by Corky Carroll
I just got handed the list of inductees into this year’s SURFERS HALL OF FAME. At the top of the list is one of the greatest big wave chargers of all time, Peter “the Condor” Mel. This dude is a member of a very small group of what I like to call “monster wave riders.” (At this point cue in one of my old songs called Big Wave Rider….”monster walls of water, blockin out the sky…monster walls of water don’t you know that you can die…” sets the tone).
Monster wave riders are the very few insanely fearless souls that chase waves that are bigger than big, the ones that you can only get towed into because they are too big and fast to be able to simply paddle into. Maybe “fearless” is not the correct term, because anybody in their right mind would have to be somewhat scared in that stuff. Some maybe saying “people who know how to deal with fear” would be better. Or heck, go with “fearless,” and figure that they are NOT in their right minds after all. Hence the “insanely fearless” thing.
Big surf ends at about 25 to 30 ft. Monster surf is anything over 30 ft. Peter Mel is a monster wave rider, one of the best to ever take the drop. Laird Hamilton and Kai Lenny are a couple of others in this small fraternity.
Peter was born in Santa Cruz, California in 1969. His dad is John Mel, himself a national surfing champion, who learned to shape surfboards with the legendary Skip Frye in San Diego before moving to Santa Cruz and opening Freeline Surfboards. Peter learned to surf at Capitola, a smaller wave spot just south of Santa Cruz, before moving into the lineup at the bigger wave spots such as the infamous “Steamer Lane” and “Mitchells Cove.”
Some experience on Hawaii’s North Shore and Peter found himself to be high on the pecking order at “Mavericks,” the famed Half Moon Bay big wave spot. Having a speed defined surfing style with his arms pulled back got him the nickname “Condor.”
Although a fantastic small wave surfer, having been a finalist in the 1984 U.S. Championship in the Junior division and winning the 1997 Cold Water Classic, it was the challenge and thrill of the big stuff that drew his passion. In the late 1990’s Peter was a finalist in the K2 Big Wave Challenge, the Quicksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau and the Mavericks Invitational. He also successfully rode what was at that time the biggest wave ever ridden outside of Hawaii.
In 2001 the Condor was part of one of the heaviest surfing adventures ever, the assault on “Cortes Bank.” A small group of monster wave riders, which also included San Clemente’s Mike Parsons, successfully surfed the mysterious “giant wave that breaks in the middle of the ocean” place that lies 150 miles out to sea off San Diego. This, probably even to this day, was one of the most radical over the edge big wave accomplishments ever.
In 2011 he won the Pico Alto Big Wave championship. He followed that by winning the Big Wave Tour in 2012 and then the Mavericks title in 2013. A super successful professional surfing career.
Today Peter is still searching out and charging monster waves around the planet while, with his wife Tara, running the family surf business, Freeline Surfboards, that he took over from his dad. Peter and Tara have a son they named John who is presently making a name for himself on the World Surfing League Qualifying Tour. And just to cap things off nicely Peter was awarded the “Ride of the Year” award for 2021.
Stay tuned for more news on the Surfers Hall of Fame Inductions which will be held on August 5th in Huntington Beach. This year marks the 25th anniversary of surfing’s prestigious institution and word has it that the induction ceremony will be incredible and surf star laden. Peter Mel is joining a lineup of the greatest surfers of all time who have previously been honored during this past quarter century. All that and more coming your way right here.