Matt Meola On Why He Doesn't Surf Jaws Anymore, Staying Relevant, Hunting, Safety Surfing And More
The Stab Interview.
Maui surfers are an interesting breed. They're comfortable in heavy winds, all rocking a bit of country music flavor. Other islands in the archipelago may have better surf, but the Valley Isle still manages to turn out world class talent at an abnormal rate.
Matt Meola has been blowing minds for what feels like forever. Inventing moves, risking his body, using air winds to soar to ridiculous heights. And there was that time he came out of nowhere and earned $100k for winning Taylor Steele’s Innersection.
I recently spent a gorgeous Hawaiian Saturday talking with Matt about hunting, fishing, pet deer, airshow formats, safety surfing, injuries and the decisions to hang up his big wave spurs.
Let’s dive in.
Stab: You just got back from France recently, right?
Matt Meola: Yeah. Probably two-three weeks ago.
How that go for you? I saw you goose-egged it in your heat [Red Bull Airborne].
It was a trippy event. Because all I did was eat shit, but I got a lot of press for it. So I guess it worked out well for me.
But, yeah, I was just eatin' shit.
"I don't think I could ever go surfing and hold back."
I wouldn't say you were eating shit. I'd say you were going balls to the fucking wall.
I know that Stab High does the same thing, not giving a score unless it's a make, but I feel like the ocean is different. Because a pool doesn't give you some massive end section to heave yourself at. Are you bummed about not getting a score? It seems like, if they're going to be scoring the contest that way, it incentivizes safety surfing.
I'm not bummed about not getting a score, at all. I don't feel like I should have got a score. But I feel like the format of the contests is wrong.
The whole thing- it's an airshow, right? People want to see everyone going for the biggest moves possible and pushing the envelope. But when you have to make it through a round... no one's gonna really do that. So many people are going to play it safe just to get into the final.
The way the format should be is everybody surfs the same exact amount of time, you know, two or three times, and the best air at the end of the day wins. It should be like that because, if it was based on just one huge air, everybody's gonna be pushing the envelope and going for their biggest shit ever.
They had said, “Yeah, but then there's no drama.” But I think I proved that wrong because just me eating shit caused a lot more excitement and drama than someone not making a heat.
If people want to watch people making heats, that's why the whole main event's there. I just think it's the wrong format for what they're trying to do and it causes the surfers to safety surf. I've never done contests because I hate that. I hate that you have to hold back to get a score. So when these events started happening I told myself I'll just surf how I do in a freesurf and stay true to myself. If it works out for me, that's great. But if it doesn't, at least I don't have that on my chest, that I safety surfed to make it.
They should consider changing the format.
I agree. There's nothing better than watching people go for broke and risk themselves. Like, I don't know how you didn't blow apart every joint you have on that one thick left.
My back's a little tweaked.
You're thirty now. Are you started to feel it yet? Getting a little dinged up?
I'm so beat up. My back is so tweaked and my knees... just the other day I did this air and I came down on my knee and my back popped. It was gnarly.
But I'm still going. [laughs] I feel like I'm really beat up but my surfing is better than it's ever been.
It all starts catching up with you in your mid-thirties. With that in mind, have you started thinking about what's next?
I don't know. I'm so addicted to it. I don't think I could ever go surfing and hold back. The whole reason I surf is to get that feeling of doing something better than I've ever done before. That's really what I'm addicted to. And to go out there and not go for that, and just cruise, I feel like it would be boring. I don't think I have it in me to get a section and hold back.
Basically, my body's gotta stop working and make it impossible for me to try. Otherwise I'm gonna keep going.
Have you thought of trying to get on the Shane Dorian program and pick up some hunting sponsors? There's way more money in hunting and fishing than surfing.
Yeah, actually. Hunting and fishing are my passions, you know? Obviously surfing is too. But, to be honest, if you told me I could go do a surf trip or go on an elk hunting trip I'd choose the elk hunting trip every time.
I'm really interested in trying to promote myself as more of an outdoorsman than just a surfer. That's definitely in the back of my mind, trying to take that route.
I've had this plan for a show for a long time that I want to do called Catch It and Cook It which I'm hoping to start working on this next year. Basically a hunting/fishing show where the first half of it is all about the adventure and how you catch your food and the second half is all about cooking it.
I have some super close connections with some pretty well known chefs through my mom. So I could involve them on the cooking side and I think it would be a pretty cool dynamic. And would appeal to so much more than just a surfer.
"I really loved surfing big waves but it got really chaotic. And then I just started weighing it out and being like, “What am I actually known for?” And that's my air surfing. The big wave thing was more of a passion and, I don't know... I just kinda feel like I grew out of it."
You've got a pet deer. How'd that come about?
Me and my buddies were out bow hunting and one of my buddies called me on the phone, like, “Holy shit! I've got a pet deer.”
He walked way up the hill to where I was and he has the little baby deer in his backpack. Then he shows me the video.
He had shot a doe and when he got to it the belly was moving. He did a c-section on it and the thing survived, somehow. He pumped on its chest and held it upside down and let all the mucus drain out and cut the umbilical cord.
