Peter Cole and Max Lim (top) at Makaha, oowee, back in the fifties. | Photo: Don James

Celebrated big-wave pioneer, previously thought of as immortal, dies at North Shore home, “He was the single most beloved surfer in Hawaii apart from Duke Kahanamoku and Rell Sunn!”

"He knew Sunset and Waimea the way Kelly Slater knows Backdoor."

The iconic, legendary, sorta immortal big-wave surfer, Peter Cole, winner of the Makaha International in 1958, has died at his North Shore home, surrounded by his wife Sally and his kid, Peter Jnr, aged ninety-one.

Ol Pete wasn’t in the best of health, no one is as they approach one hundred, and on Feb 6, just as Kelly Slater was winning the Pipe contest aged fifty, Cole’s heart gave out and he died in his sleep.

“We all felt so fortunate to share this last stage of his life with him and when he had a last surge of awareness and energy Thursday night, we were able to enjoy his gracious charm and intelligent humor one last time,” Pete Jnr said.

I tuned in with Matt Warshaw, surf historian, to help comprehend the importance of Peter Cole’s long life.

Surfing just lost of the greats, wouldn’t y’say? Of course, most of us tuned in to the Pipe contest wouldn’t have known who the hell he was. So, tell me, tell us, who was Peter Cole and why did he matter? 

Peter was one of those bright-eyed gung-ho California kids who dropped everything and moved to the North Shore right out of college, in the late 1950s. Fred Van Dyke and Ricky Grigg did the same. Buzzy Trent went a few years earlier.

You write in the EOS that his “analytic mind told him big-wave danger was overstated, he soon gained a reputation as one of the sport’s boldest riders.” You ever talk to him about that or did he expand on his thesis? 

Peter was an incredible swimmer, a college champion, and he knew almost from the moment he arrived in Hawaii that he could swim his way out of just about any situation. Plus he put in so many hours out there, for so many years. He knew Sunset and Waimea the way Kelly knows Backdoor.

Pretty ironic he was blinded in one eye by his surfboard. You know the story? 

I don’t know the story, no. But looking at photos of Peter today, I noticed again that one of his front teeth was dead, too, so he took a couple to the face for sure.

Is it true he taught Gerry Lopez and Jeff Hakman when he was a teacher at Punahou School? Do you know if he was a kind teacher or prone to using the lash?

Peter at some point, maybe 30 years ago, was locking horns with Ricky Grigg about something having to do with a North Shore development project. I forget the details. Other than that, I think maybe Peter was the single most beloved surfer in Hawaii apart from Duke and Rell Sunn. Like, admired, and respected across the board. I don’t know what he was like as a teacher, though. Fred Van Dyke, I think, was the guy who brought the flair to the classroom. Peter didn’t have the same gift for drama, like Fred. But I’d bet he was a first-rate teacher nonetheless.

He last hit Waimea in 1995 when he was sixty-five, but he was still scooping peaks at Sunset well into the two thousands, yeah? I like his take that you have to have a rich life outside of surfing or else you’ll drift away from your obsession. 

I was just reading Peter’s EOS page and here’s the quote. “Those of my generation who dedicated all their time to surfing aren’t in the lineup anymore. For a surfer to ride into old age, it’s important that surfing be nothing more than a recreational activity. It should never be a person’s entire life.” I can’t remember if it was Peter or Ricky who gave laid this one other bit of knowledge on me, about aging. I’m almost sure it was Peter. The quote was something like, “At a certain point, the only way to keep surfing as you get older is to accept the fact that each year you will be a bigger kook than you were the year before.” Which sounds easy, right? I was still a good surfer when he told me that, and figured no problem, I’ll do as Peter says when the time comes. But when I started to get worse, I could not do it. That’s more or less when I stopped surfing. Peter truly did not give a shit how well he was riding, or at least not during the last 40 or so years of his active surfing life. He just wanted to be out there, at Sunset, in the middle of it all, and hopefully ride a couple. To back up what he said, above—because Peter had other things going on in his life, always, he never fell out of love with surfing. The whole thing. Paddling out, shooting the shit with Bradshaw or whoever else he was sitting next to in the lineup, riding waves, eating it, swimming in for his board. Peter did that, and loved it, till he couldn’t do it any longer. Greg Noll gave up. Buzzy Trent gave up. Fred Van Dyke pretty much gave up. Peter and Ricky Grigg went the distance, and I think in a way the surfing experience meant more to them in the later stages of their lives than it did during their heyday.

