The Bare NecessitiesLife in Maui with Matt Meola

The Meolas don’t sit still. From father Gary, a surf-hungry carpenter who moved to Maui in the ‘80s, down to Matt, one of the elite aerialists of our time, energy courses through their family’s gene pool. “When Matt was little, we used to go to the job sites with his dad. He worked on a lot of coastal properties, so we’d fix these houses up, live in them, and hop in the ocean after work. He was my little Mowgli,” says Matt’s mother Nancy, evoking the fictional character from The Jungle Book who eventually learns from the laid-back Baloo about the simple Bear Necessities of life: “When you find out you can live without it, go along not thinking about it.”

Often, it’s the surf in Maui that’s an afterthought. The paved road from Haiku and Paia is lined with two lush gulches and a mix of farmland country, where black lava rocks fill the less-than-ideal warbled reefs nestled in the cracks of Maui’s North Coast. For all the highlights that household talents Billy Kemper, Albee Layer, Kai Barger, Tanner Hendrickson, Coconut Willy, Paige Alms, Tom Dosland, Kai Lenny, and Matt put out, it’s remarkable to consider how surfing isn’t the end-all obsession on the island. And maybe that’s the way it should be. Surfing is only one of the components of island living, after all.

So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Matt, a real-life Mauian Mowgli, finds joy in his prowess as an avid hunter, fisherman, and free-diver, roles that allow him to steward the nature and wildlife around his home isle. The same tidepools, reefs, waves, and forests that Matt grew up with, he sees in a new light from when he was a young boy. For Matt, life on Maui is all about the bare necessities, and protecting the essentials that make it such a special island.

[Intro by Peter Taras / Photography by Brent Bielmann]

My favorite things in the world are hunting, fishing, surfing, and eating. If it’s glassy, I’ll go dive. If the wind is up, I’ll go hunt. When I’m not surfing, I spend 90 percent of my time either trying to shoot deer or catch fish, so that I can cook it later with all of my friends. It’s pretty sick to catch and cook your own food, and it’s what I really love to do.

For the past two years, I’ve basically fallen off the map. I had back-to-back injuries: I blew my back out in West Oz and couldn’t surf for 6 months, which I thought was the worst thing ever, and then I started surfing again, did my knee, and didn’t surf for 10 more months, so that was pretty rough. But I’m finally back in the water and feeling as good as I was before my injuries. And I’ve totally fallen back in love with it again.

Maui is pretty crazy. I have this tight group of friends who I surf with and we’re constantly pushing each other. We’re always trying to outdo one another, but at the same time, everyone is always super encouraging. I think that’s the reason we were able to progress so much. Without Albee, Kai, and all of my other friends over here, I wouldn’t be where I am today. No way. Every single wave someone is doing something nuts. Now, we’re just trying to spin more, go higher, and outdo our last air. It’s strange in surfing because you don’t get the same section twice. You’re so lucky if you get a big-enough section with the right wind, and it might only happen once every ten times you surf, so progression in surfing takes longer. There’s no foam pit. There’s no repetition. You’re relying on Mother Nature and she’s never gonna feed you that same section over and over again.

A few years back, I had a pretty heavy wipeout at Jaws, and now I’m just not as psyched on it anymore. When I was younger, Jaws was everything to me. Once we started surfing it, we became addicted. We were just sitting around waiting for Jaws swells. Then I had that really heavy wipeout on a left, thought I was gonna drown, and…I don’t know. I just haven’t been as psyched on it as I used to be. I’ve been out there a few times since, and I’ve caught a few waves, but now I only go out there when I feel like it, when I’m psyching and want to catch a huge wave. I don’t feel pressure from my friends anymore. Now, it’s totally for me. I’m not doing it to get a shot or get a clip.

Growing up on Maui I’m just not used to surfing in heavy crowds. I’m usually surfing a funky junk wave with nobody out. So when I go to Oahu and deal with the crowds, it’s a shock, and I just hate it. I can’t stand battling for waves. I’m the guy who will always choose the shitty wave with nobody out over the firing crowded one, and that’s why I don’t go to Oahu very much [Laughs]. I like Oahu. I have a lot of good friends there. But half the time when I visit, I don’t even bring a surfboard.

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