To Hell and Back with Pete and Flea

Two of Santa Cruz's best, dealing with Santa Cruz's worst

In 1994, Peter Mel and Darryl "Flea" Virostko, both from Santa Cruz, became the main players at Mavericks. Stayed on top for a good long time, the two of them—10 or 12 years. Peter the friendly and smiling Gary Cooper-ish gentleman killer. Flea with his deliciously poisonous charisma, the guy most likely to make the dawn surf check holding a red Solo cup of whatever. They weren't a team, exactly. I'm not even sure if they were close friends, by any standard definition of the phrase. But they drafted off each other. Bounced off each other's talent, fed on their mutual ambition. Codependent, you might say. In the Mavs lineup, the air between them crackled and sparked.

And thus Peter and Flea united Santa Cruz. Not just the Westside-Eastside divide (Virostko from the former, Mel the latter), which was never all too deep in the first place. I'm talking style and approach. Mel, in his pre-Mavs years, had a decent air game and could murder a forehand turn with Kong-like power, but he was always a style-first man, like Richard Schmidt before him, like Robbie Waldemar, like Joey Thomas—three or four generations' worth of graceful Santa Cruz surfers were lined up behind Pete. Young Darryl, on the other hand, was straight from the Kevin Reed School of Rad, where the object was to explode and do what hadn't yet been done, preferably above the lip. The aerial revolution in Santa Cruz in the '80s and early '90s was not a dinner party. Shit got ugly. Style wasn't the enemy, per se, but it was usually the first thing to get chucked overboard. By such means progress was made. Santa Cruz became the air capital of the surf world.

Mel and Virostko had to drive up the coast to Mavs to bridge the gap. Flea's air-drops at that most horrifying of all surf breaks were a thing of delicate beauty. Pete's fetish for gaping death caves had a Flea-like whiff of fuck-off aggression. "I needed a guy like Flea at that time," Mel later said. "I could use him, and he could use me. We pushed each other to our limits, and then past our limits."

Methamphetamine took both surfers down hard in the mid-'00s, and at that point the differences between the two again came to the fore. Mel checked into rehab, quietly, of his own volition, with the support of his family. Flea kept the party rolling for two more years, fell off a cliff while high and nearly died, and called bullshit when friends and family staged an intervention. When he did finally agree to get help he walked drunk into the facility, weed stashed in his shirt pocket, ran his bloodshot eyes around the joint and said "Where's the bitches? I thought there were chicks in rehab!"

But hold on. Maybe the differences aren’t that great. The two surfers, at present, are still alike in the way that matters most. Both are clean.

I don't pretend to understand the complexities of recovery, or what keeps an addict walking the line year in and year out. But incentive is surely part of it, and I wonder if maybe Virostko and Mel are still playing the competitive angle, just like they did at Mavs—using each other, bouncing off each other, all but crawling over each other. Channeling the same mix of affection, respect, jealously, and bile. "The little fucker is still clean? Then I'm staying clean." Repurpose the skill set, in other words. Mel’s gone nine years without a slip, Flea seven. Whatever it is, it's working.

WATCH: Peter Mel

WATCH: Flea Virostko