“Surfing needs those radical dudes that just carve their own track and give the world the middle finger – natural born carvers. MP wasn’t the anti-hero, he was the anti God. MP had the Dora aura except his amazing surfing was based on actuality and not just legend. MP attacked waves like a serial killer on speed. When judging was based on quantity of manoeuvres he out-surfed everyone because no one was quicker. He had the reflexes of a cobra, the same cold blood and the same intensity. I watched him savage a small lefthander during a Surfabout contest at Narrabeen and thought he was unbeatable.
I saw footage of him accelerating past Terry Fitzgerald, the sultan of speed at the 1976 Bells that blew my mind. He got a tube ride through the inside section at Sunset during the Hang Ten Pro in 1975 that was sublime. He surfed his futuristic single fins like guys ride thrusters today along with a style and authentic panache that is beyond hipster emulation.
I competed against him but never really knew the guy. I thought I was the fastest paddler in the world but he blew by me snarling, with a unique arched-backed technique – I changed my paddling stroke overnight. I was convinced I beat him the first time I surfed against him as a teenager at Bells in 1975. I beat him in eight rounds except the last one – they announced the results and I walked up for my first place finish in front of the crowd at the Bells. I came second. They called for Michael over the PA, thousands were waiting, and he never came up – I stood there like a stunned mullet – I heard he was in the bushes watching with that cracked grin of his. He had my number from then on.
I walked past him once while he was furtively checking the surf outside the North Narrabeen surf lifesaving club, wedged up against the wall – he was wearing his trademark aviators and ducktail denim jacket, authentic hip and ultra cool – I gave him a wide berth ‘cause he looked a little twitchy and I imagined he had a switch blade in that pocket. He had an intense and scary persona, a kinda crazy narrow grin on the one side of his mouth - they say Kelly has a killer persona – yeah right – MP would have had his number too. I remember MP once saying at a press conference, ”I could say it but I won’t.” I always assumed what he didn’t say was what my hero Jeff Hakman said to me in February 1974. Michael Peterson is the best surfer in the world. I also heard him say after a win, “I deserve it.” And he did.
I once regretfully said in an interview in Tracks that he held professional surfing back. Nat Young challenged me about it on the beach in France because MP was his protégé and we nearly got it on – two men fighting over MP in a foreign land. Did MP hold pro surfing back? Maybe. It sure needs some of that holding back right now and it most probably did then too. We need more of MP’s sturm and drang and less stock exchange investor marketing.
MP never held surfing back; MP gave surfing juice, he gave it personality, he gave it character, he gave his blood. MP gave surfing every drop of blood he had until there was no more to give.
The great irony is that he won the first contest of the pro tour in 1977 just to show us he could and then gave us the finger and like a wraith he was gone.
MP, I never really knew ya, but I’ll miss ya.
My deepest condolences to his family.” – Shaun Tomson
Shaun Tomson is South Africa’s best-ever surfer. Still one of the most articulate and thoughtful men to win a world title, Shaun has devoted his post-competition life to environmentalism, writing and business. Stab loves Shaun’s considered words and timeless steeze. Check out his website, here.