Old guys ruling

Stu Nettle
Swellnet Dispatch

You won’t find them wearing the shirt or sporting the bumper sticker, but over the past month, Peter Mel and Twiggy Baker have embodied the saying: old guys rule.

A tedious expression, no doubt, mostly favoured by veterans unable to pass the baton with dignity, yet here were two middle-aged surfers with a still-firm grip on the present.

Across four waves, two apiece, all ridden at Mavericks, Mel (51) and Twig (47) raised the big wave bar, yet it may not have been in spite of their age but because of it.

Mel’s tow wave from 12th January (see above) is arguably one of the largest waves ridden at Mav’s while his paddle in barrel is certainly one of the greatest rides ever seen. A modern lament about surfing is that, amongst the firehose of online content, great waves are no longer remembered and mythologised as they once were.

Mel’s barrel will surely test that theory. For sheer courage and recourse to experience - which Mel has nearly three decades of at Mavericks - it’s without peer. It’s simply not possible to paddle out there and luck into a wave of that magnitude.

“I’ve been surfing out there for 29 years,” said Mel, “and I’ve seen many waves like that over the years.”

“We’ve always wondered if it was possible to take off in there,” continued Mel, referring to his position fifty metres inside the pack and on the other side of the ledge, “and I’ve personally envisioned a line through it but the opportunity so rarely presents itself.”

Like a mountaineer planning the route to an unclimbed summit, visualisation of the path is paramount. Yet for Mel and other Mavs surfers the path is rarely illuminated. It only presents itself after years of water time, and even then momentarily.

In his autobiography, Rafael Nadal wrote, “I cannot bear the thought of squandering an opportunity that might never come again.” Rafa was 24 when he wrote that. Mel is 51, he’s spent 29 of those years in preparation for that opportunity, and January 12th was the payoff, done with his son looking on from the channel and longtime filmer Curt Myers holding the record button.

It was a scenario mythmakers might assemble in their mind, yet here it was played out in real life.

While catching up with Twiggy Baker after his two incredible rides he flashes on being a young kid in Durban and watching the older surfers.

“When I was in the Boys age group at club contests,” says Twig, “I used to look at the Seniors and think ‘what are those old bastards doing taking all the waves?’”

“Fuck those guys!”

Twig laughs at the cheek because he’s now one of those guys, albeit in his own specialised field.

Accepted wisdom says that big wave surfers don’t hit their stride till their thirties. Prior to that there’s a discord between physical maturity and emotional development. The body is strong but the mind is feeble - it’s capricious and unsteady when big surf warrants calmness and composure.

It was composure that got Twiggy down the face of his December 12 wave after first taking a highly unorthodox diagonal line across the top. It was a wave that, like Peter Mel’s, Twig had previously studied and sought to pursue.

“That wave was an accumulation of years and years of effort by many different surfers,” said Twig afterwards. “We have talked about catching a wave like that on the outer bowl for many years.”

Incredibly, less than a month later a similar looking wave presented itself to the South African. ”Both waves were a similar size,” explains Twig, “but yesterday's one had a lot more energy in it.”

Appearances were deceiving. The increased power meant the wave jacked faster and offered no escape route across the roof. “Instead of chipping me in and backing off,” said Twig, “it went fully top to bottom, which we haven’t really experienced before.” 

“I was basically left in the lip on a 65ft double up!”

The premise that older surfers are wiser would usually exclude taking air drops on XXL waves, or even trying to stick them once airborne, yet that’s what Twig did. “I was thinking I had better stick the landing or I’m probably dead so I held on as long as possible to at least give it my best shot.” 

The resultant wipeout had surfers of all ages wincing, wondering how anyone could survive unscathed. Yet if it appeared impulsive, understand that Twig backed himself mentally and physically, even though he’s one of the oldest surfers in the lineup. “I’m serious about my health. I eat properly and I’m on a solid strength and mobility program.”

Even so, the next day he described feeling like he’d been in a boxing match, plus he got whiplash and a mild concussion. When asked about how many more years he can see himself doing it, Twig mused, “At that level, being the furthest out, holding the inside, and really wanting the biggest and heaviest waves on the biggest days….I’ve got probably three to five more years, barring any major injuries.”

But that’s Twig being a hard task master. The physical preparation he’s doing now in his forties is so he can surf big waves into his fifties and beyond. Maybe not bag XXL awards but still keep doing what he loves.

“Even out there on the biggest day of the last ten years there were ‘safe’ waves that are pretty easy to catch and make to the channel and I can see myself still surfing well into my sixties.”

POSTSCRIPT: Twig followed up our conversation with the following: "I’m a little rattled mentally and probably need some time to think it all through but the Pacific is waiting for no man and Jaws is going to be 70ft on the weekend!"

Comments

Island Bay's picture
Island Bay's picture
Island Bay commented Thursday, 14 Jan 2021 at 5:33pm

Excellent work, Stu. And Twig!

