The Lowdown: Whether he’s attending epic surf competitions like Eddie Aikau Quicksilver Big Wave Event or just kickin’ it locally at Steamer Lane or Mavericks, 33-year-old Peter Mel makes his presence known. He says passion is the key to success—perfect for a guy who loves to “take a challenge against mother nature.” While he’s fast become an international force in the surf world, deep down, Mel enjoys his home turf—Santa Cruz. (There is, of course, the über popular Freeline Design Surf Shop, founded by his father, John, which has been going strong for more than 30 years.) Surf to him at www.petermel.com. Here, “Condor” discusses the inner workings of appearing in Step Into Liquid, specifically, surfing the Cortes Banks, an area 100 off the coast of southern California, outside of the contintental shelf, where the biggest expansive of ocean produces amazing yet dangerous swells.
Q: On the day that you and SkinDog actually surfed in the Cortes Bank, what did you two talk about before actually getting out there?
A: Kenny and I mostly went over different scenarios that might happen out there. Then problem-solved them.
Q: What was the biggest wave you caught and what was going through your mind at the time?
A: They all seemed really big. When you’re surfing waves like that you’re not really thinking, you’re just reacting to the moment.
Q: And you were actually going to hit the Cortes Bank before the movie came along?
A: Basically, Surfing Magazine had put something together and then Step Into Liquid came in and that’s how it all became a part of the movie—that’s kind of like how Mother Nature is; perfect timing.
Q: You had never been to the Cortes Bank.
A: No. This place is 100 mile to sea, right? First of all, getting out there, you can’t just jump out at the beach and check out the waves. You taking the ambition, getting on the boat and going. And those guys had been wanting to do it for a long time; it had been 10 years in the making, getting out there, just to have the conditions right, to have the waves right.
Q: It took you about a day to get there?
A: We motored all night. Had some problems going out there, lost a boat in the middle of the night and then we woke up and it there and it was magic all day long.
Q: Initially, you guys were only supposed to be there for a couple of hours.
A: No. It kept producing all day long. The waves kept getting better and better. Conditions got better and better—it got glassier. I want to do it again.
Q; So, there you are, at the Cortes Bank. It’s something you had wanted to do for a long time—‘what was going through your mind?
A: [Laughs] A lot of things are going through your mind. I mean it’s crazy. I was a little nervous. It was sort of like going out on Mavericks for the first time. I’ve been working for it my whole life. It’s like you’re always thinking about the next thing and you always go for bigger, you go faster And now we were going to the moon—that’s what it’s like for us. It’s just the next step of pushing it. But you play it safe. Had a couple of mistakes and learn, but you make a magic day of it.
Q: How was it working with Dana? What’s he like as a director?
A: Working with Dana is really easy. He just let us do our thing and he captures the vibe as it happens.
Q: What do you think of the film?
A: The film is great. It really captures the feeling surfing gives people.
Q: What do you like most about the movie?
A: I really like all the big wave footage. On the big screen you really get a feeling of how powerful some of those waves are.
Q: Any funky celeb sightings worthy of mentioning when you are the Hollywood premiere?
A: Yeah, down at the Santa Monica Peir Premiere, Flea from the Chilli Peppers was there. Our Flea met the other Flea. Kinda cool. Also, Cuba Gooding Jr, John Mackenroe and Elaine from Sienfeld. It’s neat to see so many people interested in surfing.
Q: So, what do you love about surfing?
A: How it feels after a good surf. After you get out of the water you can do no wrong.
Q: What do you not love about it?
Q: What’s the biggest inspiration in your life?
A: My wife and kids.
Q: And your biggest inspiration in the surf world?
A: Richard Schmidt. He helped me out a lot when I first started surfing in bigger waves. Vince Collier also pushed me a lot. He was the first guy to take all of us to Mavericks.
Q: How do you feel about the professional surf world today?
A: All the reality shows, like Boarding House and Surf Girls have made pro surfing very popular. I was just at the U.S. Open of Surfing down in Huntington Beach and they said during the week, more than 300,000 people came to check out the contest. That’s a lot of people.