Keir Beadling lies in bed at night thinking of a forty-foot wave that pummels offshore reefs and rips at jagged boulders the size of houses. The water is a numbing fifty degrees, and there happen to be a couple of great white sharks cruising through. Beadling is smiling.
While such conditions may seem like a nightmare, to Beadling they are the key ingredients for the event of the year, the Mavericks Surf Contest, organized by his sports-management and marketing company, Evolve Sports. The contest takes its name from an extreme surfing spot located four miles north of Half Moon Bay in northern California. Every year, twenty-four of the sport's most brazen competitors converge in the little town to defy Mother Nature for the thrill of the big ride.
The danger and difficulty involved is enough to deter some of the world's best, who prefer the Jacuzzi-like waters of places like Hawaii. "There are only about a hundred people on the face of the Earth who can surf Mavericks and live to tell about it," says Beadling.
Throwing life-threatening surf showdowns has not always been Beadling's day job. He started Duke as a pre-med, but, after running into the two-headed beast of chemistry and calculus, set his sights on law school. After getting his J.D. from Case Western Reserve University (meeting his wife, Hilary Pierce, in the process), he entered the high-stakes world of business litigation in Boston.
In 1999, he moved to San Francisco to work for Fenwick and West, a law firm that specializes in high-tech clients from Silicon Valley. His highest-profile case was defending the online music provider Napster against a lawsuit by the recording industry in 2000-2001. But, eventually, Beadling says, the grind of the firm took its toll. "My passion for private practice started to die out."
Deciding to indulge his other passion, extreme physical challenges, Beadling quit the law firm and founded Evolve Sports to begin tapping into the vast but largely unrecognized world of "emerging sports"--skateboarding, surfing, and other iconoclastic games that "stir the soul," as Beadling puts it. "I'm attracted to events where you push yourself beyond the limits and see what you're all about." He has run the Boston Marathon twice, earned a black belt in shotokan karate, competed in triathlons, and swum from Alcatraz Island to the mainland--thirteen times. Being on the fringes is not only edgy, but lucrative as well--60 million consumers, age ten to twenty-four, spend $250 billion annually on emerging sports.
Beadling started small, representing individual athletes. Three years ago, he hired Doug Epstein '89, who drew on a background in venture capital and investment banking to help the company grow. Scoring the Mavericks Sports Contest was the biggest coup of all. Evolve joined with Jeff Clark, a surf-shop owner in Half Moon Bay, who had discovered Mavericks and surfed it solo for fifteen years (apparently no one was crazy enough to join him). Last year's contest drew an estimated 30,000 spectators and was broadcast on NBC-TV. This year's Mavericks aired May 13, also on NBC.
While Beadling's former colleagues hunker down in boardrooms and surf LexisNexis, he's off surfing waves. "There is no typical day, that's the beauty of it. I still think of myself as a lawyer--the things I do now are a reflection of the things I learned in law school and as a lawyer--but there's no substitute for doing your own thing. I wouldn't trade it for anything."
Keir Beadling '90
June 1, 2006