Very impressive that Twiggy and Pete Mel can keep going at that level. At 57, I'm trying hard to get my injuries sorted and ride some 12ft+ waves again.

mattlock's picture
mattlock's picture
mattlock commented Thursday, 14 Jan 2021 at 5:53pm

Thanks Stu and Twig. Good read and good insights. The talk about visualising lines at the breaks you know rings true. In the past I have done that and then subsequently to managed draw those lines at one particular break which I was getting frustrated at. The frustration was due to trying to do turns when the wave demanded drawing lines. Definitely not to the level of Mel and Twig. Hats off to them. That massive stuff is amazing.

freeride76's picture
freeride76's picture
freeride76 commented Thursday, 14 Jan 2021 at 6:06pm

that wipe-out.

Westofthelake's picture
Westofthelake's picture
Westofthelake commented Thursday, 14 Jan 2021 at 6:15pm

I can easily watch the Pete Mel wave over and over. Calm and cool and totally owning it. The Twiggy stomping, not so much. ..."wincing" indeed.

These guys are writing the rules.

And I can relate to being a teen grom and cursing the old guys getting the waves.

Now I'm a bit older (past the half cent) I can imho say, old guys do rule :)

My guess is that if you asked Pete and Twig how old they feel, you'd get a number lower than their physical age.

mattlock's picture
mattlock's picture
mattlock commented Thursday, 14 Jan 2021 at 6:22pm

Easily 20 times I've watched Mels wave.

udo's picture
udo's picture
udo commented Thursday, 14 Jan 2021 at 6:34pm

Same- wish he had of had Gopro onboard so we could see what he was seeing.

goofyfoot's picture
goofyfoot's picture
goofyfoot commented Thursday, 14 Jan 2021 at 7:53pm

I love everything about Mel's paddle wave.
From his son yelling "look at the condor!'" as he's stroking in to it, then the line he takes from start to finish, then the disbelief celebration at the end, fuckin epic.

I wish Twiggy elaborated a bit more about his wipeout, how long he was under water etc etc

Rabbits68's picture
Rabbits68's picture
Rabbits68 commented Thursday, 14 Jan 2021 at 8:32pm

Incredible performances by all. Totally mind blowing stuff.

Full length drone footage of Twiggy’s wipeout would’ve been amazing to watch. How long he was under, how far inside he was when he came up etc. Like you say GF, be great to hear a detailed recall from Twiggy.

Pristine

Jamyardy's picture
Jamyardy's picture
Jamyardy commented Thursday, 14 Jan 2021 at 11:50pm

Pretty sure his was posted already. Twiggy talks about that wipeout and the subsequent beatings here :

https://www.surfline.com/surf-news/twiggy-mavericks-gave-slap-showed-who...

Rabbits68's picture
Rabbits68's picture
Rabbits68 commented Friday, 15 Jan 2021 at 12:50pm

Cheers for posting that link Jamyardy. Amazing insight straight from the horses mouth. The ability to stay relaxed in such a heavy situation is phenomenal. All that training & preparation is one thing but to be able to put it into practice when it really matters. Epic.

Pristine

Jamyardy's picture
Jamyardy's picture
Jamyardy commented Friday, 15 Jan 2021 at 12:21am

Hi Stu,

I agree old guys rule for sure, and a worthy write up on em.

These are the dates I have noted, which may or may not be correct

Pete Mel behind the bowl Barrel : Video says January 8th (Friday Session) 2021
Pete Mel Big Tow in Wave : January 10th (Sunday Session) 2021
Twiggy big paddle wave made drop : December 8th (Tuesday) 2020
Twiggy Air Drop wave wipe out : January 10th 2021

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet commented Friday, 15 Jan 2021 at 8:41am

Cheers Jamyardy.

velocityjohnno's picture
velocityjohnno's picture
velocityjohnno commented Friday, 15 Jan 2021 at 8:21am

Inspiring to see, read and reflect on.
Peter Cole wrote a chapter on big waves in a book I once read that mentioned the intersection between physical conditioning and 'wisdom' - he was surfing Waimea into his 60s I believe.
Feeling younger than you are - when the young crew tell you of how they mucked around in school cooking class and you still find it hilarious
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K7l5ZeVVoCA

Island Bay's picture
Island Bay's picture
Island Bay commented Friday, 15 Jan 2021 at 9:06am

Surfed with Peter Cole at big Guethary, SW France. Must have been in his mid to late 60s, but surfed with an easy style and confidence. Big yellow board and a white t-shirt, as usual.

aussieguy's picture
aussieguy's picture
aussieguy commented Friday, 15 Jan 2021 at 8:43am

I think it's so refreshing to see respect given to older surfers who actions show they deserve it. Surfing is for life and I plan to charge it to the end.

Dx3's picture
Dx3's picture
Dx3 commented Friday, 15 Jan 2021 at 9:20am

Interesting observation about it being refreshing, whilst I don't necessarily disagree with that statement, from my perspective if there's anyone I respect most in the lineup it's the older crew, provided they are showing some respect back of course, we've all experienced those that don't at all... think your classic mal waves around the coast!

