Editor’s Note: In celebration of the inaugural Mavericks Surf Awards live stream today on The Inertia, we’ve collaborated with videographer Abe Alarcon, who spent much of this historic winter documenting the action at Mavs by drone. The following is Abe’s firsthand account of filming “the biggest swell of the decade,” his anticipation and nerves the night before, and what he’s taken from the experience.
It was close to midnight on January 9 when the swell fully hit buoys outside of California. I vividly remember sitting at the table with photographer Ben Schutzer inside our hotel room, looking at the charts reading 42.7 ft @ 15.0 secs, averaging about 20 to 18 feet in each period band. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.
“Ben, this is the biggest swell of the decade!” We couldn’t help but laugh. And still, I don’t know if I was laughing because I was scared or the edibles — which were meant to ease my anxiety — were kicking in. Even so, I knew deep down it was going to be a day to remember.
My alarm goes off. I barely got any sleep the night before because I couldn’t stop thinking about all the things that could go wrong.
Ben is already up loading our camera bags in the car but I need to get some coffee before getting on the boat. I step outside our room and am hit with the cold. It’s an ominous morning with the sound of the waves crashing into the jetty nearby.
We’re on the boat ready to go with Captain Justin Schneider. Everyone on the boat knows there is no room for mistakes on a day like this and all we can think about is making it back safely.
The biggest waves of the past decade are here. I can’t believe what I’m seeing through my drone’s camera. Avalanches of water are rolling through the third reef and nobody in the lineup can move fast enough to paddle in for these waves. I look up and somewhere on the horizon I see John Mel towing his dad Peter into one of the biggest sets I’ve ever seen in my life. The wave was so big that I had to fly my drone away from it just so the wind wouldn’t force it to crash.
This is the moment that I’ve been waiting for. Peter Mel is cruising through an unthinkable wave with such style and confidence.
I’m grateful, and at the same time lucky, to be able to experience the day firsthand – at the same time grateful everybody makes it back safe. Maverick’s has taught me a lot these past few years, mainly that it’s not a place to test the waters. I’ve seen big wave guns broken into pieces, I’ve seen surfers get out of the water bloodied, and I’ve seen sharks patrolling the area while it all happens. It’s all given me even greater respect for the ocean as well as the community of rescue personnel, the videographers and photographers, and of course, the surfers who commit themselves to Maverick’s — the legends who, like Peter Mel, constantly remind us there are no limitations through hard work and the pursuit of one’s dreams.
The All-Time series showcases images that stop us in our tracks, from sessions we’d all like to have experienced. Only on rare occasions do nature’s infinite variables align. It’s even more unusual that photos capture the essence of that moment. If you’re sitting on an image (or two) from surf or snow that you think fits the description above and you’d like to be featured, shoot your photo with a few sentences about the day to firstname.lastname@example.org