MP – a mate and a legend

Michael Peterson performing a cutback that became one of, if not the, most famous, as featured at Kirra in the movie Morning of the Earth.
Michael Peterson performing a cutback that became one of, if not the, most famous, as featured at Kirra in the movie Morning of the Earth. Alby Falzon

THE tributes, accolades and flowers for Michael Peterson's much-celebrated life continue to pour in to the Peterson Tweed Heads home from all over the surfing world and rightly so.

Known as MP, Reg or the Mad Monk, Michael had a certain mystic, almost messiah, presence that kept most people guessing who he really was.

Undoubtedly, he was one of the best surfers to evolve from the Coolangatta era of the golden 1970s.

MP was a gifted athlete and proficient with his hands. He and younger brother Tommy would build model aeroplanes together, which would develop later into board-making skills.

Tweed Heads' first surfing pioneer and surfboard manufacturer, Joe Larkin, was instrumental in helping Michael to shape surfboards with his number one shaper, the late Brian "Furry" Austin.

The Miles Street Factory was a stone's throw away from Kirra Point, where Michael would dominate with his intimate knowledge of tube-riding.

Both MP and fellow Coolangatta friend and rival Peter Townend - PT - were Joe's factory apprentices and the competition between both went from the factory to the Point to see who could be better.

It was a healthy rivalry nurtured by Joe, who on one particular surf trip had to break up an argument between the two when MP managed to rub Vaseline over PT's board.

There are many stories about those colourful days at Joe Larkin's, which will no doubt come to life at Joe's night at the Surf World Surf Museum, Currumbin, on Wednesday at 6pm prior to Michael's service on Thursday at 11.30am at the Tweed Crematorium.

Michael's mum, Joan, has requested that everybody who attends the funeral wears T's, board shorts and thongs.

I have a lot of great memories of growing up and competing with Michael and his younger brother Tommy.

We all ended up at Miami High School, where MP would be cagey, darting in and around the buildings without saying much, while Tommy would let me know what the latest was with his fast-improving super talented surfing brother, who he always warmly referred to as Mic.

Tommy knew Michael better than anyone and was his sounding board on all matters.

Initially we were bitter rivals. I was from the toffy Northern Beaches and they were from the Cooly hood, both hurling abuse at me as I came down to surf at Greenmout.

First, I became good friends with Tommy and then when I didn't present myself as a threat competitively to Michael, we got on famously as well.

Joan Peterson was like a mum to all of us.

One thing Michael did was to shun the limelight, although he loved watching movies of himself, analysing his style and how to improve the advanced technique that he inherited from Nat Young, his mentor. Michael's room had wall-to-wall posters of Nat.

In 1971 he started travelling down to Lennox Head, revelling in the pristine winter south swells with biting southwest winds. Nat was still living in the area on a farm, as depicted in the Morning of the Earth movie.

Both were the stars of MOTE, together with David Trelor, Chris Brock, Stephen Cooney and Rusty Miller.

By 1972 MP won the state championships for the second year in a row and went to Sydney to win his first of two national titles.

Just before we all joined the Australian team for the 1972 San Diego world championships, MP and I went to Burleigh Point one day during the week.

As it turned out, a crew of local surfers were there, including Peter Drouyn, Keith Paul and Richard Harvey, and then the boys from Byron turned up - Nat Young, Russell Hughes, Bill Monie, Rusty Miller and Victorian Wayne Lynch, who was on the run from the draft.

They were all happy to meet Michael, the new Aussie champ, who felt a bit in awe of the senior elders of the tribe.

I said, "Just go out and show then who is the new king, Michael" and with the squinted cheeky grin, MP unleased an awesome display of roundhouse cutbacks, disappearing in the rebound, hard off-the-bottom turns and splintering sideway hacks with head turned.

It was a performance that sent Nat and the troops home in a hurry.

I knew then that Michael was better than his heir apparent and, of course, the following year he began his dominance in no uncertain terms, up until his last emphatic win at the Burleigh Stubbies Classic, and first man-on-man invented by MP's friend, Peter Drouyn, in 1977.

What a surfing legacy he left behind and now his legendary status will be emblazoned forever. Thanks MP. God bless you mate.

Mick Fanning, Darren Handley and Asher Pacey, as well as close mate Rabbit Bartholomew, took out their single fins at cracking Kirra on Thursday afternoon.

Michael's club, the Kirra Surfriders Club (KSC), will have a club round in his honour this Sunday at Kirra while wearing black arm bands.

MP was a former club champion, and past and present life members of Kirra will foot the bill for the wake at the Rainbow Bay Surf Club on Thursday from 1.30pm.

The Rip Curl Pro at Bells Beach, starting next week, is now dedicated to Michael, who won at Bells in 1973-74-75.

The 40th annual Pa Bendal event on the Sunshine Coast will pay tribute throughout the competition, which Michael won in 1975.

A Paddle Out at Kirra for Michael will be planned at a date to be set.

Topics:  legend, michael peterson, mp, surfing

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