What can surfers drifting into middle and late age take from Peter Cole’s life? 

Have a life outside of surfing. Don’t be a bigger kook than you have to be, but embrace the fact that your skills will crumble as you get older. I agree with everybody who calls bullshit on the “Best surfer is the one having the most fun” mantra. Until you hit 60 or thereabouts, at which point the mantra is god’s own truth.

(Subscribe to Warshaw’s Encyclopedia of Surfing here.) 


Messages of disbelief, wonderment and awe from Chris Hemsworth, Tulsi Gabbard and other famous friends continue to shower world’s oldest elite athlete Kelly Slater in wake of miraculous surf victory!

"Words cannot describe..."

Oh but to be tan, rested, ready, 50 years-old with 11 World Titles under a purple belt plus, days ago, a Gerry Lopez surfboard emblazoned with the words Billabong Pro Pipeline tucked right in there too.

Oh but to be Kelly Slater.

Shock, awe and amazement are still settling around the surf world after Slater’s inspiring, inspired, win over Seth Moniz in wind friffled but still deadliest Banzai. Professional surf fans, sometimes lightly dubious about the Greatest Of All Time’s green bonafides and/or crypto positions, have circled the wagons lashing out at anyone, everyone, who dare shoot flimsy criticism his way.

He is iconic.

He is singular.

And the most famous people in the regular world are, likewise, sharing messages of passionate emoji regarding Slater’s universe-defying performance.

Chris Hemsworth, who plays Thor, wrote, “Congrats Kelly Slater, greatest of all time, what an inspiration…” adding triple shakas for emphasis.

Renowned international DJ Paul Fisher added, “Amazing” with a blaze of fire as accoutrement.

Soccerboy_ir penned, “You are a special person, please see my new post. It is very spectacular and amazing because I made a move that no one has been able to do before and I am very happy that a famous person like you will watch my post,” though that missive may have been directed at Thor and not Kelly Slater.

Former United States Representative from the Democratic Party Tulsi Gabbard issued, perhaps, the most heartfelt post, writing, “Congrats, my friend. Words can’t describe how special and historic this day has been. I’m beyond happy for you.”

Not a dry eye in the house.

I have to think that Slater’s golfing pal, and ex-President of the United States, Barack Obama wrote something too but I can’t find it.


Father of New Zealand’s first ever Winter Olympic gold medalist Zoi Sadowski-Synnott gives masterclass to overindulgent surf parents in “how to conduct post-victory interview!”


Last evening, not long after Kelly Slater’s tears had dried, I sat perched in front of the television watching Olympic women’s Slopestyle snowboarding. My wife, an ex-professional snowboarder who now represents some of the finest skate/snow talent in the world, had a gem in the finals. New Zealand’s Zoi Sadowski-Synnott.

Zoi properly rips. She is stylish, brave and had a real shot to win her country’s first-ever winter Olympic gold medal draped in iconic all black.

Her first run was decent, her second a fall, her third an absolute hammer, bigger, dizzier, better than any that ever preceded.

A glimpse into the future.

A masterclass.

Olympic gold, first gold and completely deserved but her father, watching the magic at home in New Zealand, was also delivering a masterclass to all the overindulgent surf parents in “how to conduct a post-victory interview.”

The sorts of overindulgent surf parents who drive Sprinter vans and shout at volunteer beach marshals.

Sean Synnott, tan, rested and ready, stepped up to the microphone whiskey prepped and let soar a steady stream of expletives live on broadcast television out of straight, unadulterated, unfiltered pride.

A perfect 10?

Viva Negatron.

Viva New Zealand.

Moana has the experience, the skills and the confidence to establish this new level. All women now have to raise up to that level.” | Photo: WSL/Brent Bielmann

Hell-raising big-wave superstar likens Pipeline champ Moana Jones Wong to epic Bustin’ Down the Door pioneers, “Moana is the new WSL poster child for how great women’s surfing can be!”

"The women need to escape the woke culture that permeates the WSL and apologizes for the women’s shortcomings in heavy waves."

Baseball-bat swinging, send-the-king-of-the-Hui to jail hell-raiser Ian “Kanga” Cairns has called on the WSL to gift Moana Jones Wong, and current world number one, a wildcard to compete in every event for the remainder of the Championship Tour season. 

“She has singlehandedly put the WSL Women’s CT on her back and she’ll make Margaret River, Grajagan, Teahupoo and even Super Tubos electric,” says Cairns. “I suspect Moana will need to improve her backhand skills for Bell’s, Jeffreys, El Salvador and Rio but I can easily see her fine tuning a small-wave act for the Finals at Lowers after four event wins.”

