Student of the Wave – Live Like Jay

Photos by Frank Quirarte, Doug Acton, Don Montgomery, Mike Kitahara and Vern Fisher

Special Thanks to Surfer Magazine

December 19, 1994 – The Wipeout. The sets at Maverick’s are pushing twenty feet. Jay Moriarity heads straight to the peak, paddles for a wave, gets to his feet. The offshore winds don’t allow him to penetrate the wave face, he gets hung up in the lip and then freefalls 30-40 feet down the face en route to the ocean floor. As the wave detonates, he disappears from sight. Twelve seconds pass–he has not surfaced. Twenty seconds–still no signs of life. His fall has all the makings of a real tragedy, but Jay does not panic–two years of training are about to pay off–he will remain calm, he will rise to the top, he will appear on the cover of Surfer magazine, he will gain infamy, but most importantly, he will survive.

Jay Moriarity's iconic Mavericks drop on Surfer's May 1995 cover

It was one of the worst wipeouts ever witnessed, but miraculously, Jay surfaced unscathed. In fact, in the spirit of a true waterman, he valiantly paddled back out, spent five more hours in the chilly 50-degree water, and caught an additional eight waves. Anyone who has seen video footage of the wipeout wonders how a sixteen-year-old kid could survive such punishment. For Jay, the answer is simple: preparation.
Jay Moriarity began preparing for Maverick’s when he was just thirteen. It was 1991, and already the stories from Half Moon Bay had been filtering down to Santa Cruz–Maverick’s was the new frontier, the ultimate big-wave thrill ride. Jay had become passionate about riding big waves, and tales of Maverick’s only fueled the fire.

Wise beyond his years, he understood that to surf big waves he would need more than just new equipment . . . he would need a whole new mindset. Determined to make his dreams of surfing Maverick’s a reality, Jay enlisted the help of a local waterman, Rick “Frosty” Hesson, 42, and together they embarked on a two-year apprenticeship that would prepare Jay for Northern California’s most treacherous wave.
Jay was not the first surfer to benefit from Frosty’s tutelage–The University of Frosty boasts a diverse alumnus, most notably Santa Cruz longboarder Robert “Wingnut” Weaver.

Frosty’s approach is unorthodox–to prepare for big waves Jay would not need a surfboard and wetsuit, but rather a pen and paper. Before paddling out at Maverick’s, Jay would need to complete 55 essays on the subject of surfing, each paper two pages minimum, and extensive revisions would follow lengthy two-hour discussions. These discussions were part of a 500-hour lesson plan designed to strengthen Jay’s analytical skills and intensify his focus. Occasionally, the subject matter would warrant a fieldtrip to the beach, but more often school was held in the mobile classroom, a.k.a. the front seat of Frosty’s van.

In the course of his two-year apprenticeship, surely there were times when Jay wondered if he would ever get to Maverick’s. Still, he continued with the rigorous conditioning program that Frosty had developed–swimming, biking, running, and volleyball. With Frosty’s guidance, Jay was following in the footsteps of countless watermen who had come before him, and he knew that in time his day would come.

photo by Frank Quirarte©

In the winter of ’92-’93, Frosty announced that graduation day had arrived. Unfortunately, Mother Nature did not cooperate; the winter swells were small, and graduation ceremonies were postponed. Despite the disappointing conditions, Frosty felt it was time to make the trip up to Maverick’s. Their first visit was on a minus tide day–they paddled-out, studied the reef, the lineups, and visualized both the positive and negative scenarios that the break could offer. Frosty stressed the importance of developing contingency plans for survival–by planning for the inevitable two-wave hold-down Jay would avoid the paralyzing panic that could cost him his life.

April of 1994, Graduation Day – The moment of truth had arrived. Jay paddled-out into fifteen to eighteen-foot Maverick’s. Frosty, suffering from a broken rib, watched from the channel. When Jay took off on his first wave it was hard to say who was more elated, the teacher or the pupil. The thrill was worth every essay, every lecture, and every wind sprint he had endured.

Jay Moriarity's first wave at Mavericks. photo by Doug Acton/Inside Mavericks©

The door to Maverick’s had been opened, and Jay was thankful for the gift. By sharing his knowledge, Frosty had given Jay tools that would not only elevate his surfing, but eight months later, would save his life. The apprenticeship has ended, but the friendship, and the passion for surfing Maverick’s, continues.

Jay drops in a bomb! photo by Vern Fisher

As testament to the caliber of surfing exhibited by both men, contest director Jeff Clark has invited both Frosty and Jay to compete in this year’s Quiksilver/Men Who Ride Mountains event. According to Clark, Frosty, now 50, is surfing as well as ever, and Jay, a veteran at 21, continues to be a Maverick’s standout. On contest day, twenty competitors will be vying for a place in Maverick’s history–Frosty and Jay have already made their mark.

Jay and Frosty going over strategy - Men Who Ride Mountains - photo by Doug Acton/Inside Mavericks©

From the Mavsurfer archives– Circa 1994

This entry was posted in Mavericks Photography, Mavsurfer. Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.