Last Sunday, Peter Mel, the 43-year old big-wave legend from Santa Cruz, California, won a star-studded final heat at the Mavericks Invitational in Half Moon Bay, California. To take the coveted big-wave prize, Mel had to best Greg Long, Mark Healy, Zach Wormhoudt and Ken "Skindog" Collins.
Sadly, the 2012-'13 edition of this storied contest will not be recalled as one for the ages. The much-hyped swell that led contest organizers to call the contest on days earlier failed to deliver the massive, terrifying waves that Mavericks is known for.
“Deciding whether or not to run was pretty brutal,” Contest Director Gary Linden told Surfer magazine. “Last night I went surfing out there and there were a lot of long lulls. This morning looked similar when we made the call. We tried to be positive, but a couple of surfers this morning didn't even want to surf; we just pressed on and got through it."
Linden added, "Out there today, it was just a matter of accepting that it would be a little difficult to find good waves. But it was still contestable. If it had been a lake out there, of course we wouldn't have sent them out there to do water ballet. It had to be legit, and I think we did okay. A really good big-wave break like Mavericks will be impressive no matter when it's breaking.”
However, it seemed as though the contest was being run under a bad sign: Kelly Slater dropped out on the eve of the competition because he learned it was not sanctioned by the ASP. Shane Dorian and Carlos Burle pulled out because of injuries. Then the Mavericks website crashed, leaving roughly a million surf fans in a panic, wondering how they could see the live webcast (thank goodness for RedBull.tv).
For six hours, the competitors sat through excruciatingly long lulls; the San Francisco Chronicle reported a stretch of 38 minutes without a rideable wave. Some of the surfers grew grumpy.
When the waves did appear, though, the drops were steep and the rides were long and fast. As one observer noted, this sub-par afternoon at Mavericks had the flavor of an afternoon at Backdoor or Sunset.
"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." --Peter Mel
"Before we even paddled out in the Final today we all agreed to split the prize money regardless of who won," Mel said after the event. "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.
The best waves of the day rolled through during the Final -- hulking, extremely steep sets. Mel's victory in the final came as something of a surprise. Greg Long, who won the contest in 2008 and was surfing in big waves for the first time since nearly drowning at Cortes Bank on December 21, turned in an incredible and impressive final heat performance, riding the two biggest waves of the heat with aplomb. Mel prevailed, though.
"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," Mel told Surfer. "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."
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