Interview: Peter Mel

Frank Quirarte

Peter Mel's spent most his adult life surfing Maverick's, and he still stands as one of the most dominant guys in the lineup, winning the 2012/13 Mavericks Invitational.

"Chasing Mavericks," the 2012 Hollywood film about of the lives of Maverick's legends Jay Moriarty and Richard "Frosty" Hesson, opened to lukewarm reviews from the critics, but near universal approval from moviegoers and fans. Although the film takes license with Moriarty's character and asks big-wave insiders to suspend disbelief at times, the movie features breathtaking surf sequences shot over one winter at Maverick's, and, says 2013 Maverick's champ Peter Mel, "is the best depiction of surfing done by Hollywood."

As "Chasing Mavericks" comes out on DVD we caught up with Mel, one of the stars of the film, to talk about Hollywood's portrayal of big-wave surfing and why he's already gunning to start working on another film.

From the beginning, the filmmakers of "Chasing Mavericks" said they wanted to include real Maverick's surfers in the film, as both actors and stuntmen. But they couldn't choose everyone. What was the casting process like?
They had a call in Santa Cruz and asked everyone to come in and read for parts. I'm living in SoCal now, so I went in for a private reading. Instead of reading the lines, I told them how important this film is to me. I asked the producers to care about the film and said it needs to be as authentic as possible. When they asked me to be one of the Magnificents, they gave us all some creative control and listened to our input. Even when we started shooting, they would ask, "Would you say this and how would you say it?"

How much input did you, Greg Long and Zach Wormhoudt, who played the Magnificent 3, have during filming?

Frank Quirarte

With a part in "Chasing Mavericks," Mel says he'd like to continue working on Hollywood projects.

Where did they get it the most right?
Taylor Handley, who played Sonny, the bad boy, in the film -- he is the perfect Santa Cruz bad boy. How he said his lines, the sarcasm, what he said. "Paddle, paddle, little grom." That is so to the T. The average viewer might not notice, but that authenticity came across because Taylor did his homework.

What did you think when you saw the final cut?
I had a high standard of what I wanted to see out of the film. Jay was a friend and I wanted to see his legacy portrayed true. I wondered how my hometown of Santa Cruz would by seen by someone who has never been there. And then my career is in big waves. When it came out, I was actually quite surprised and stoked it was as good as it was. Jay had more edge and wasn't always so happy, and Santa Cruz has a darker side, too, and more edge. But you watch the movie, you feel good and it's a bit of a tearjerker. You want to feel emotion and I think it did that.

How do you think the surf industry received the film?
I've taken a thermometer on people who've seen it and not one person came up to me and said, "That was horrible." They all loved it and if you look at most depictions of surfing over years, it's the best depiction of surfing done by Hollywood. And that's the truth. The surfing is amazing and you can walk away and say, "If I inspire to live like Jay, good things can happen to me too." He lived a blessed life and it was cut short, but people will learn a lot about how to live life from his story.

Now that you've had a taste of working on a Hollywood film, are you interested in doing more?
I would actually love to do more work. I went and got a SAG card and am looking at other movies to do. I'm in SoCal now, so it's easier to look for jobs. It was really exciting and fun and allows me to still be involved in the ocean. It's exciting to think about pursuing other avenues.

Frank Quirarte

Mel, steep and deep during the Mavericks Invitational.

The film certainly brought more attention to the Maverick's contest this year. What was it like to finally win Maverick's -- and do it while your film was still in theaters?
If you look at the top three this year, it was me, Greg Long in second and Zach Wormhoudt in third. The Magnificent 3. It was a weird coincidence.

I've been a part of that event since the beginning and for years, people would say, "This is your year." And then something would happen and I'd lose. It got frustrating. Will I ever win? In the last couple years, I took on a position at Quiksilver and they gave me an opportunity to do the things I love, like competing in big wave events. And I accepted the fact that maybe I'd never win Maverick's, but I have a happy life and a son who's doing great at surfing. I took the pressure off and then I won a big wave event in Peru, and the big wave world title and then Mavs. I took away the mental stress I was putting on myself, looked at my life and realized I'm happy, and those things came to me. It took me 40 years to figure that out.

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