The King of Kirra!
It only took me six months, but I’ve finally closed Sean Doherty’s MP: The Life of Michael Peterson. The book is a biographical homage to Australia’s enigmatic surf hero, Michael Peterson.
Michael’s life was the product of a harrowing assault. A three-man gang-rape against 19-year-old Joan Peterson. Joan kept the truth of Michael’s origins a secret for most of his life, to “protect him”.
Despite MP’s ill begotten conception, the man was destined for greatness. A physical specimen and handsome to boot, young MP plowed his way through hordes of Australia’s barely-legal beauties. He continued this trend into his late-twenties.
But in the grand scheme of things, women were tertiary on Michael’s list of favorite pastimes. There was an unbreakable tie for first between surfing and marijuana. The weed calmed his mind while the surfing electrified his soul.
Michael’s performances at his home break were revolutionary to the point that he became known as the King of Kirra. Not long after, he was considered the best surfer in Australia, and briefly, the world.
While Michael’s successes grew his legend, they also spawned his demons. Contest winnings meant money for drugs, and weed quickly became an insufficient high. At the time the Goldcoast was in the midst of a minor heroin explosion, and Michael lived well within the blast radius.
And while dope is enough to do most people in, for Michael, the worst side effect was the awakening of a sleeping giant — schizophrenia.
The downfall of Michael Peterson was a long and and grueling process. He got worse, he got better, then got worse again but the trajectory was always trending downward. Eventually Michael went to jail, then a psych ward, then his mom’s house, then a bunch of other psych wards then his mom’s house again. He died in 2012 at the age of 60.
This is a very very VERY condensed version of Doherty’s tale but surely you get the gist. Incredibly talented and troubled man takes on the world and goes down swinging. Wonderful!
I found this telling of MP’s life story to be extremely honest and thorough. No one could accuse Doherty of over-writing the biography, as it falls into a very simplistic structure and diction, but he concluded the book beautifully. Tied together all the loose ends and showed his true ability as a thinker and scribe.
If you’re looking for a mind-blowing piece of literature, this book is not for you. If you want to learn a shitload about Australian surfing history and the man the Mick Fanning calls God, read MP.
Now, there’s just one thing I must get off my chest.
Pretty much everyone in the book says MP was the best surfer they’d ever seen. That his speed and tube riding and carves were entirely unmatched. To this day, Michael is considered maybe the best to ever ride Kirra. Yet, whenever I see videos of MP, he looks… very average. Off-balance and erratic. Not someone I’d care to watch surf.
I realize it was a different time period with different standards, but I can easily appreciate the abilities of same-era surfers MR and Rabbit Bartholomew.
So am I blind or stupid or all three?