Surfing was MP's life: Mum

Joan Watt remembers her son as a true gentleman who simply loved the ocean.
Joan Watt remembers her son as a true gentleman who simply loved the ocean. John Gass

THE spirit of Coolangatta's cult surfing hero Michael Peterson lives on in every- one who either knew him, heard his story, or simply watched him shred.

His death from a heart attack earlier this year sent a ripple through the surfing community, one that has yet to recede.

Grommets are still awed by his untamed free-form style, friends remember his broody, mysterious and often mischievous person- ality and competitors still see the fierce sideways glare and superior footwork that defined the 1970s surf scene.

But no one knew the three-time Bells Beach Easter surfing classic winner better than the woman with whom he spent his final, more reclusive years - his mother.

Joan Watt is expecting a long, cold winter this year.

But it doesn't bother her, she's glad the cooler weather will finally give her a chance to dig through the seemingly endless cupboards filled with money-can't-buy photographs, cards, post- ers, letters, even telegrams.

She can still feel his spirit as she sits in the lounge of their Tweed Heads South home.

"He's still here, his spirit is still here, that's for sure," Joan said.

"But it's not just with me; it's everywhere."

She recalls friends were convinced Kelly Slater would take out the 2012 Bells Beach RipCurl Pro early last month.

But in her heart, Joan knew Michael would help Cooly kid and close friend Mick Fanning pull through the gruelling wave-for-wave final.

"Everyone thought Kelly had it but I said 'No, Mick will win it because he's got Michael on his shoulders'," she said.

"I knew Michael wouldn't let him down."

Mick Fanning did indeed win, and that final has since been touted the best in the event's history.

There is still no explanation as to the mini cyclone that tore across Bells Beach that day, pulling to the ground all the photos of previous winners on the famed tribute walls, save for one. The lone photo of MP was left staring out across the ocean.

"Michael was definitely at work that day," Joan said.

She remembers the early years, working three jobs to keep food on the table while Michael would jet off across the ocean.

"He'd call me and he'd say "Hello mother darling, send me some money please."

"He'd be on some island somewhere and not have enough money to get home.

"He just loved to surf; that was his life."

For all the mischief, sickness and scandal that surrounded his life, Joan maintains her son was always the picture of a gentleman.

"You'll never read that he'd said something bad about somebody," she said.

"I don't think I ever heard him swear.

"PT (Peter Townend) and Rabbit (Wayne Bartholomew) loved the cameras but he hated it.

"His line was always 'I could say but I won't say',"

As he slowly pulled back from celebrity circles, a new generation of grommets began to pluck up the courage to knock on his door with posters and black marker pens in hand.

They were mesmerised by the classic image of MP, frozen mid-cutback at Kirra, captured by Alby Falzon in the '70s cult surf movie Morning of the Earth.

"Kids would come here to get him to sign something and they asked him "How did you do it?"," she said. "He said you put your back foot over the fin and go like hell!

"They laughed at him at the time, but I've always wondered if they went out and tried it."

As she looks at the pages upon pages of Facebook comments that flooded in after his death, the gravity of his impact on the surfing community sinks in.

"There were people who came to the paddle-out who weren't even born when he was surfing," Joan said.

"It is unbelievable, people who didn't know him but had heard of him or had been touched by his story."

After all, the greatest legacy MP leaves us is a love for the ocean and for one another.

"MP showed us all how wonderful the ocean can be," she said.

"It gives joy and refreshment to those who will simply take the plunge."

Joan will keep a candle burning in his memory.

Joan would like to thank all the people of the Gold Coast and the world, who attended the paddle-out or have sent their well-wishes. She thanks Simplicity for the wonderful funeral service and RipCurl founders Doug Warbrick and Brian Singer.

Topics:  michael peterson

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