Big wave surfer Peter Mel discusses catching the wave of his life at Mavericks

HALF MOON BAY — Santa Cruz big wave surfer Peter Mel was still in a massive Mavericks barrel Friday when he raised his arms to the sky. The tough stuff was behind him and he saw the light at the end of the tunnel.

Then he briefly disappeared behind the curtain as the wave, which featured a 40- to 45-foot face at its highest point, engulfed him and spit him out. The 51-year-old was still standing and shrugged as he enjoyed the hoots and hollers from others on the water.

Some declared it the ride of the decade, others called it the best wave ever. Mel, 51, with decades of experience riding towering waves, knew one thing: It was the ride of his life.

The 2012 Big Wave World Tour champion and ’13 Mavericks Invitational winner, Mel said he chose a line that many envision but few execute.

“I took the back door into the section,” Mel said Tuesday before heading up to Pillar Point for another session. “A lot of people envision it, but execution is the hard part. You have to have the courage to do it.”

Mel called Friday’s epic ride the most rewarding of his surfing accomplishments.

“You have personal goals riding waves and that was at the top of the heap,” Mel said. “It’s pretty amazing to get the wave of your life at 51 years old.”

Mel’s 21-year-old son, John, rode a jet ski over to his father to be the first to congratulate him. Longtime friend and fellow big wave surfer Jamie Mitchell paddled in and tackled Mel off his board as the two celebrated.

John said surfers were bowing to his father and calling him “The King.”

Often, surfers get swallowed by the wave when riding in the barrel. Then it tosses them around like they’re in a heavy rinse cycle in an unrelenting washing machine. But Mel emerged squeaky clean as a mountain of water came crashing down around him.

“It was a pretty emotional thing,” John said. “It was super surreal to see that ride — and to see my father doing it. After that wave spit him out of the barrel, the conditions changed and there were no waves for 30 minutes to an an hour. It gave us some time to figure out what just happened.”

From his ferocious paddling to completion, Mel’s memorable ride lasted roughly 20 seconds. His slightly bent legs were shoulder-width apart as he dropped down the face. Nicknamed “The Condor,” for his massive wingspan, Mel’s arms were spread wide as he maintained his balance, rocketing down the face. The wave curled over and created massive barrel that Mel throughly enjoyed.

Santa Cruz big wave surfer Peter Mel, 51, caught the “wave of his life” on this barreling 40- to 45-footer at Mavericks on Friday. (Audrey Lambidakis – Special to the Sentinel) 

Photographers, including Audrey Lambidakis, and videographers were on hand to capture the epic ride.

Mel, who serves as an analyst for the World Surf League, said it was one of the best waves ever ridden at the storied break.

As expected, social media exploded once footage of the ride surfaced. A video of the ride posted by Powerline Productions had garnered more than 600,000 views on as of Wednesday afternoon.

Mel said he went through a mini depression Saturday, noting he wanted to be isolated and non-social.

“The next day was a bit of a downer,” Mel said. “It was kinda like, ‘Now what?’ “

That question was short-lived, because he and his son, among others, returned to Mavericks on Sunday, when the swell was even bigger. Surfers were towed into the action when the sets were rolling in and produced 60- to 70-foot faces.

Mel said he had no idea how big the wave face was until seeing photos taken by Frank Quirarte.

The Mels took turns towing each other in. Mel said he’s enjoying teaching his son and wants to be with him for safety reasons. John took up big wave surfing roughly five years ago.

“Sunday was one of the most amazing days,” said John, who competes on the WSL’s Qualifying Series. “It’s breaking in places I’ve never seen.”

John said the winter swell is so amazing and consistent that he’s feels like it’s Groundhog Day.

“I’m losing track of days,” John said. “I’m getting 10 years of experience in one year. Every day is a little different.”

John estimated 10-15 people in the water at Mavericks on Friday and 30 in massive conditions Sunday. On an average day, he estimated 50-60 surfers taking to the temperamental break.

Mel said he’s enjoying seeing the next generation of big wave surfers, like his son, Bonny Doon’s Willem Banks and others, take to the special conditions.

“He’s got a keen eye,” Mel said of John assessing the wave. “And I know he’ll save my butt, if needed.”

Despite continually heading up to Mavericks since his historic ride, Mel said he’s in no mood to try and outdo himself.

“I’m pretty content,” he said.