Date: December 19, 1994
Place: Maverick’s, Half Moon Bay, California
The Moment: Sixteen-year-old Jay Moriarity drops 35 feet from the lip of a Maverick’s behemoth, lands the cover of Surfer magazine, and, establishes himself as a fixture of big-wave surfing and asserts Maverick’s authority in the process.
“That’s one of the most important things in life, is just… really appreciating it because, you know, we only get to do this once and it’s not for a long time — so enjoy it.” – Jay Moriarity
Jay Moriarity epitomized the concept of stoke. From amped teenager buoying Santa Cruz lineups to beloved waterman circling the globe, his sheer love for the ocean managed to dwarf the massive swells he chased. And no place put a bigger smile on his face than what one might consider his home break: Maverick’s.
Teahupo’o, Jaws, and the heaviest waves the world over send the most experienced surfers off the lip and plunging into the depths, but very few (if any) wipeouts register as massive and ultimately disruptive to the world of surfing as Jay Moriarty’s “Iron Cross” wipeout at Maverick’s.
Jay was already regarded as a good surfer — even a great surfer — in his early teens. His father initially introduced him to surfing at the age of nine, and he quickly began winning a number of junior competitions. But through mentorship with local legend Rick “Frosty” Hesson that he took his skill and passion to the next level – a level that had him deemed ready (well, as ready as anyone ever is) to join the small group of Californians who had become regulars at Maverick’s. And as initiations go, this was one he and nearly everybody else in the surf community would never forget.
Barely into the takeoff zone, he saw what he wanted and swung around, paddling for his first wave. Jay caught it a little too late, and soon found himself teetering on the lip, staring down at absolutely nothing below him. Falling 35 feet to the surface, he was instantaneously engulfed. Arriving at the sea floor, he quickly oriented himself and shoved up from the bottom. He would come up right as a second wave crashed down. Avoiding a hold-down, he finally made his way towards less-dangerous whitewater. And thus Jay Moriarity was initiated at Maverick’s.
Photographer Bob Barbour captured the moment, and it became arguably the most spectacular wipeout ever caught on film – later appearing in The New York Times and on the cover of SURFER Magazine. Another image showed Jay with outstretched arms, lending the wipeout an iconic name: the “Iron Cross.” And while it wasn’t an acknowledgment for the biggest barrel or wave or best ride, it put him and Maverick’s prominently and permanently on the map. It affirmed for many of the old timers at Maverick’s that wipeouts like that were survivable, and to see a sixteen-year0old survive a wipeout that horrific encouraged Jay’s cohort to push their limits. In the same spirit that Jay rebounded from his Maverick’s beating, Moriarity seized opportunities presented to him by his newfound ambassador status to spread good will wherever his travels took him.
Unfortunately, the same issue of SURFER would also carry the obituary for Hawaiian big wave surfer Mark Foo, who had flown from the islands and would drown only four days after Jay’s wipeout. In 2001, Moriarity had a diving accident in the Maldives, also dying young and in his prime. But both his and Foo’s aspirations and commitments to conquering the heaviest waves have influenced a generation of big wave pioneers who have, in turn, given the sport of big wave surfing the gravitas it maintains today.