Surfing's OG legends
by Corky Carroll
This morning I was cruising through posts on my Facebook page and saw one that showed my friend Lisa Peterson with some of her father’s old boards on display behind her. BAM, perfect idea for todays destruction of the English language also known as my column. A look back at one of the greatest legends in the surfing world, Preston “Pete” Peterson, also known as Lisas dad. Unless you are an older and very hard-core surfer you might not know of Pete Peterson, but let me assure you that he was one of the BIGGEST surf stars of all time, and most of it was in the time before there were actual surf stars.
Let’s go back to the beginning. In the 1930’s there was an annual competition held known at that time as the PACIFIC COAST SURFING CHAMPIONSHIP, this was obviously way before the West Coast Surfing Championship began in Huntington Beach in 1959. Pete Peterson won the PCSC in 1932, 1934, 1936 and 1941. He was the pretty much undisputed top dog on the West Coast back then and thru the early and mid 1950’s. When the contests started in ’59 and spread to a whole circuit of events here in California through the 1960’s Pete was still winning trophies as the number one Tandem surfing team (along with Barrie Boehne, wife of Infinity Surfboards Steve Boehne) and in the Masters division.
But Pete Peterson was far more than just a surfer. He was the all time all around “waterman.” He did everything known to man that you can do in the ocean and was great at all of it. My pal Craig Lockwood, the well known paddle board racer, wrote a killer piece in SURFERS JOURNAL back in 2005 that describes Pete really well. “Peterson defined what would become the paradigm of the West Coast’s classic waterman. Peterson’s life and livelihood were the sea. There was no ocean skill he didn’t possess. He swam competitively, surfed, bodysurfed, rowed, sailed, lifeguarded, tandem surfed, paddleboarded, dove hardhat, SCUBA, and free, water skied, did movie stunt work, served as a boat master and marine coordinator for numerous films, designed and shaped surfboards, rescue and racing paddleboards, helped test and later manufactured his friend and co-lifeguard Lieutenant Wally Burton’s pioneering flexible lifeguard rescue tube, designed and built the West Coast’s finest surf dories (molds of which are still in use today), fished commercially, ran a marine salvage business as a licensed skipper and contractor, and designed for this business one of the most sophisticated salvage craft on the West Coast.”
I loved Pete, he was absolutely one of the coolest and nicest people you ever could meet. My first experience with him came at San Onofre in 1958. A couple of pals of mines mom, from down the street in Surfside, took all of us on a “surf safari” down the coast one day in her Buick station wagon. First we surfed at Doheny and then went to San Onofre. The surf was really good, fairly big for us as we were about 10 at the time. I got outside and was sitting for quite a while waiting for a wave, maybe a bit nervous. A guy had been sitting way farther out than everybody else, I thought he was just hanging out and maybe fishing or something. Then a huge set came in and he was the only one far out enough to catch it. He did and went screaming past the rest of us at mock speed. One of the other guys said, “That’s Pete Peterson, one of the best who ever lived.”
A few years later when I was entering all the surf meets up and down the coast, I started seeing him and got to know him very well. He was always nice to me, even during my intolerable loud mouthed brat stage. One of my favorite Pete Peterson memories was one day in the mid-sixties when I was out surfing on a big day at Sunset Beach, on the North Shore of Oahu, Pete came paddling out on his big tandem board with his partner (not sure if it was Barrie but I think it was). Everybody is kinda looking at each other going, “wow, what’s this?” It was freaking SUNSET BEACH on a big day. People didn’t go tandem out there; most people didn’t even go out on a big day. But there they were. To the amazement of everyone they took off and rode a couple of the biggest waves of the day. Impressed the heck outta me, I can tell you that. Even Mike Doyle, the best big wave rider of the time and also known as “Iron Mike” for his all-around water skills, was blown away.
Pete pulled out in 1983. For those of you who never knew about him but are interested in surfing history I encourage you to read up on him. There is a great account of his life at http://www.legendarysurfers.com/2011/01/1930s-pete-peterson-1.html
Stay safe and see ya next time…same Bat time, same Bat channel. (wow, dating myself here).