Few jobs are so envied as that of a free-surfer, traveling the world, point break to reef break, in relentless pursuit of oceanic perfection. West Palm Beach resident Peter Mendia, professional free-surfer for Billabong, does just that, with photographers and videographers in tow. “I am just supposed to be on good waves all over the world whenever they’re happening,” says Mendia on his job. “It’s incredible; I trip out at times.”
Sponsoring the majority of the world’s free-surfers, Billabong sends its team across the globe to dance on water for surf videos and magazine cover shots. Different than most professional surfers, free-surfers do not have to compete in surf competitions; they simply surf, which suits Mendia and his style of surfing.
“My whole surfing style is based around power surfing,” he says. “In a contest, you are looking to a lot of turns throughout the wave. I am looking to go fast and hit it once or twice with a pretty powerful or explosive turn.” Which is what Mendia does in spades, taking the tops of waves off with powerful and purposeful turns, fins out.
Currently Mendia surfs for several sponsors, including the above-mentioned Billabong clothing, Von Zipper sunglasses, Zippo lighters, new surfboard sponsor, Proctor Surfboards, and surf shop Island Water Sports of Lake Worth, among others. A West Palm Beach native who still calls these shores home despite the erratic surf, Mendia talks with the envious PalmBeachIllustrated.com about his favorite surf spots—local and abroad—and the life and times of a professional free-surfer.
PBI.COM: How did you come about surfing?
MENDIA: I was playing baseball when I was eight or nine and a friend asked me if I surfed. I lied and said I did, but went out surfing with him and ended up having a blast. After about the second year of surfing, I went to a competition and did pretty well. I just loved it and went on from there.
How has the South Florida surf—or lack of—helped you grow as a surfer?
In a way, we don’t really have surf here—it is so inconsistent—but I actually think that is a good thing. Right now the Atlantic is looking bad, and when there haven’t been waves in a couple of days you kind of get the stoke, you get amped to go surf. It keeps you hungry.
I think it is almost harder to surf a bad wave than a good wave. When you are on a good wave, you’re going fast; it is doing a lot of it for you. But these bad, mushy waves keep you sharp.
Where is your local surf spot?
Locally, Reef Road is probably the best when it is on, but they have dredged that damn place so much it is a mess right now. And Lake Worth, when it is good, it is pretty much a joke it is so good. Really, [the area] from Jupiter down has the best waves—times a hundred—in Florida. We get some good lefts running down the beaches depending on where the sandbars are located.
I grew up surfing right here in Palm Beach at Charley’s Crab, right in front of the restaurant. And Clarke Beach used to be the best around when it used to have the jetty. But the big dogs have really taken a toll on surfing. They have ripped out jetties thinking they are saving beaches, but they are not.
Where is your favorite place to surf?
Internationally, an Indonesian boat trip is the biggest joke ever. You’re on a boat, hopping from island to island, and there are just perfect waves. Hawaii is always incredible but it is more crowded. My last bit was in Hawaii, I was there for little over a month, and Pipeline was going crazy. Before Hawaii, I was in mainland Mexico, Puerto Escondido, and it was really big, like 12-foot, 20- to 25-foot faces. We had Jet Ski assist so it was just awesome. I wound up breaking three boards in a day and a half; my quiver was getting real low. And Tahiti is just perfection; it has that Hawaiian power without the crowd. Those are probably my favorite places.
What are you surfing now?
I just got a new board sponsor, Proctor Surfboards out of California. This guy Proctor is really in the know and hyping it all up. All my boards seem to be a round tail to a swallowtail, from 5’10” to 6’2”, depending on the surf. Here, I usually go a tad smaller and bit wider on an epoxy board because of the extra float, and they are bit livelier.