Jay Moriarity: he surfed Mavericks for the first time when he was only 15

Jay Moriarity is the first surfing legend of the 21st century. Unfortunately, his life was abruptly cut short at 22, but his legacy will inspire many generations to come.

James Michael Moriarity was born on June 16, 1978, in Augusta, Georgia.

His parents - Doug and Christy - moved to Santa Cruz, California, when Jay was still a baby. The grom started riding his first waves, aged 9, at Sewer Peak.

Jay quickly mastered the art of surfing in all its forms and variations.

He became a prolific longboard, a savvy shortboard specialist, but also a strong paddler and swimmer.

As a teenager, the blue-eyed surfer developed an obsession with big waves and a surf break in particular - Mavericks, a cold water peak located off the coast of Pillar Point in Half Moon Bay.

Jay Moriarity: his smile was infectious | Photo: Buzz Pictures/Alamy

"I remember overhearing a conversation between Frosty and Terry Simms," explained Jay Moriarity.

"They were talking about big waves, and Frosty was talking about Mavericks. From that day forward, I just pretty much went berserk about it."

"I was always trying to figure out where it was. Every day, that's all I could talk about, and I hadn't even surfed the place or seen it."

"Frosty" Hesson: A Mentor and Friend

After meeting his mentor, Rick "Frosty" Hesson, Jay Moriarity embarked on a physical, mental, and spiritual journey of training that would prepare him for the ultimate surfing challenge.

He was only 13; Hesson was 45.

The two-year training program designed by Rick was tough. It included, for example, writing 55 essays, i.e., a total of 330 pages, on various topics.

Moriarity also learned the art of visualization, swam hundreds of miles, and paddled hundreds of hours in the open ocean at Monterey Bay.

"Frosty" Hesson wanted to make sure Jay was doing everything he could to challenge a wave like Mavericks successfully.

The teenager also ran, rode his bike, sailed, fished, and played beach volleyball.

On April 1, 1994, Hesson and Moriarity wrote their history together.

At the age of 15, having studied and analyzed Mavericks from all possible perspectives, Jay made his debut in the big wave surfing arena.

His first attempt at Mavericks was a big wave measured between 15 and 18 feet.

"It felt like I have climbed Mount Everest or won a gold medal at the Olympics," Jay Moriarity stated at the time.

"You really can't explain it. The two years before that, I'd been working up to it, and it was kind of a dream come true. You just want to scream. It's the best feeling ever."

Jay Moriarity: Mavericks was his dream wave | Photo: Frank Quirarte

But his flashiest moment at Mavericks would only come a few eight months later, a few days before Christmas.

On December 19, 1994, Jay woke up early, loaded his mother's pickup with two 10-foot surfboards, and took off for Mavericks.

When he arrived, he saw photographers and fellow wave riders. It was big out there.

The wind was blowing strong, and Moriarity knew that he had to stay low to get through it. Jay paddled out and picked the one.

However, as he was trying to drop into the abyss, he got caught in the lip by the offshore wind and free-fell 40 feet into the flats.

That unforgettable Mavericks moment, nicknamed "The Iron Cross," was captured by photographer Bob Barbour.

The spectacular wipeout ended up making the cover of the May 1995 issue of Surfer magazine.

Jay Moriarity: 'The Iron Cross' was featured in the May 1995 issue of Surfer magazine

Jay remained true to himself despite all the attention he got from the media and the surfing fans. He kept surfing and spreading the stoke through the O'Neill Surf Academy.

"It's an art, by the way, you can express yourself on a wave," Jay Moriarity once said of surfing.

It's a sport because you can compete with it, and it's spiritual because it's just you and Mother Nature. For me, it's very spiritual."

Jay married his long-time girlfriend, Kim, in 2000. She was two years older and had been with him since the mentoring days with "Frosty" Hesson.

The Last Ride

The young charger surfed his last wave at Mavericks on January 19, 2001.

And it was one of his best rides, too - a deep, dangerous ride on a monstrous tube witnessed by Mavericks pioneer Jeff Clark and Mike Gerhardt.

Frosty Hesson, Jay Moriarity, and the girls: smile, you've ridden Mavericks

The Santa Cruz daredevil was also ready to become a professional firefighter.

He had passed his EMT Entrance Examination at Cabrillo College, and his life was just starting.

But the turn of the century brought a disaster for those who loved surfing and admired Jay.

Moriarity died on June 15, 2001, one day before turning 23.

He was free diving in the Indian Ocean, off the coast of the island Lohifushi in the warm waters of the Maldives, training his breath-hold for the magical wave that got him into big wave surfing.

No one knows exactly what happened, but the tragic news spread relatively fast in the early Internet days.

California surfers were shocked; Jay's friends and family couldn't believe what they were hearing and reading.

Live Like Jay: celebrating the life of Jay Moriarity

Jay Moriarity was no longer physically with us. The ashes of the North California hero and legend were scattered at Pleasure Point and Mavericks.

Santa Cruz never recovered from the loss of Jay, but the local surfers made sure his life was an example to everyone and wrote "Live Like Jay" on a wall.

What does it mean? Be true to yourself.

You can find more about Jay Moriarity's life in the books "Making Mavericks" and "Surfing Mavericks: The Unofficial Biography of Jay Moriarity" and in the movie "Chasing Mavericks."

For an in-depth look at the iconic Northern California big wave break, get "Inside Maverick's: Portrait of a Monster Wave."

Words by Luís MP | Founder of SurferToday.com

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