Who is Jay Moriarity? How to “Live Like Jay”

“You just gotta appreciate everything. And that’s one of the most important things in life, is just really appreciating it, because, you know, we only get to do this once, and it’s not for a long time, so, enjoy it.” — Jay Moriarity

Just when his career was at its peak, Jay Moriarity died in a freediving accident on June 15, 2001. This left a big gaping hole in the surfing world, as he was known as one of the most passionate and talented surfers during his time. 

In this post, we’re going to celebrate the life of soul surfer, Jay Moriarity, as well as his notable achievements and the lasting impact he’s made even after his unfortunate demise. 

Jay Moriarity: The Biography

Jay Moriarity was born in Augusta, Georgia on June 16, 1978. Shortly after his birth, his family moved to Santa Cruz, California where he grew up learning how to surf

At age 9, Moriarity already began his career when he surfed the waves of Sewer Peak. He was a versatile surfer who was able to surf using both longboards and shortboards. 

Moriarity was someone who liked to explore the limits of his abilities. Unlike other riders who only focused on surfing, Moriarity didn’t confine himself to this sport. He was a world-class athlete and a thalassophile by heart. Aside from surfing, he also enjoyed other water sports such as swimming, paddling, fishing, and diving. 

A lot of people who’s crossed paths with Moriarity described him as a genuine, kind-hearted person who has a positive outlook on life. He was a humble man who always kept a smile. Among his peers, he’s known as the happy-go-lucky guy who was a friendly face in the most aggressive lineups. 

How His Surfing Career Started

Moriarity already had a promising career as a grom. When he was only 12 years old, he won the NSSA (National Scholastic Surfing Association) shortboard competition held in Pleasure Point. 

It was also during that time that Moriarity met his coach, Frosty Hesson, whom he approached and asked if he could teach him how to surf better. Overhearing Hesson talking with Terry Simms about Mavericks piqued Moriarity’s curiosity, and this ultimately started his career in big wave surfing.

It took four years of intense physical and mental training before Hesson allowed Moriarity to surf big waves. At 15 years old, he was already a regular in the heavy lineups of the Mavericks in Half Moon Bay in California. 

Throughout his career, Moriarity won multiple sportsmanship awards and sponsorship titles.  He also co-authored with Chris Gallagher in publishing ‘The Ultimate Guide to Surfing’, a book that lists professional tips and techniques about this sport. 

The ‘Iron Cross’ of Surfer Magazine

Jay Moriarity etched his mark in the surfing world when his legendary wipeout was captured on film by famous photographer, Bob Barbour. 

On December 19, 1994, Moriarity rode a 50-foot massive wave, and just as he was starting to lose balance and control, the photographer took the shot wherein his arms are stretched out — dubbing the photo the ‘Iron Cross’. Moriarity’s fall was estimated to be 30 to 40 ft in height, leaving him with a surfboard that’s broken in half. 

Jay Moriarity
Image from wwwhistoryvshollywoodcom

The photo was featured on the cover of the 1995 issue of Surfer Magazine. A write-up was also published about it in The New York Times magazine. 

Jay Moriarity’s Untimely Death

Because of his skills and friendly demeanor, Moriarity easily became a crowd favorite, with an impressive following that promised a bright future ahead of him. However, at the young age of 22, Jay Moriarity died alone, miles away from his home due to a free-diving accident. On June 15, 2001, a day before his 23rd birthday, Moriarity went off alone in the Indian Ocean, along the coasts of the Lohifushi Island in the Maldives, and didn’t come back.

His friends became skeptical when he wasn’t able to show up for dinner later that night, so they called for a search and rescue team to find him.  The next day, Moriarity’s body was found near the diving spot where he went. Investigators say his death was caused by drowning. 

According to his wife, Kim Moriarity, Jay Moriarity was keen on testing his breathing capabilities. He used to go deep into the ocean without oxygen tanks, which may have caused him to have a shallow water blackout (loss of consciousness due to low oxygen to the brain) during his last routine training.

When the news broke out of Moriarity’s death, his friends and fans all over the globe were left grief-stricken. His memorial service was held at Pleasure Point where hundreds of people attended. 

During the memorial, Moriarity’s peers bid him farewell with the surfer paddle-out tradition, while Kim scattered his ashes to the sea. You can watch the original footage of the memorial in the video below.

Live Like Jay

Despite the tragic loss, the legacy of Jay Moriarity lives on and still inspires a lot of people. In Santa Cruz, ‘Live Like Jay’ was a reminder to be true to yourself, do what makes you happy, and look for the good in everyone. 

Even after his death, Moriarity’s impact on the surfing world continues to live on. A paddleboard race known as ‘The Jay Race’ is held every year in Monterey Bay to commemorate his passing. Kim also founded the non-profit organization ‘Jay Moriarity Foundation’ to honor her late husband’s love for the ocean and the community. 


Jay Moriarity is much more than his infectious smile and friendly attitude. He’s a waterman who’s passionate, kind, and an inspiration to many surfers. He’s well-loved by his community, and when he died, everyone came together — friends and even rivals — to honor his legacy. 

We hope that this article has inspired you to live as how Jay Moriarity lived and to chase your dreams no matter how big or small they are. If you want to learn more about other surfing legends, you can read the article here

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Is Chasing Mavericks based on a real story? 

11 years after his death, ‘Chasing Mavericks’ was released — a surf movie inspired by Jay Moriarity’s life story and career journey. It tells how he conquered the Mavericks as a 15-year-old surfer with the help of his mentor, Frosty Hesson. In this film, his role was played by Johnny Weston, while Hesson was played by Gerard Butler. 

Q: Where was Jay Moriarity from?

Jay Moriarity was born on June 16, 1978, in Augusta Georgia, and later on, relocated to Santa Cruz, California with his family where he learned surfing. 

Q: How did Jay Moriarity die?

On June 15, 2001, Moriarity went freediving alone on the coasts of Lohifushi Island in the Maldives and didn’t return. His body was found the next day near the diving spot. According to investigators, the reason for his death is drowning.

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