PETER DAVI (far left) attempts to paddle into a wave by hand while most surfers in the water at Ghost Tree.
Credit: Alamy

At Ghost Tree, Reyes handed Davi the rope and towed him off Sorensen's ski onto a wave; no monster, but plenty dangerous on a paddleboard with no foot straps. The big man played it safe, riding near the top beside Reyes. Ruffo was sure Davi would be trapped between the whitewater and rocks, but Davi somehow raced around the corner. "Everything was cool," Ruffo says.

"We laughed about it." 

Davi told Ruffo he was going to paddle back to Stillwater Cove, a 15-minute arm-powered journey. Ruffo offered him a ride, but Davi refused. "He was almost mad at us for suggesting it," Ruffo says. 

What happened next is unclear, but a friend of Sorensen's claims he saw Davi catch a wave near the end of Pescadero Point, only to wipe out, snapping his leash. "He knew what to do," says Sorensen. "He was so big he could float just sitting in his buoyant wetsuit." 

But Stillwater Cove is full of shelf rocks, with a particularly bad one in the middle. As Davi was drifting toward it, Sorensen's friend saw him rise on a swell. Then a sheriff ordered spectators off private land on the Point. That was the last time anyone saw Davi alive.

Fed up with the crowds, Ruffo and Reyes called it a day. "Every time a set came, five teams would go for the same wave," Ruffo says. Rounding the last rocks 200 yards from Stillwater Pier, Ruffo saw something bob up in the wake of another jet ski: a seal? Then he saw a body floating facedown. He thought it was a diver until he saw the snapped leash. "I wasn't ready for that moment," Ruffo says. "I'm thinking, Is that Pete? We were just confounded. At a moment like that you don't know what to do. I jammed to the pier and yelled to someone to call 911." 

Ruffo was back in less than two minutes, jumping in the water and pulling the stiff body of Peter Davi up onto his ski. Paramedics were waiting when he steamed in over the rocks and administered CPR for 20 minutes, but to no avail. Peter Davi was declared dead at 1:28 pm. An autopsy revealed he drowned after blunt force trauma to the head and chest. 

"I've taken a lot of shit for saying this," Don Curry says, "but the reality is that on that day, Pete just wasn't in the shape you need to be to go out there and paddle for waves. I'm not slandering the guy; I'm just stating the truth. That's the tragedy: His death was unnecessary. Pete didn't need to go down."

Another surfer, speaking on condition of anonymity, pins the blame elsewhere: "On a day like that, you have to pay attention to people in the water, no matter what," he says. "Pete had been in the water for two hours, he lost his board, and there were huge seas and currents and rocks. There were more than 20 skis out there, with five teams resting out the back, drinking water and talking on cell phones, and all these media guys clicking away." When word spread through the water of Davi's death, some of them continued surfing. "A crew of Santa Cruz guys shut down their skis and formed a circle, but others acted like nothing had happened. That was fucking wrong."

"Peter Mel called me that morning on his way to Mavericks," says Ruffo. "He said, 'I just want to tell you to be careful today.' Pete usually tells me anything but that. I was like, What the fuck was that, dude? It was in my head all day. It's what made me go in. We all like living on the edge, but not to the point of doing things that are stupid. That's what made me mad about what Don Curry said. This wasn't stupid. Davi was out there way before this. He was a solid waterman and fisherman. There was no reason to think he was doing anything wrong."