One last wave goodbye for former king of surf - Damien Murphy.
In his heyday … Michael Peterson has died at 59 from a heart attack. Photo: Alan Lambert
MICHAEL PETERSON, widely considered to have been the best surfer in the world 40 years ago, has died at 59 and suddenly a light has gone out for many baby boomer and younger generation surfers who rode his waves in their imaginations.
He died from a heart attack, his once paddling-honed slim Botticelli-like body bloated by years of drugs taken to combat schizophrenia.
Peterson had not ridden a surfboard for decades but his personification of the cool rebel surf purist so echoed down the years that his longtime sponsor Rip Curl is still selling aviator sunglasses he wore at his greatest victory for $140 a pair.
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He was the Queensland surfer who bridged the early years between when Californian-style surfboard riding arrived and today's hyper competitive era.
In the late 1960s, surfing in Australia had drifted from a sport into a lifestyle of drugs, long hair and anti-Vietnam War protest, but Peterson led a bunch of tearaway youths who developed a style of fast surfing perfected in point breaks along the Gold Coast.
Peterson was nationally recognised when he became the poster boy for Alby Falzon's 1971 film Morning of the Earth. He was the king of Kirra, a break on the southern end of the Gold Coast.
The film celebrated country soul and was anti-competition but Peterson's finely tuned wave attack ushered in a dominance that saw him capture most major surfing events in Australia and win the Bells Beach Easter tournament three years running.
He lived the life. Fast cars, women, drugs. More drugs. He left the Gold Coast for Pambula and dropped from sight.
In March 1977, Peterson paddled out at Burleigh Heads for the final of the Stubbies contest. He was whacked to the eyeballs and beat Mark Richards in the first man-on-man contest. The publicity changed surfing from a bucolic pastime of drugs and drop-outs to $1 million superstars riding the world competition circuit and a billion-dollar-a-year apparel industry.
It also fuelled the myth of Michael Peterson, the hip rebel.
But while the surf companies made millions off him, Peterson never got with the program. He sank into drug addiction, was caught speeding in a car on Brisbane's Story Bridge in 1984 and jailed. Subsequently diagnosed with schizophrenia, he went to live with his mother Joan Watt in Tweed Heads.
In recent years, Peterson had a resurgence. There were books and a surfing competition in his honour. He was the Kelly Slater of his time. But the comparison does not do him justice. Slater won world titles, not inspired lives.
Fifteen years ago, former pro surfer and writer Derek Hynd thought Paterson left little behind: ''There's very little legacy. Except the hundred thousand surfers expecting Michael Peterson to be God when they die.''