The scene from the water at Mavericks on Sunday was chaotic, with more than 50 watercraft vying for position to view the best big-wave surfers in the world compete in the annual invitational. Photo: Grant Ellis
Peter Mel wasn't the only winner at Mavericks on Sunday. While the 43-year-old big-wave surfer from Santa Cruz, California, finally bagged the Mavericks Invitational title that's eluded him for more than a decade, he shared the spoils of his victory with the other finalists.
Mel has been surfing Mavericks for more than twenty years. He was among the first wave of surfers to converge on the hallowed big-wave break when its well-kept secret was finally revealed in the early 90s.
In the two decades since, Mel's been a dominant player in the Mavericks lineup, making him a favorite in the prestigious big-wave surfing competition. Though Mel had never won the Mavericks event until Sunday, he was crowned the 2012 world champion of the fledgling Big-Wave World Tour.
His status also helped land him a small role in the movie "Chasing Mavericks", a true-life tale based on the famous wave, and the life of the late Jay Moriarity, who gained surfing world fame in 1994 by conquering the hallowed wave as a 16-year-old. Sadly, Moriarity lost his life in a diving accident back in 2001. He was one of Mel's good surfing friends from Santa Cruz. The Mavericks Invitational is held in memory of Moriarity.
And Moriarity certainly would have been smiling Sunday, as perfect conditions and an incredible gathering of big-wave talent converged on his beloved break.
While the huge waves forecast for Sunday didn't live up to the hype, there were still some incredible rides when the bigger sets did rumble through. Due to the inconsistent conditions, however, the finalists all agreed to split the $50,000 prize before they took to the water for the final heat. It's a move that demonstrates the big-wave camaraderie Moriarty was so proud of.
"In conditions like that, it felt right," Mel told Surfer magazine afterward. "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."
Other finalists included Zach Warmhoudt, Greg Long, Alex Martins, Mark Healey, and Shawn Dollar. For Long, Sunday was his first public appearance since his near drowning last month at Cortes Bank. Long has been the most dominant figure in the big-wave arena for the past five years, but many wondered if his recent episode would slow him down. They got their answer when Long advanced to the final with a smile on his face.
In the end, the finalists all got what they were looking for: perfect surf, a beautiful day, good friends, great rides, and not a bad payday.
While the huge surf that was expected on Sunday didn't live up to forecasters' predictions, there was still enough water moving around to justify holding the event, and the conditions couldn't have been any better. Competitors were happy to have the entire lineup to themselves. Photo: Don Montgomery.
Mark Healey flew in from Hawaii to compete in the event. When he's not hunting big waves Healey is known for riding on the backs of sharks. Seriously. See for yourself. Photo: Glaser/Surfer magazine.
So just how big was it on Sunday? Well, surfers are known for having conservative scales. But all you need to know is this board is almost 10 feet long, then do the math. Photo: Montgomery.
Media, fans, and competitors spent much of their day on the water in the massive channel dwelling flotilla. Horns were blaring when the big sets arrived. Photo: Montgomery
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