Week of January 22, 2021

Riding into the weekend like Peter Mel. Photo: Frank Quirarte

A Ride Three Decades in the Making  

The video speaks for itself. Peter Mel, a local surfing legend caught not one, but two, all-time waves at Mavericks earlier this month. Due to a monster jet stream thousands of miles out in the Pacific pointed right at Half Moon Bay, plus other perfect weather variables, Mavericks has been going off this season (perhaps fittingly, when no official contest exists anymore), and Mel did this: 

This video is fascinating from beginning to end. First of all, it’s important to note that Mel, 51, paddled into that wave. This was not a tow-in situation. Second, as fellow surfer Steve Dwyer points out – the technical know-how, the luck, and the monster guts required to ride something like that might’ve only been achievable by an old guy working for that wave at that break for decades. 

“Something Pete’s been searching three decades to accomplish. It’s a matter of ‘backdooring’ that bowl (the standard takeoff area), taking off behind the peak, and he’s been pushing those boundaries since the late ’90s. This wave was super high-risk. He had to navigate four ledges on the face, and if he falls on that last one, he’s in for the beating of his life. People watching from the lineup would be like, ‘Uh-oh, he could die.’

“Even making it down into the flats doesn’t guarantee the barrel isn’t going to clamshell on him,” Dwyer said, “but it stayed open, and he made history. That comes from 30 years of studying that lineup, seeing the opportunity, then having the king-size balls to go.”

And that guy on the jet-ski when Mel finishes his ride—that’s his 21 year-old son, John. Part of why the older Mel is out there is because it’s so much fun to surf with his boy. It’s a family thing. Mel’s dad started a surf shop in Santa Cruz in 1969 (still in operation today). 

After the ride, there’s a moment when Mel has his arms folded, and he’s got his head bowed a bit. Paired with the Jordan-esque shrug earlier, it looks like he’s honestly wondering what else he could possibly ride in his life. He caught his ultimate wave. 

“It was the wave I’ve been trying to get my whole career,” Mel said. “And then I’m thinking, now what?”. 

What followed a couple days later was another beast. Perhaps the biggest ever at Mavericks. It was simply too big to paddle into anything, so Mel worked with John to tow him into what would become the wave pictured at the top of the post.  

A great story, and it’s so cool that it’s a local guy that made this history. By all accounts from fellow surfers, Mel deserved it. – PAL 

Source: In Mavericks’ Dream Surf Season, 51-Year-Old Peter Mel Making Big-Wave History”, Bruce Jenkins, SF Chronicle (01/16/21)


One for Them: Nepalese Team Completes Historic Winter Summit of K2 

Here’s a very cool mountaineering story about, as Patrick Redford describes it, a “stunning achievement” by those who have been the unsung heroes in most every other great summit. 

Earlier this month, a group of Nepalese climbers (most of them Sherpa), made the first winter summit of K2, which looks like this:

Photo credit: Red Bull Sports

At least to my amateur brain, I think of Everest, and then the rest of the mountains. I knew of K2 because I watched the 1991 movie in my brother’s freshman dorm, and then – later – heard about it a bit more. I knew it was dangerous, but not to the tune of a 25% death rate of all who try to summit. More people have been in space than at the top of K2. 

So there’s the extreme danger of it, but also the history of Sherpa serving as a silent partner in so many of the historical climbs. It only took a pandemic for the unknowns to have a summit like this in service of their ambition.

Per Redford: 

Because of COVID, there isn’t going to be a big spring climbing season in Nepal, which freed up the Sherpa climbers to besiege history (“In 2020, we have earned not even a penny because of Covid-19,” Mingma wrote.) The 10-man team is really a fusion of two teams, one led by Purja and one led by Mingma. Purja is a former Nepalese and British special forces soldier, and he broke into the alpinism scene last year when he climbed all 14 of the world’s 8,000-meter peaks in a little over six months, shattering the previous record by seven years. Mingma is a veteran guide who has summited Everest five times and notched all 14 of the 8000ers before his 30th birthday. The two expeditions joined forces on New Year’s Eve while setting lines above 23,000 feet to K2’s Camp III. They may be alone in the history books, but were far from alone on K2. Over 60 people were in the process of attempting the first winter summit this year, including a 49-person team which included 27 Sherpa in support.

Read the full story to get more details on how they did it and more background on the history of Sherpa making it possible for foreigners to stand on the tops of mountains. – PAL 

Source:K2 Grudgingly Allows Its First Winter Summit”, Patrick Redford, Defector (01/19/21)

TOB: Loved this story. The anonymous Sherpa thing has long bugged me. It’s great to see this amazing people get its due.


Monsters of 2020: The People Who Gutted Minor League Baseball

In nearly 7 years of writing this weekly blog, we have almost never used the headline of the story we are featuring as our own headline. We like to add our own twist. But in this case the headline was so *chef’s kiss* that I had to leave it untouched. Because it tells the entire story of how MLB ruined minor league baseball this offseason. 

