A lot of focus and praise recently has been heaped on our very own, home grown big wave surfer Andrew Cotton, and rightly so. With big wave surfing in the news again this week with the Mavericks Invertational, I would like to use this space to look at another big wave surfer who shot to fame two decades ago. Like Cotty he fearlessly pushed the boundaries of what was thought possible at the time.
Twenty years ago this year, back in 1994, age just 16, Californian Jay Moriarity paddled out on a huge day at Mavericks. He had prepared for this day for years with intense mental and physical training from his mentor Frosty Hesson. On his first wave Jay took, to this day, one of the heaviest, most gut wrenching wipeouts ever witnessed. The truly amazing thing is, having just survived a wipeout and hold-down that would have killed many a less prepared surfer, Jay proceeded to grab his spare board, paddle back out, successfully catch eight waves in what turned out to be a five hour session. A shot of the wipeout made the cover of Surfer Magazine the following month. Jay became a regular in the lineup at Mavericks in the years after but from that remarkable day, the legend of Jay Moriarity was born.
Some of you reading this may remember the O’neill Surf Academy. This was a team of professional surfers put together for a European tour, with the aim of teaching and introducing kids to surfing. The team at that time was made up largely of young pro surfers from Santa Cruz California, the home of O’neill. Croyde was one of the stops on the tour and Jay was on the team. For two summers, those of us that were lucky enough to live and work in Croyde at the time, spent many evenings in Jay’s company. (I was working at the Thatch where the team were staying). Lock-ins were a nightly occurrence and while the other young pros on the tour were struggling to get to grips with British strength beer, Jay was always a little more reserved, always smiling, positive and pleased to see you, but with absolutely nothing to prove.
Just one week before the team were due to return to Croyde for the 2001 tour, news came through that Jay had died in a free diving accident in the Maldives. It sent a shockwave through the surfing world. The few people in North Devon that had got to know him joined thousands around the world in feeling a genuine grief for this talented, determined young surfer whose attitude, positivity and personality had touched the lives of so many. Jay died on 15th June 2001, the day before his 23rd birthday.
In 2012 Jay’s life was enough of an inspiration for Hollywood to release a film of his life; ‘Chasing Mavericks’ starring Jonny Weston as Jay and Gerard Butler as Frosty Hesson.