So we have this tiny deer and we're like, “What the fuck are we gonna do with it?”
He couldn't take it because he's got two kids and a family and nowhere to put it. We were gonna bring it to this animal shelter place but my sister and mom were like, “No, bring it home. Bring it home.”
So we brought it home and we raised it. It was a full time job. It was crazy. She slept in our bed for the first four months.
What do you feed a baby deer? Deer milk? Where do you get deer milk?
The first thing we did was rush to the store and get horse colostrum. Because they have to have to colostrum within the first twenty four hours. I guess it really doesn't matter what type it is, so long as they get some. And then we just got goat milk and bottle fed her until she was big enough to start eating grass and fruit and other stuff.
How is a deer as a pet? What are they like when they're accustomed to humans and, more or less, tame?
They're awesome. They're really mellow, gentle, creatures. They're not loud, like a dog.
She's really good with people. She used to live in the house, when she was younger, but we ended up fencing in the whole yard because she was just shitting all over the place. We weren't able to potty train her.
But they're really cool, gentle, creatures. They like to be petted when they want to be. And they just kinda graze in the yard all day. I bring her out a fruit salad every morning. She loves bananas and apples and carrots. It's really rad.
But it can be hectic because they're still very much like a wild deer. Like, shit will scare them and they have this fight or flight reaction. Something sets them off and they panic and freak the fuck out. It's really random the shit that will get to her. Like, someone doing yard work next door, or hitting hammer on a roof, or something weird. That will set her off and she'll freak out and we'll have to go out there and cruise with her and calm her down.
That part's a little bit hectic, but other than that she's a great pet.
"I'm not gonna be the next crazy Albee Layer or Billy Kemper. I'm a goofyfooter and I just don't see myself being that guy at Jaws. I think the smarter path for me is sticking the air game."
She's an axis deer, right? And they're an invasive species over there?
They're a super gnarly invasive species. Basically, the state is like, as long as you have a hunting license, they want you to take as many as you can all year. There's no season, there's no tags. They want them dead.
They're a huge problem on the cattle ranches because they eat all the cattle feed.
And I'd say, like, ninety percent of the females are pregnant. It's crazy. So they're reproducing at this rapid rate and it's a problem.
But I love them. More than half the time I hunt I don't shoot anything. A lot of the time I'm just out there watching them. I love being in their environment and seeing what they do. They're really cool creatures and I care about them. I want them to live a happy, healthy life. I just think it's more humane for an animal to live a wild, normal life and then drop dead one day than be something that grows up in a cage and is force fed and shot up with who-knows-what and just lives in a little pen and gets slaughtered.
I'd rather pick off a wild animal once in a while than support that.
You've backed off the big wave thing, right? Can you tell me why?
Yeah, I haven't been doing it that much at all. I've had a few injuries that kept me out of the water for long periods of time. I hurt my back, my knee... at one point I didn't surf for almost a year and a half.
I really loved surfing the big waves but it got really chaotic. And then I just started weighing it out and being like, “What am I actually known for?” And that's my air surfing. The big wave thing was more of a passion and, I don't know... I just kinda feel like I grew out of it. I don't feel like it's worth getting hurt. The risk versus reward isn't there for me, anymore.
"I'm really interested in trying to promote myself as more of an outdoorsman than just a surfer."
Was there a moment that was the final straw? Like, “Alright, that's it. That's the last one?”
I had a super bad wipe out one year. But I've surfed it [Jaws] a couple times since then. Obviously that heavy wipeout freaked me out a bit and I was definitely rattled. But the main thing was my body. When I hurt my back and was out of the water I was just like, “I don't want that to happen again.” And I know that, if I eat shit on a huge wave like that, the chances of me tweaking it again are really high.
That was kinda it for me. I don't want to ever have to be out of the water that long again and I'm not, like, gonna be the next crazy Albee Layer or Billy Kemper. I'm a goofy footer and I just don't see myself being that guy at Jaws.
I think the smarter path for me is sticking the air game.
Back injuries are pretty much the worst because you can't lay off it in anything. It affects every single part of your life. Even just walking to the mailbox.
Oh, yeah. I think that, once you've hurt your back pretty bad, I feel like it never goes back to normal again. Ever since I hurt it the first time I always have to pay attention to it. It's a nightmare. You're always dealing with it.
At this point you've had a long, and successful career as a freesurfer. How do you pull that off? What really goes into that?
For me it's always been about trying to stay at the forefront of trying to do a new, or the next best, maneuver. And I feel like, if I can do one or two of those a year, it keeps me in the game.
That's always kind of my plan. Just putting edits out that people watch and go, “Oh, he's doing new stuff. Stuff that's never been done before.”
Every time I'm surfing I'm trying to think, “What can I do here that will set me apart from everyone else?”
I feel like, if I can keep my name up there in that mix of, you know, the top five guys that are doing new tricks, it will just keep going.
I love the feeling of doing something that either hasn't been done before, or bigger than it's been done before... Landing a move like that is really what I'm addicted to. So every time I'm out I'm trying to figure out how I can do that. Get that feeling again.