Peter Mel is synonymous with Mavericks. For years he has been a standout during every game-changing session over the ominous boil, and yet somehow a competitive victory has eluded him there—until today. Mel’s number was up, and despite the inconsistent swell that threatened to disappear completely as the heats rolled toward the Final, Pete found the right waves at the right time to keep advancing. Serendipitously, the Final saw some of the biggest and most consistent waves of the day, giving Mel ample opportunity to take his rightful place among Mavericks champions.
So this seems like it’s been a long time coming. How does it feel to get a win at Mavericks?
The first thing that comes to mind is relief, but I’m still not sure if that’s the right word. That implies that I deserved to win, which is not really the case. I’m satisfied with just competing at this high of a level at such an extremely difficult spot to surf. That already gives me a great sense of accomplishment. But this is one event that I’ve been competing in and wanting to win for so many years, so for that it feels really, really amazing.
It seems like big-wave competition is less cutthroat, and there’s a really strong camaraderie—I mean, you guys even split the prize money. What is the dynamic like between you guys?
Yeah, before we even paddled out in the Final today we all agreed to split the prize money regardless of who won. In conditions like that, it felt right. I don’t know, maybe we should just all split the money every time. We do it because of the love we all have for riding big waves, and the feeling that you get from doing it. Everything else is just kind of an afterthought.
Were you surprised that the event ran today?
I studied the maps, and I have confidence in the contest directors and their ability to call swells. So I believed that we would be able to run the event today, but we knew it was going to be inconsistent. But there were still some amazing waves ridden today, and I’m sure you’ll be able to see that in the videos and photos from the day. There was definitely a lot of sitting around and chatting, but that’s always a part of big-wave surfing. That’s probably a big part of why there’s such camaraderie—we’ve gotten to know each other pretty well through the lulls over the years [laughs.]
Since you started surfing at Mavericks, you’ve seen the whole spectrum of big-wave surfing as it has evolved. What has it been like to witness that?
Tow surfing had its place, and it was neat in the way that it really did push performance and make us rethink equipment and ride bigger waves than we ever thought was possible beforehand. Tow surfing taught us how big of waves we could eat it on and still survive. So that era of surfing was really an important step that lead us all to the level we are at now with paddling. It helped us look at it differently, and now in big-wave paddle surfing we are all just going to keep pushing it and going bigger, and bigger, and bigger. If you look at photos from the last time we ran this event, those were some of the biggest waves ever paddled into. Then last month at Cortez Bank, again, the limits were pushed and that was honestly some of the scariest big-wave surfing I’ve ever done—it was freaky. The photos that I saw didn’t really do it justice out there, but I saw guys paddle into some of the biggest waves I’ve ever seen ridden. Thinking about that evolution now, it’s really crazy that I’ve been a part of it as long as I have and I feel really lucky to have not gotten really hurt and to still be surfing big waves.
I know that you live in Southern California now. Is Mavericks still as big a part of your life as it has always been?
It definitely still is. I always know when it’s going to break, and it’s a little bit more challenging to get here from Southern California, but Greg [Long] does it, and Healey flies over here from Hawaii. When it’s on, we come. We all get to hang out and surf this incredible wave and it’s important to all of us. Surfing Mavericks is still a big part of my life, and it always will be.