Interview with Surfing Legend Peter Cole: Part 5

Interview with Surfing Legend Peter Cole:  Part 5
Me: You won the 1958 Makaha International Surfing Contest. Does that make you the greatest surfer in the world at the time?

Peter Cole: No. Winning a contest doesn’t mean a lot.

Me: Well it was the biggest in the world wasn’t it?

PC: It was the only contest really. They just didn’t have contests in those days. The Makaha International was the biggest contest going on at the time. I had just arrived at the islands to teach at Punahou. And it was my 1st year there so I entered because the big thing to do was to enter the Makaha contest. And during the contest when the surf was flat the judges put on a big luau. George Downing and Wally Forsythe were the head judges, they didn’t enter the contest. And I brought a case of beer so I’m convinced that that’s how I won the contest. (both laugh)

Me: You are awfully humble.

PC: It was funny. Nowadays they only count the top 3 rides. In this particular contest when I entered, they counted every wave. So the more waves you got the better you did. And I had this really good Pat Curren board that I borrowed and it paddled well, I kneel paddled, and I could out paddle the rest of them. They had paddling races at the time and I won, so when I was surfing I could get out and back and I could get a lot of waves so that helped. And Makaha was an easy wave, I kind of liked it, it was a peak and you could do a lot of turns on the waves. And I had good sessions. I had a good prelim and a good final. Then I came back the next year and had a good prelim. Then in the finals it was 2 feet and I had a board that was kind of a semi-gun that’s good for Sunset at 12 feet. (laughs) So I made the finals but I think I got last. And then I never entered the contest after the first two.

Me: You said you got a lot of waves in that contest. Were you surfing without a leash then?

PC: Oh ya! I’ve never used a leash.

Me: How’d you get so many waves, then?

PC: You just don’t fall off.

Me: Wow, I thought you were humble!

PC: It’s pretty easy to not fall off. Makaha - the waves don’t have the power. It wasn’t a really big day. It was maybe 8 footer max 10. It’s not like Sunset, when a wave breaks on you you’re generally going to get wiped out. You are out there about an hour with, I think in the final we had 15-20 surfers, and there was no interference rule. You could ride with 2 or 3 other people and I always try to ride the inside so I don’t have people inside of me. I just was lucky, too. A lot of it is luck. It was funny because the trials were in the morning and the finals would be in the afternoon and in the trials I didn’t do as well as I had in the pre-trials. But I made it into the finals. But Ricky (Grigg) did well. So Ricky and myself and this guy Phil Edwards, who was a really well known surfer at the time, all went out to lunch. And Phil was talking to Ricky about what he had to do to win the contest and it was just making me really angry. So there was no way that I was going to lose to Ricky! (both laugh) So Ricky and I were rooming together and after the contest I hammered the trophy right above his bed!

Me: Ha-ha! And you still don’t use a leash?

PC: No I can’t stand the leash.

Me: Do you think it’s cheating?

PC: No, I just don’t like the leash. I’ve always emphasized the fact that you’ve got to be a waterman, you’ve got to know the ocean, there’s dynamics in riding the waves. If you have a leash, you dive under the wave and you let the board float behind you and then you grab the board and you go back out. What happens is that it causes people to sit inside. And then like myself without a leash, I am sitting outside waiting for a wave. I can’t sit inside because I’d get caught. I have to swim more so I’m outside. Finally I’ll have a wave and there will be these guys with their leashes underneath me and I can’t even ride because they are all over the place. And it’s caused them to be quantity oriented, they’ve got to get every wave in the ocean and so they’ll take off on the shoulder, it’s caused a lot of rudeness out in the water. And I think it’s caused accidents. I think the boomerang effect has hit people on the head. People have gotten leashes stuck on the bottom. Mark Foo drowned at Mavericks, I think that was about 95-96. I think the leash got stuck because it wasn’t that big a wave,

Me: Couldn’t he just rip it off?

PC: It’s not that easy, those leashes were pretty hard and plus you’re not really relaxed and it’s cold, it’s dark. A lot of people have been stuck; there have been quite a few drownings due to the leash. In surf, prior to the leash, the drownings we had were mainly people hitting the bottom at Pipeline, bouncing off the bottom or the board hitting them, knocking them out. But Waimea, all the big waves that we rode through the years and we never had anything close to a drowning, and then all of a sudden you have these leashes and we’ve had drownings on big waves. Well, we have more surfers, so the larger the population the more deaths you are going to have. I think a lot of it is due to the leash. The leash is dangerous. A lot of people will argue that without a leash, your board is going through the crowd, but the crowd wouldn’t be there without a leash.

Me: Right.

PC: If everybody did not have a leash the crowd would not be inside of you, the crowd would be next to you. When we used to surf before the leash we all sat outside next to each other. We never sat underneath each other. But with a leash you see people underneath you. If you look at a lineup now you’ll see people all over the place. That never happened in those days. If you went to Chun’s, everybody was outside waiting. Malibu, same thing. Now you just see people floating around in whitewater. That’s one of my pet peeves, the leash.

Me: Are you okay with the tow-ins? Do you think they are a good idea…when necessary?

PC: First of all, the Jet Ski has become a tremendous rescue device and I think Jet Skis used with knowledge and with experience and used in a positive way are good. I’d say it’s fine, and they are out there riding waves that you could never paddle into. Now, we have a rule at Surfrider…I was very much involved in establishing rules that if the waves are really big and they are at outer reefs, and there are no surfers, then they should be able to tow in. But if a surfer comes out into the lineup, they have to leave. The surfers rule. Like if a surfer paddles out to Hammerheads or Avalanche or even Jaws, but they wouldn’t because you can’t paddle in at Jaws…it would just be ridiculous, and it would be the same thing at Log Cabins, Backdoor, Backyard, outside Backyard, Phantoms, when it gets really really big you wouldn’t be paddling in, then it’s fine to tow. What the towing does is they whip these guys into this wave before it even forms so they are in a relatively small wave, then all of a sudden the wave comes into the reef and it jacks up and it’s really big. But they’ve eliminated the hard part. When you are paddling in, you have to be way inside to get enough speed to get into the wave; you are getting into the wave when it is at its steepest. So that’s the hardest part about riding and you have to be on a longboard when you are paddling in because you can’t get into the waves with a shortboard. And when you do stand up you don’t have the control. Now, with the tow they are on shortboards, no rocker, they are relatively heavy, they are strapped in so they can really turn and really maneuver on these boards which we can’t do with a paddle in. So they’ve opened up a whole new realm in surfing and it’s a different surfing.

Me: Even the purist in you thinks it’s ok to do that?

PC: Ya, it’s no problem because you’re not going to surf it, and they are really having fun and they are getting a lot of big waves. But then the media comes in and they’ve got to get pictures and they’ve got to have a contest. Everybody always has to have a contest! They want to have a contest at Waimea and I love Eddie Aikau but I don’t see why we have to have an Eddie Would Go contest. If the surf gets really big the guys that want to ride it go out and the guys that don’t want to ride it stay in. But when you have a contest you get all these guys going out that wouldn’t be going out there if it wasn’t a contest. I don’t like surf contests. I think January 10th last year got really big and they must have had 200 or 300 Jet Skis out there at Jaws, and I see the videos and it looks like Coney Island!

Still more to come: the popularity of big wave surfing throughout the years, sponsorships and teaching at Punahou.
Please visit www.surfrider.

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