volume 11, number 4
When Dan Merkel took this shot of Michael Peterson in the Sunset bowl during the winter of 1974/75, Michael was at his devastating and inexplicable peak.
MP would never have fit today’s surfing world; his public image would’ve been an unholy mess. He would not have been a devotee of the phrase, “The best surfer in the water is the one with the biggest smile on his face.” He didn’t surf to make friends. Instead, in a decade-long burst across the 1970s, Michael Peterson gave surfing everything he had. In the process he reinvented modern power surfing with a single-minded intensity that nobody else of his or any other generation could match. He took his hero Nat Young’s lines and doubled their force and quadrupled their number, applying a bare-bones, stylistic brilliance that still resurfaces in some of the best Australian power surfers of today. He closed out the world, paddled past everyone, terrified his opposition, surfed like a f–kin’ animal, won everything and refused to explain himself in the process.
In short, he was a surfer’s surfer, in the days when it was all that really mattered, and the fact that he paid such a dark and lengthy price – hard drug addiction, paranoid schizophrenia, psych wards, the lot – just reinforces the strange mystery of surfing genius.
The temptation with MP is to turn him into an avatar of those times, to make him a legend of the fall. When things were weird as hell, he was king; when things began to turn normal, he disappeared into the darkness. But truth be told, things have never quite turned normal in surfing. A small percentage of the top guns are still brilliant, dangerous, even weird characters, and as long as that’s the case, part of Mike will still live on. Valé. —Nick Carroll