Mavericks big-wave winner gets better with age
For more than 20 years, Peter Mel has been trying to conquer the Mavericks surf break, a monster wave that produces walls of water the size of buildings when the right swell hits.
He was 22 when he first started surfing the spot, just up the road from his hometown of Santa Cruz. By training there through the years, he would become one of the best big-wave riders in the world, living the life of a professional surfer and traveling the world in the hunt for big waves.
Peter Mel, now 43 and living in Newport Beach, has been competing in the Mavericks Invitational since the first one was held in 1997. He joins a list of about two dozen surfers from around the world who are invited to compete when conditions are big enough to hold the event.
But through the years, the prestigious title would elude him. That is, until Sunday, when the 43-year-old showed he's getting better with age, and nowhere near retiring from big-wave surfing after nabbing this year's Maverick's title. It is a stamp on what has been a pivotal year after he was named the Big Wave World Champion last year.
The Register caught up with Mel as he soaked in his victory.
How did surfing Mavericks at a young age help your career?
There was just a small crew surfing it, a few guys from Santa Cruz. We were taught Mavericks by Jeff Clark. More or less, Mavericks started my path on the World Qualifying Series. I was a regional pro, having a good time doing it. Mavericks came in the limelight and under the world stage, and that kind of blossomed my career, that's when I started my sponsorship with Quiksilver in the mid 90s. Mavericks really helped keep me traveling as a professional surfer. It got me to the Eddie Aikau event (in Hawaii). Mavericks has been very special to me.
When did you first discover big-wave surfing?
The main thing that helped me was going to the North Shore when I was 14. I trained at Sunset and Waimea. That's when I figured out I loved surfing big waves. I rode my first wave at Sunset Beach at 14 – I was so scared. That's a feeling I've been chasing for 25 years. I liked big waves, and I knew that early.
What makes Mavericks so special?
One of the main things is the proximity on the coast of California. It's a really consistent big wave – the most consistent on the planet, all during winter months. You get to surf it a lot, you get to train a lot. It's a real special wave because it's a peak. And you can find the waves, because they aren't spread out. Plus it's close to home.
What did you think about this year's conditions?
Going into it, I was fairly relaxed. The morning of the event, I was leery of the conditions. I surfed it the night before, it seemed like it had moments but we had to wait 20 – 40 minutes before waves would come. I was hoping it would be more consistent the next day. When we woke up, it wasn't. It was a long wait between waves, but when they came they were special. You just had to wait for the waves to come. When the waves came, it was awesome. They were about 25 – 30 foot faces, not the biggest waves we've had, but contestable. But the fact that it was inconsistent, it was difficult.
How did you feel going into the finals?
My semi final had a few big waves, and that was the highlight heat of my day. I caught two really nice waves and thought 'wait, I can actually win this thing.' I felt pretty darn good. In the final, I was the last one to paddle out to the peak and everyone was talking story and asked 'you want to split the prize money?' I said 'yah, let's take the pressure off and enjoy the day.' When that happens, the universe sends waves. The final probably had the best waves of the day. I ended up getting a wave mid way through the final, a nice left that I split with Zach Wormhoudt, a good friend of mine who finished in second place. That wave right there was the difference.
So after so many years, how does it feel to win the Mavericks title?
For so many years, people would say 'you're going to win it.' I put a lot of pressure on myself. For some reason, I didn't have that pressure, I somehow put it aside. My career is solid, it wasn't like I needed it. But it was a relief, because now I'm a Mavericks champion -- which is a pretty big feat. It's a dream event I've wanted to win at some point in my life.
I knew I had it in me, I believed. It's a really nice icing on the cake in this career I've had. I believed, and it's good to know. I wouldn't really be competing if I didn't think I was capable of winning. I still feel really good. Big wave surfing, it's about being fit but you don't have to be as athletic - it's almost like you learn more as you get older because of the wisdom of catching big waves. It's one of those things, you get better with age.
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