs and along tide pools during previous contests caused environmental damage.
A festival was set up in the parking lot of a hotel near the beach, where spectators could watch a live broadcast. If there was disappointment, there was no evidence of it in the large crowd that gathered to watch, oohing with each great ride.
Follow Jason Dearen at http://www.twitter.com/JHDearen .