When I see the older crew out there doing their thing, it gives me hope that I'll still be out there in the lineup in 30+ years charging as much as the body allows me.

gingeryeti's picture
gingeryeti's picture
gingeryeti commented Friday, 15 Jan 2021 at 11:47am

65ft...

Why do super big waves get measured different to regular big waves?

mrkook's picture
mrkook's picture
mrkook commented Friday, 15 Jan 2021 at 12:50pm

To make it sound more impressive, 1 ft over 20ft and all of a sudden your on a 40ft wave! If I’m talking with people I don’t know I just say the waves were shoulder high, overhead, double overhead etc everyone understands that. No disrespect to the big wave guys either - they are mental and I love watching everything they do and wish I was like them, but I’m not.

MK

bluediamond's picture
bluediamond's picture
bluediamond commented Friday, 15 Jan 2021 at 1:10pm

Mike Ho still charging first reef Pipe when it's maxing is another notable 'old' guy. And to the swathes of older crew at the more heavy duty reefs around the country too. Some absolute hellmen, including Hellman.

.cylinders's picture
.cylinders's picture
.cylinders commented Saturday, 16 Jan 2021 at 4:55pm

Always thought he had the perfect name, one of the nicest blokes you’ll meet to boot

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet commented Friday, 15 Jan 2021 at 1:52pm

McConachy?

Felipe Pomar, seventy-something and still swinging big at Hanalei Bay, also deserves a mention.

bluediamond's picture
bluediamond's picture
bluediamond commented Friday, 15 Jan 2021 at 7:27pm

Yep. That Hellman.

bipola's picture
bipola's picture
bipola commented Friday, 15 Jan 2021 at 2:03pm

that first wave and the surfer came together to make something special. perfection

freeride76's picture
freeride76's picture
freeride76 commented Friday, 15 Jan 2021 at 3:49pm

anyone been checking Felipe Pomars Surf till 100 site?

bit wanky but worth a squizz.

AndyM's picture
AndyM's picture
AndyM commented Friday, 15 Jan 2021 at 7:30pm

You're not wrong.

"To take bold and committed adventurer's on an expedition into the Ancient Temples of our Planets Earliest Surfers , to Surf the Longest Point Break Wave in the world,
Ride Surf Craft designed over 5,000 years ago, to introduce beginners to Surfing
and for You to experience the unfoldment of the Knowledge and ability to:
Surf Till 100"

AndyM's picture
AndyM's picture
AndyM commented Friday, 15 Jan 2021 at 7:33pm

There's more.
Love the Random Use of Capitals.

"Surf Till 100 by Becoming the Champion of your dreams and the creator of a Life that Matters

To help you bring about positive physical, mental and spiritual changes that are permanent, self-perpetuating, and momentum building.

To help you make Transformative Changes that add value to every aspect of your life and to the creation of a sustainable and happy planet for you to Surf Till 100 on.

To help you make your behavior congruent with optimum beliefs, principles, values and your dreams.

To help enlarge your vision, insight, and understanding of an amazing life and increase your sense of self-worth

To help you know and clarify your god given purposes in order to rise above mediocrity to become a self-created Champion.

In simple terms, to help you grow through the knowledge and stories that we have to share with you and with the knowledge and stories that your fellow travelers have to share.

To help you become aware that this is a defining moment in time to live the life of a true champion, one who is making a difference in this world we all share.

Our intention to help You".

velocityjohnno's picture
velocityjohnno's picture
velocityjohnno commented Friday, 15 Jan 2021 at 9:28pm

Nuttier than my favourite carrot cake. Which was delicious today.

etarip's picture
etarip's picture
etarip commented Saturday, 16 Jan 2021 at 1:04pm

Stu, just read your weekly wrap email.
Loved the comparison with skating. Took the grom to a free skate clinic this morning. Place was buzzing. Kids of all ages, ethnicities, a little posse of Japanese 20 something’s stoking on drop ins on a 2ft ramp.

Thought I’d have a roll on the concrete mini ramp. Felt the flow coming back. Started linking together some grinds and the like. The flow!
Then it stopped, abruptly.
Concrete is so unforgiving.

thermalben's picture
thermalben's picture
thermalben commented Saturday, 16 Jan 2021 at 1:46pm

Thank you for validating why I don't touch skateboards any more.

Island Bay's picture
Island Bay's picture
Island Bay commented Saturday, 16 Jan 2021 at 4:34pm

8'6 Desert Storm on the way. This old guy most likely won't rule a thing, but looking forward to scaring myself a bit.

Been a while since I had a proper gun.

seaslug's picture
seaslug's picture
seaslug commented Saturday, 16 Jan 2021 at 4:39pm

Great IB, be good to hear how it goes, I've got a 7'6'' Spartan on its way as well

udo's picture
udo's picture
udo commented Saturday, 16 Jan 2021 at 4:42pm

9'0 Black Hula avail in Tassie...as new.

seaslug's picture
seaslug's picture
seaslug commented Saturday, 16 Jan 2021 at 4:48pm

Serious piece of kit Udo