Interview with Surfing Legend Peter Cole: Part 3

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. I’m 75 now, that was almost 20 years ago.

Me: So do you still surf the 18 footers?

PC: I don’t surf Waimea. I stopped surfing Waimea in Thanksgiving in 1995 because there were 75 people in the water and I wasn’t doing very well. I wasn’t 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 weren’t really big ones and I just wasn’t 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 don’t 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, it’s all relative. If you had a Sunset break in California, you’d 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, it’s 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 direction…if it comes out of the north a little bit, it’ll can hold a 15 footer. If it’s out of the west it doesn’t hold a wave much larger than 12 ft very well. And it’s crowded and it doesn’t have much of a wall. When it comes off the point you get a long connecting wall and it’s a really good wave. I’ve always liked that better than anywhere else so that’s where I surf. So, I surf anywhere from 8 foot to 12 foot.

Me: That’s 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 we’ve estimated waves all along. If this is the wave (demonstrating on his hand) and the guy is standing here and let’s say he’s 5 feet tall, that would be a 7 foot wave. It’s 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) It’s a little bit extreme. There’s 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 wouldn’t come up to double what we call Hawaiian scale. So I don’t know how they are measuring the wave.

Me: Maybe it’s the total amount of water that would come down on you?

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

Me: And everyone thinks that’s the macho way of measuring.

PC: I don’t 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 I’ll be surfing and he’ll say it’s 15 foot and I have to say, “Ricky what have you had to drink? 15 feet?” I think there’s 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 what’s the largest wave I've ever ridden, I’ll say maybe 20-25 feet. And then you talk to these people and they say I rode a 40 foot wave today. It doesn’t 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, “Ok now tell me you saw a wave that came in as big as that.” IMAX shot some big footage at Log Cabins in 1998 and it’s 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 surfer…

PC: If you just look at them and you’ve got guys that are 6 feet tall and then you’ve 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, “hey they are leaning over, maybe they are only 2 feet tall!” (laughs) But then you get a guy like Laird Hamilton who’s 6’3 or 4 and he’s on the same wave and it makes it look small. So it’s 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 Waimea….

Me: Was that the famous picture taken in 1967?

PC: Ya!

Me: I’ve seen it!

PC: Well to me that’s 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, “what is that, 15?” A lot of people would underestimate. A lot of times you’ll be out at Sunset, which doesn’t even break until it’s 7 feet, and you ask them how was Sunset, and they’ll 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 I’m looking out at the surf and a wave blocks the horizon, then we know it’s at least 22 feet. And that’s a good way to measure when there’s 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 it’s 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 you’re 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 don’t know.

Part 4 coming soon!
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Interview Part 1
Interview Part 2

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