"I’ve been visualising a line like that for thirty years but I’ve never really truly had the balls to do it."
By now, you would’ve seen Mel’s chip-shot into a thirty-footer monster tube at Mavericks, just north of Half Moon Bay there in Northern California.
Wave of the decade it’s being called.
“Everyone on earth should see this ride,” Kelly Slater said.
Mel, who is fifty-one, is the sort of man who loves his children with a passion, his parents with respect, his wife with generosity and his friends with loyalty.
He wears slightly too big flannel shirts and pants with stone washing applied at the factory.
A conservative, in the true sense of the word.
Yesterday’s ride was anything but safe.
When I call Mel at home in Santa Cruz, the sun has set on the day after his beautiful and brave ride.
He talks about the terrific comedown from such a powerful injection of adrenaline.
“I wish I could sleep for a month,” he says.
Is it really that draining?
“Emotionally, yeah. That was thirty years in the making. I’ve been visualising a line like that but I’ve never really truly had the balls to do it. Somehow, yesterday, it all came together.”
Mel, who was riding a 70-litre nine-foot-ten CI with tiny tow fins in a quad setup, says the thrill of seeing his kid Jon out there on the channel, alongside old pals filmer Curt Myers from Powerline productions and fellow big-waver Jamie Mitchell, gave the ten-second ride an added gloss.
“They were all fearing for my life one second and then, the next, it was the elation of me hugging my kid.”
So let’s ride this damn thing.
It’s around midday. Mel and his kid Jon, who is twenty-one, have been out since around eight-thirts.
Jon gets the biggest left he’s ever had out there.
Then a quick work meet and the pair are back out there. The buoy system is so good in this part of the world they know the swell is about to pulse.
“A twelve-footer, then there’s a fifteen-footer, there’s a fucking eighteen-footer…”
Mel says there’s a shallow part of the reef out and over towards the left. If you want to get inside the biggest waves it’s the only avenue in. You can’t take off in the bowl, it’s too vertical and too thick, and shoulder-hopping ain’t an option.
“It was always something you dream of but never get to execute,” says Mel. “We’ve towed a few and had that idea of coming in from behind but you usually outrun the tube or you’re not brave enough to kick-stall. With a nine-ten, you’re committed.”
The takeoff, says Mel, ain’t the hard part.
“You get a really nice entry over there. You can chase it, get into it and it backs off a little bit. It let me in. I did know that it’s risky, it’s forty yards deeper than the main bowl and if you see an elbow towards the bowl you know it’s going to be tough to make. This wave had that look to it but, well… fuck… you’re not going to get that many chances out there. I overcommitted to it and went for it. Magically, all those elements came together. A little bit of a spiritual thing happened for me. I feel like it was a gift from the Mavericks gods to stay open. It’s really hard to fathom what’s happening in that moment,. You’re racing and adjusting. It’s the greatest feeling in the world to have your mind erased. It’s why we’re so tied to surfing. I got to a point where I was thinking, this is really heavy, then all of a sudden I realised I was making it no matter what and raised my hands. That’s a great, great feeling.”
And then the other side of the adrenaline shot.
“I was thinking, ah, okay, what now? What do I do now? I felt a little let down. I felt, truly, I can’t do that again.”
That afternoon, Mel went to see his wife Tara in the fam’s surfshop, Freeline, at Pleasure Point. Mel could see how worried his wife was by how clean the joint was, his and her desks cleaned, boxes neatly stowed, the shop spotless.
“A distraction,” he says. “She tapped into my mood and was solemn and quiet with me. Today was a lot more chatty and fun but it wasn’t like we were throwing a party and a kegger yesterday, dude. Just a silent cuddle, unsaid words, connection. I wanted to crawl into a hole and shut everything out. I’ve come around now.”
Mel laughs, sighs, then laughs again.
The buoys are up to forty feet. The biggest it’s been all season.
Tomoz, out there.
“What an escape surfing is,” he says. “We’re so blessed.”