If you know surfing, you’ll know the name Ian Cairns, a man with the physique of a comic-book hero who ruled big waves, who was pivotal in the creation of a world tour, who would launch the ASP after tearing the game off the IPS’s Fred Hemmings and whose thin-eyed stare could give a man stomach cramps.

Cairns, who is married to the former touring pro Alisa Schwarzstein, describes the emotion of watching the final. 

“You want to be equal, then surf equal waves,” he says. “It was time for WSL to truly again celebrate women’s surfing by truly giving them the platform to showcase their skills in the ocean. Tyler’s 8.8 on a heavy Backdoor wave. Moana setting the bar at an unprecedented new level. Moana has the experience, the skills and the confidence to establish this new level. All women now have to raise up to that level.”

I ask, how important was today to women’s surfing?

“If you have Pipe, Sunset, Grajagan and Margaret River on the Women’s schedule, you’d better have a surfer with incredible skills in those waves and the experience to not be intimidated,” says Cairns. “Moana is the new WSL poster child for how great women’s surfing can be. There’s a lot of women with skills who will step up and challenge her but the key points are: Moana has made the WSL Women’s Tour in heavy waves credible and will lead a renaissance in women’s surfing away from dumb aerial bullshit to the realm where respect in surfing is earned…real waves.”

Is there a parallel between Moana and your lil gang of Bustin Down the Door mad cats?

“Change is scary. We forced change because we had no choice. No money, no education, just a desire to make surfing amazing and us along with it,” says Cairns. “To earn respect and to build a sport. That’s what Moana can catalyze in women’s surfing. Today’s waves have changed the game. Every young girl at BSR or Urbansurf now knows the pendulum has swung.”

Were you surprised they didn’t run the event yesterday or day before?

“I was pissed. I knew Moana had the skills as have many other girls, but more importantly the women need to escape the woke culture that permeates the WSL and apologizes for the women’s shortcomings in heavy waves. And now they stand up in front of the hyper-critical surf audience (like on Beachgrit comments) and say we’ve done it. I defy any of the internet trolls to go out at Pipe and do what those Women have done.”

Moana Jones Wong, unstoppable at Pipe.
Moana Jones Wong, unstoppable at Pipe.

“History made in so many ways” as wildcard Moana Jones Wong smashes Olympic Gold medalist, five-time World Champion Carissa Moore to win Billabong Pipeline Pro!

A star is born.

The World Surf League, let’s be honest, absolutely blew both truth, narrative and the American Way yesterday by disappearing the women Soviet style. Quickly erasing the history they had, thus far, written. Mention of the word “women” apparently guaranteeing a trip to whatever gulag Barton Lynch is currently whistling in.

Or whittling.

I picture Lynch a whittler.

In any case, yesterday was called off, at the very end of the day, due “unfavorable winds” or some such, plus unspecified surfers didn’t want to paddle.

Very likely not included in the group made up of Tyler Wright were Moana Jones Wong and Carissa Moore.

The two Hawaiians dispatched their sparing partners, Wong the aforementioned Wright, Moore besting Lakey Peterson in day-late-dollar-short Pipe then met in the Finals.

Billabong Pipeline Pro, as of yesterday, Kelly Slater joined Ross Williams in the booth to shower Jones Wong with Gabriel Medina, Gerry Lopez, Shawn Briley comparisons which seemed silly.

Moana Jones Wong is Moana Jones Wong and a star has been born.

She dropped in, double hand stalled, barreled, got spit.

Building a symmetrical house upon two 6.67s.

Rochelle Ballard, who just I begged the World Surf League to pay, appeared in the Red Bull Athlete Zone to share the best insights. The best view from how it actually feels, what it actually means.

Ballard is a star too.

Carissa Moore?

A legend, without shade, surfing’s biggest star, but she seemed lost in the lineup. Not scared, not timid, but uncertain. Williams continued to claim it was an equal heat from the booth, as time ticked down, Jones Wong living on the right side of the Combo-land wall, claiming it anyone’s game but Moore seemed outclassed from the hooter and it felt obvious.

As obvious as California being perpetually in the back of Conner Coffin’s mind.

The 805.

Jones Wong, though, was pure 808 and her future, despite the WSL, in spite of the WSL, is so so bright.

Jones Wong took off on a perfect A-Frame as time ticked down near zero, Carissa Moore still grazing in Comboland.

A star born.