I’ve known Peter Mel since I was twelve years old, when I was rinsing the piss out of the wetsuits that Freeline Design (a surf shop on Santa Cruz’s Eastside owned by the Mel family) rented out to tourists and beginning surfers. Not only was this my first job, it was my first sponsor, and the Mel family did a lot for me over the years, from shaping me surfboards, to paying for contests and chipping in for trips to Hawaii. Of course big Pete has always appeared larger than life, and with his yearly accomplishments at places like Maverick’s, I was always nervous talking to him as a grom– he was on his way to legend status. As we get older of course, our idols become more human and approachable. I’ve always loved chatting with Pete on everything surf related, and I recently pinned him down outside Freeline Design to chat about his role on the new World Surf League’s commentary team.
Big Pete close to home
I wanna get some thoughts from you on this new career you’ve made for yourself. Briefly tell me how you stepped into the fray as a webcast announcer?
It originally started, in the very first few events that were ever broadcasted. I’m trying to think what the very first event was, but anyways, the opportunity came from a guy named Jay Johnson, who was with “Surfing Live”. He gave me that first gig. You know, you’re doing the first live webcast for a pro event in California, the first webcasts to be broadcasted ever actually, so it’s all very new territory. So I had my chance, someone gave me an opportunity to sit, and that was the start of that. Then, through my affiliation with Quiksilver, more gigs came my way. I was doing webcasts throughout those early days, stuff like NSSA’s, Surfing America comps, and other little pro events.
I basically went to the big leagues with the Quiksilver Pro’s, which was the Gold Coast and France. Quiksilver produced them and hired me. So I finally made the ‘CT (laughs). I started interviewing all those guys and getting familiar with all the characters. So it started locally, and grew internationally, more or less. All of that work translated when the new WSL took over producing all of the events. Last year, I was picked to be a part of the roster of a team who’d travel with the tour throughout the year.
Was there any type of interview process involved in getting the job? Were you vying with other guys to get the spot, or how did that all come about?
There were basically try-outs, more or less…I mean there were times when we’d come into work, and he gave us try-outs. Literally, we all went in and did our thing, did some staged Pipe announcing, and tried to impress the group that was making the choices. So yeah, try-outs, but you could really call them auditions…yes there were auditions (laughs).
No guts, no glory. Pete in his element
You’re a very thoughtful and articulate speaker, especially in interviews and stuff like that. Did you find that there was a bit of a learning curve—being live and having that pressure of maybe even thinking about what you’re saying, while you’re saying it? Did your act become more polished with time?
Yeah, practice makes perfect with anything right? Ultimately, my goal has always been to educate everyone, whether it be the newcomer, who’s never watching surfing before, or the guy that’s been watching every single webcast since their inception. I’ve been able to try to educate them and so you have to talk in ways that allow people who have absolutely no clue to learn something, as well as someone who, like I said, is a thirty year surfing veteran. So it can be hard to straddle that fence, ya know?
At work-your humbe roving reporter
Ultimately, I’m just being myself, and I think I learned that skill working in the surf shop (laughs). That’s just what it is, ‘cause here at Freeline Design, I’ve had to talk to customers and educate customers who have no clue, as well as guys who have been surfing their entire lives—to be able to communicate with all of them and that has always been my goal. So it’s definitely prepared me for this new line of work. The live part, you know, at times, yeah I my have been a little nervous and bobbled a few times, but like I said before, practice makes perfect. I’ve just kept at it, and now it just comes more naturally. I perform better when it’s live, rather than knowing that I can take a few takes (laughs)!
I really dig the board talk you do during the events. You’ve really grown into that role and I like that the powers that be have given you that opportunity, as you and your father both shape surfboards. Is that part of the job special to you?
Well, it’s comfortable. It’s what I know. I feel like I can bring that knowledge to the general public. Surfboard design is always changing, so there’s always something new to talk about. The competition side, generally speaking, it’s a slow change there. Whereas design, I think, everyone is always looking for a little extra something out of their racecar. I’m trying to find that little extra something and show it to the public.
The historic JJF/Slater heat
Right, and I think a lot of people dig it. So, switching gears a little here, what has been the highlight of your tenure as a member of the commentary team thus far? Was it sitting in the channel for that legendary John John Florence vs. Slater heat out at Chopes?
Yeah, for sure. The ability to be sitting in the water with those guys was pretty magical. With that event, a lot of things happened—first of all it was the first time I’d gotten on a surfboard with a camera in the water. All of the other times I reported from the water I’d be sitting on the sled of a jet ski. That was the first time the audience literally got a front row ticket straight into the channel. And, obviously, it worked out well–being in Tahiti, with the waves being as gigantic and perfect as they were with this blue, beautiful water—nothing could have topped it. It was just the most perfect scenario, and for everything to come together like that was a trip.
For that historic John John and Kelly heat, all the stars aligned, so yes, that was the highlight. The funny thing is, it just happened, it really did. It wasn’t something that was forced, and that’s how I’d like it to be every time. It’s like a life principle—you enjoy what you are doing and enjoyable things happen around you. Ultimately, that’s the goal, and everything seemed to click that day. When you start trying to force stuff, it doesn’t work out and when you don’t put your best foot forward, it doesn’t work either. You have to just know what you know, do what you do, and enjoy it. I’ve got the best part, for me at least. I don’t have to have to be in the booth all the time, where you are more opt to say the same things over and over again. I kinda sit in a really neat position. I just get to bring you little blips of happiness, I’m not sitting in the booth for an hour and a half straight. I have done that, and I think I still could, but for right now the position that I’ve been put in…you know I get to do beach interviews to bring you little tid bits.
You’re on “the “beat” more or less.
Yup, I’m on “the beat”—roving reporter (laughs).
Finally, the Quiksilver Pro is coming up. I’m excited to see Dane Reynolds as a wildcard. Who are you most looking forward to see really push the envelope this year? Who are you most excited to watch?
Well, we’re always excited to see what Dane brings to the table…I mean I know that is one things I know for sure I’ll be excited about. There’s a couple new kids on the block this year. You’ve got Keanu Asing and guys like that. I’ve always liked seeing the new additions, and we’ve got several of them this year, which is rare. The last couple of years we’ve had only one or two new additions, and now we’ve got five. So with that, you’re going to see a whole new crop of these kids bringing fresh looks to Snapper Rocks, and I love seeing that. They’re going to be up against hard seeds so the veterans are going to have to change up their game too. That’s why I always love this first event at Snapper, which is a very high performance wave. The sandbar is really good right now, so were not worried about the sand being lame. I’m just hoping we get some good swell!