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Interview with Surfing Legend Peter Cole: Part 3

Me: Can I quote you from a few years ago? At age 58 you said, "One 25 footer is better than a hundred 18 footers, so why bother with them?"

Peter Cole: That was a long time ago. Iím 75 now, that was almost 20 years ago.

Me: So do you still surf the 18 footers?

PC: I donít surf Waimea. I stopped surfing Waimea in Thanksgiving in 1995 because there were 75 people in the water and I wasnít doing very well. I wasnít really aggressive; I was 65 at the time so I just said this is ridiculous. I was out for 5 hours and I got 2 waves. They werenít really big ones and I just wasnít charging. I had ridden pretty well a couple of years before that but I had torn a cartilage and I had a few physical problems and I donít think I was into it mentally. But that crowd just turned me off. But I surf Sunset all the time.

Me: And do they have to be big waves for you to surf them?

PC: Well, itís all relative. If you had a Sunset break in California, youíd date it and talk about it for the rest of your life. There are 2 places to ride. The point, which breaks all the time, itís kind of a small wave and very popular among children and everybody else. And then when you have regular Sunset, it comes in the middle in deep water and it has to be overhead at least 7-8 foot in order for it to even break. And depending on the directionÖif it comes out of the north a little bit, itíll can hold a 15 footer. If itís out of the west it doesnít hold a wave much larger than 12 ft very well. And itís crowded and it doesnít have much of a wall. When it comes off the point you get a long connecting wall and itís a really good wave. Iíve always liked that better than anywhere else so thatís where I surf. So, I surf anywhere from 8 foot to 12 foot.

Me: Thatís impressive. Now when you are giving me these heights is this the Hawaiian scale you are using?

PC: They talk about Hawaiian scale and somebody came across the idea that people measure the back of the wave. But no, I would call it how weíve estimated waves all along. If this is the wave (demonstrating on his hand) and the guy is standing here and letís say heís 5 feet tall, that would be a 7 foot wave. Itís a matter of his being on the bottom and measuring. But nowadays they talk about the face and 80 foot waves and 60 foot waves! (laughs) Itís a little bit extreme. Thereís a lot of water between 2 waves, and right in the center of the trough, if you measure from that up to the crest, you can add at the most probably a third of the height of the wave to it. And some call that the face, but that wouldnít come up to double what we call Hawaiian scale. So I donít know how they are measuring the wave.

Me: Maybe itís the total amount of water that would come down on you?

PC: Ya, I think the best way is the way Iíve always measured it.

Me: And everyone thinks thatís the macho way of measuring.

PC: I donít know what they are doing. A good friend of mine is an oceanographer at the university named Rick Grigg and he keeps talking about how we are underestimating the wave. Sometimes Iíll be surfing and heíll say itís 15 foot and I have to say, ďRicky what have you had to drink? 15 feet?Ē I think thereís a movement now to overestimate.

Me: Like a fishing story!

PC: Well I think that it makes them look bigger, their egos. If somebody asks me whatís the largest wave I've ever ridden, Iíll say maybe 20-25 feet. And then you talk to these people and they say I rode a 40 foot wave today. It doesnít mean anything if all you do is ride a 25 foot wave and they are calling these things 60 feet. A 25 foot wave is a big wave. I pick landmarks like telephone poles that are maybe 30 feet high and I say, ďOk now tell me you saw a wave that came in as big as that.Ē IMAX shot some big footage at Log Cabins in 1998 and itís a video called Condition Black. It has them towing in and they are talking about 50-60 foot waves but if you look at the rides, and you look at the waves the most you can get out of it is 25-30 feet on any of them.

Me: If you measure the surferÖ

PC: If you just look at them and youíve got guys that are 6 feet tall and then youíve got guys that are 4 feet tall. If you look at the surfers on the tour they are all pretty short. They are making a bottom turn and they are leaning over, and you get this picture and you go, ďhey they are leaning over, maybe they are only 2 feet tall!Ē (laughs) But then you get a guy like Laird Hamilton whoís 6í3 or 4 and heís on the same wave and it makes it look small. So itís all relative. You have to figure out how high is that body and how many of those heights can you measure. Like this picture that I have of myself at WaimeaÖ.

Me: Was that the famous picture taken in 1967?

PC: Ya!

Me: Iíve seen it!

PC: Well to me thatís a 25 foot wave. I am bending over so I am probably a foot less than 6, but I would call that a 25 foot maximum. Some people would say, ďwhat is that, 15?Ē A lot of people would underestimate. A lot of times youíll be out at Sunset, which doesnít even break until itís 7 feet, and you ask them how was Sunset, and theyíll say it was 3-4 feet. So you get a wide range of discrepancy. Another measurement is if you can survey how high your eye level is above the horizon. We figure my eye level is 22 feet above the horizon and if Iím looking out at the surf and a wave blocks the horizon, then we know itís at least 22 feet. And thatís a good way to measure when thereís nobody out. If you look at pictures from spots that are lower than 22 feet and you see the horizon behind the wave, well you know the wave is no more than 20 feet. Yet the picture sometimes will look like itís a lot bigger. So there are various methods to measure the wave. But I look at the wave that you ride is the wave that you measure and this part of the wave (demonstrates the part in front of the surfer) which youíre not even riding - why even include it in the measurement? If the wave beaks, the whitewater will be the bottom but the true face would go further. Twice the Hawaiian scale is the face. If you say Hawaiian scale is 6 foot, face is 12 foot. And where they got that I donít know.

Part 4 coming soon!
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