Cutback and the damage done.
Ask World Champion Andy Irons to list his five favorite surfers, and Tom Curren would be number one or two. Ask Kelly Slater the same question. Again, Curren tops the list. And who was Curren’s major inspiration when he was rising through the amateur ranks? Wayne “Rabbit” Bartholomew, 1978 World Champ and present day helmsman of the ASP. And who did Rabbit learn heaps from back in his early Kirra and Duranbah days? If you’re thinking Michael Peterson (a.k.a. “M.P.”), you have the markings of a surf historian.
M.P. is a legendary Aussie regular-foot who baffled and befuddled all corners of the surfing universe throughout the 70s. Spawned from the spiraling Gold Coast point breaks, his relaxed poise in the tube showed surfers that once behind the curtain, less is more. Relax. Put your hands behind your back if you like.
Cutbacks are fleeting things. We arc across a chunk of wave that eventually gobbles up our glorious wake and disperses it back into the sea. M.P.’s cutback is immortal. He laid down a blueprint that’s been shrunk, stretched, and expanded upon, but in tracing the origins of the greats, you’ll invariably find yourself arriving at M.P.
“I think M.P.’s influence was to introduce lightning-quick cutties and snaps combined with a sixth-sense tuberiding instinct in competition,” says Rabbit. “He mastered the shortboard, was innovative with fin design and placement, and took performance surfing to another plateau.”
But then things went wrong.
Surfing superstardom was more a burden than a privilege for M.P. He withdrew, purportedly acquiring a heroin habit in the process. After winning the ’75 Bells event, he hid in the bushes, refusing to go onstage to accept his victory trophy. Things continued getting weirder and came to a screeching crescendo in ’83, when M.P. was arrested after an infamous car chase with the Queensland police, which landed him in a mental institution where he was diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic. He’s since been released and today lives a quiet existence on the Gold Coast, not far from the winding barrels of Kirra–the very spot that made him famous in the first place.
Ultimately, M.P. serves as a lesson about hero worship and the separation between solid surfing and stable citizenry. Learn from my cutbacks, borrow from my tube rides, follow my watery ways, he said to us through his actions. But on land, well, the whole thing fell apart in the end, didn’t it?–Jamie Brisick