'Greatest Show on Earth': Surfing Contest Kicks Off in Calif. | NBC 10 Philadelphia
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'Greatest Show on Earth': Surfing Contest Kicks Off in Calif.

The contest’s early beginnings stem back to the 1960s, when a trio began paddling out to sea. They were sometimes followed by Maverick the German Shepherd.

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Surfers during the 2014 Mavericks surf contest in Half Moon Bay.

The most popular and dangerous surfing contest in the world is named for a dog — specifically, for a white-haired German Shepherd named Maverick, whose personality must have embodied the unorthodox spirit of the fierce surfing competition.

Touted as "the greatest show on earth," the Titans of Mavericks contest kicks off Friday morning. The 24 surfers from around the globe will be judged for their maverick spirit and must "possess fearless character and endless passion," the organization says on its website.

The contest’s early beginnings stem back to the 1960s, when Alex Matienzo, Jim Thompson and Dick Notmeyer started paddling out just inside the rocks off of Pillar Point, 20 minutes south of San Francisco, according to the Titans website.

They were sometimes followed into the water by Matienzos' German Shepherd, named Maverick.

The dog would try to swim out to them. But they shooed him back to the shore, and eventually began tying him to the bumper of their car out of concern for his safety, said Cassandra Clark, whose 58-year-old husband, Jeff Clark started what is now known as the Mavericks contest and owns Mavericks Surf Company.

Since 1999, the annual competition has drawn surfers from around the world who drop everything they’re doing when the perfect wave conditions are called. They heed the call and must get to the Pacific Ocean in 48 hours.

In its 17-year-history, the contest has been cancelled only four times, including last year, because the waves have not been high enough.

Friday's forecast shows that ocean swells may reach up to 40 feet.

Surf fans are encouraged to watch on Red Bull TV.