As a baseball fan, it doesn’t get much better than minor league baseball. I have been to more MLB games than I can count, including playoff wins and playoff series clinchers. But some of the most memorable games I’ve ever been to were minor league baseball games. I’m not blowing smoke here – I’m not saying it was the best baseball, or the most exciting. But it’s baseball, and for very cheap you can sit relatively close, and that is really memorable. As Tim Murphy puts it:

At the lowest levels of the minors, a baseball game feels astonishingly intimate. Your grasp of what is happening—stripped of the histories and stakes that shape a big league matchup—feels smaller, but your sense of the people playing it is overloaded. You can sit along the third-base line, feet up on the dividing wall, and hear everything: the ambient noise of warmups; teenagers from Georgia and the Dominican trying out each others’ slang; the exultation and frustration. The veil of mystique that separates performers from fans often slips, if it’s there at all. I’ve seen players carry on conversations for innings at a time with total strangers.

This is so true. In 2018, we found ourselves at a Stockton Ports (the Oakland A’s A-ball team) game on a random summer weeknight after our Lair of the Bear vacation got cut short due to smoke from nearby wildfires. We paid less than $10 per person to sit in the first row directly behind the home dugout. A player signed and gave a ball to my son before the game started. And as I watched, I wondered if any of these guys would be future stars. 

And that is my favorite part of a minor league game: the chance to dream on a dream. Every guy playing in that game hopes to one day play in the bigs, and you get to sit and watch a baseball game and wonder which of those guys is in fact a future star. I had no idea at the time, but that Ports team had future MLB star Matt Chapman, and the A’s next ace, Jesus Luzardo. 

So, you may be thinking of that headline and wondering: wait, who gutted minor league baseball? Why? And how? Very good questions. 

The answer to the first question is Big Business. “Moneyball” has become a convenient catch-all term for teams trying to find and exploit market inefficiencies. And if you are a reader of this blog you know I love Moneyball. But it has its downsides, and the darkest of that is those “business” people who have been tasked with running baseball teams like an investment firm would – cutting the fat, treating baseball strictly as a business and not an entertainment venture. Those people saw a problem with minor league baseball – to them, the fact I got first row tickets to that Ports game for $10 is a problem. Minor league baseball makes better baseball players, but it doesn’t make money. Again, Murphy, and here’s the why and the how:

Paying lots of people to play baseball was a problem, in developmental and financial terms, to be solved by paying substantially fewer people to play less baseball, in substantially fewer places. It’s a testament to the almost religious levels of self-absorption among Major League owners and executives that they didn’t think (or perhaps just did not care) about just how awful it sounds to tell people, publicly, that baseball games are a wasteful byproduct of professional baseball, as opposed to the entire point of professional baseball.

Even as other sports produce better highlights or cooler players, baseball’s great asset is that it’s there. A game is a nice place to be, with friends or family, reasonably close to where you live. It’s a beer garden and a playground, a Hinge date, a happy hour, a place to go when you’re on the road and you don’t want to be alone. One turn-of-the-century Masshole called his saloon “Third Base,” because it was the last place you stop on your way home. The jargon’s changed but the spirit’s the same: It’s a kind of Third Place. Most people who go to these games will not particularly care if a pitcher throws 90 miles per hour instead of 93. They might not even be able to tell you what happened on the field at all. Getting rid of the ubiquity that’s sustained its popularity for 150 years gets sold as streamlining. It’s really just strip-mining.

..

I find this crushing, as a baseball fan, but it’s not just a baseball story. By this point in the 21st century, you should know enough to run full speed away from people who talk about optimization—people who take over beloved institutions with little appreciation for what those institutions actually do, who talk about getting better by getting leaner, about rooting out inefficiencies and pivoting into a new “space.” These people buy newspapers and gut them. They buy your company and make you build a stage for the announcement where they lay you off. They take over the post office and, well, you know. As the pandemic blew up the global economy, those trends were only exacerbated. Governments might let crises go to waste but big businesses don’t. They use these moments to accelerate consolidation and remake industries. Most of America’s largest companies laid off employees during the pandemic even as they turned a profit.

And so it is with minor league baseball, starting this season. 40 teams have been cut. Others have been threatened that if they don’t upgrade their facilities, they are next. And, boy, does that all suck. -TOB

Source: Monsters of 2020: The People Who Gutted Minor League Baseball,Tim Murphy, Mother Jones (12/28/2020)

PAL: An extremely well-written piece. So friggin’ well done.


Video of the Week

Ignore the sappy tweet message and watch Brees’ daughter just destroying her brother like a pro wrestling villain.


Tweet of the Week


Song of the Week: Buena Vista Social Club – “Chan Chan”

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I tried to talk to Toby and be his friend, but that is like trying to be friends with an evil snail. 

– M.G.S.