Meistrell’s Redondo Breakwater bomb earns him South Bay Boardriders Big Wave Challenge Award
by Kevin Cody
Late last January, during what had been a disappointing winter for local surfers, a promising purple blob appeared in the North Pacific on the NOAA weather map. Tracey Meistrell watched the blob, which represents hurricane force winds, for a week, as it pushed a triple overhead swell down the coast. When the swell hit the South Bay on Monday, January 23, its size lived up to its promise. Unfortunately, it was accompanied by equally powerful, onshore winds. The big waves were unrideable.
The following day, the swell continued to build and the wind switched off shore. The South Bay Boardriders Club Big Wave Challenge, which was in danger of being cancelled, was on. The contest period is November 1 through March 31. Entries photos must show riders on triple-overhead waves or larger.
Meistrell’s favorite break is the Redondo Breakwater, one of just three or four South Bay breaks that are rideable when the surf is big
North swells bounce off the north facing Breakwater, forming a distinct, left breaking peak.
“No other spot in the South Bay does that,” Meistrell said. “When you get in the sweet spot, at the top of the peak, you can drop in straight, which gives you time to set up. Then you get slingshotted off the bottom. At beach breaks like the Redondo Avenues and Burnout, you need to take off at an angle and race down the line.”
Meistrell, 36, began surfing when he was 12, with his Parras Middle School friends at 2nd Street in Hermosa, a block north of the Breakwater.
“We were called the ‘Trashcan Kids.’ We’d buy 80 cent, sauce sandwiches at Mickey’s Deli and eat them in a fort we made with the trashcans and our towels and surfboards,” Meistrell said.
He was introduced to winter surf at the Breakwater when he was 16 by his dad Ronnie and uncles Robbie, Randy and Billy. His dad and uncles had been introduced to the Breakwater by their dads Bob and Bill, who owned Dive N’ Surf and are credited with popularizing the neoprene wetsuit.
The 2016 Big Wave Challenge was won by Angelo Luhrsen, who was similarly introduced to the Breakwater by his dad Michael and uncles, James, Jude, and Chase. The Meistrells and Luhrsens have been generally friendly Breakwater rivals, dating back two generations.
On the second day of the, January swell Meistrell first checked the Redondo Avenues, which are more protected from the wind than Breakwater. The surf was big, but crowded. At the Breakwater, he found only a dozen surfers in the water. Among them were Tracey’s uncle Randy and cousin Matt, Angelo Luhrsen, Derek Brewer, Greg Browning, John Eggers and Matt Parker. The light crowd was explained by the wonky conditions, left over from the previous day’s wind.
To get out at the Breakwater in big surf, most surfers follow a cement walkway at the base of the breakwall to where it bends south. There, they wait for a lull, then scramble down the rocks to the water and jump in. Accidents are not uncommon. Last winter, on the day Luhrsen won the Big Wave Challenge, a surfer preparing to jump off the rocks, suffered multiple breaks and internal injuries after being knocked down by a wave. A few years ago, Parker tore his knee after catching his foot in a crevice and getting knocked down by a wave. Since then, he has paddled out from the beach. It took him several tries on the morning of the January 24 swell.
Meistrell jumped off the rocks that morning with a 6-foot-6 board, shaped by Australian Darren Handley, that he had grabbed from the rack at Dive N’ Surf.
“It was sketchy. Your timing had to be perfect,” Meistrell said.
“As soon as I paddled out I wished I had brought a bigger board,” he added. But despite being undergunned, he quickly worked his way into the rotation.
“There were a ton of big wave. Everyone was getting rides,” he said.
“Then a bomb came in. I stole it from Matt. I was sitting on the peak in front of the Chart House. He was paddling for it. But I didn’t think he was going to catch it. So I whipped in underneath him.”
Photographer Tom Kampas had been shooting since early that morning from the beach, just north of the Chart House.
“The wind started out on shore and the tide was high, creating a lot of backwash. Then, mid-morning, it cleaned up. The wind shifted offshore and the tide began to drop,” Kampas said.
Meistrell’s bomb arrived at 11:15 a.m., according to the date stamp on Kampas’ Panasonic FZ 1000.
The photo shows the offshores peeling back the lip of the 25-foot face. The goofy-footed Meistrell is turning off the bottom and glancing up. Behind him, the wave is barreling. In front of him, the wave is squared up all the way down the beach and out of the picture frame.
“The best part of that ride was the view when I looked up,” Meistrell said.
“I like to hit it off the top and throw buckets. But it was so massive, that wasn’t an option.”
Pulling into the barrel wasn’t an option either.
“It was closing out so fast I knew if I pulled in I would get annihilated. So I straightened out,” he said.
When the lip landed, he got annihilated, anyway.
“I was doing somersaults underwater all the way to the beach,” he said.
Meistrell continued surfing until mid afternoon when the wind shifted onshore and the surf began breaking off the end of the Breakwater. The King Harbor Yacht Club parking lot the breakwater protects had to be closed.
Kampas, who surfs with Meistrell’s parents, texted Meistrell the photo of his bomb that afternoon, with a note saying he was entering it in the Big Wave Challenge contest.
The photo earned Meistrell the 2017 Big Wave Challenge title, which was presented at the Boardriders awards night at the Hermosa Beach Playhouse on May 24.
Runners up were Angelo Luhrsen, photographed at the Breakwater by Charlie Scholz; Alex Gray, photographed at Burnout by Jeremy Lubben; Flavio Pirez photographed at El Porto by Lucio Gomes; Michael Charmela photographed at Burnout by Damon Brown; and Trevor LaShure photographed at the Avenues by Peter McMahon.
The Big Wave Challenge award comes with a $3,000 prize for the surfer and a $1,000 prize for the photographer. Meistrell said he plans to use his prize money for a surf trip next summer to Indonesia. Kampas, donated his prize money to Hope Chapel’s youth program and to a Brazilian youth surf program supported by South Bay surfer Wagner Deabreu.
Also presented at the May 24 awards night was the Hard Charger Award. That award went to Mira Costa freshman Billy Atkinson. A photo by his dad Jeff, taken the morning of Meistrell’s winning wave, shows the 15-year-old going backside on a bumpy, triple overhead close-out. Other nominees for the Hard Charger Award were Mira Costa senior Cody Purcell, Mira Costa sophomore Chad Parks and Redondo sophomore Nathaniel Harris. Their photos were also taken at the Breakwater on January 24, all by Nathaniel’s dad Scott.
The awards night was sponsored by the South Bay Boardriders Club, Watermans, Paul’s Photo, Dive N’ Surf, Body Glove and Easy Reader. ER
by Kevin Cody
Kevin is the publisher of Easy Reader and Beach. Share your news tips. 310 372-4611 ext. 110 or kevin[at]easyreadernews[dot]com