Paddle Out to Honour MP

100’s Join Paddle Out to Honour MP

15 April 2012

Yesterday, standing in front of the beach where her son ruled, Joan Watt passed a message from MP to the fans, surf devotees and friends who came to pay their respects to a man many consider to have helped lay the foundation for modern professional surfing.

“You’re all mad you know,” she said with a smile, bringing grins from those who knew Peterson and recognised the favourite saying.

Past and present surfing world champions and legends including Kelly Slater, Fanning and great friend and rival Wayne ”Rabbit” Bartholomew looked on as “their Joan” spoke of “her boy”.

“We all hoped that Michael would return to his beloved Kirra,” she said. “Well today he will.

”Michael’s ashes will be spread out at the break he made famous. Michael was my boy and I loved him very much.”

Just after Mick Fanning won the 51st Bells Beach contest on Good Friday, a ”mini cyclone” tore across the beach, knocking down the tribute walls erected in honour of previous winners. All, except for the photo of three-time Bells champion (1973-1975) Michael Peterson, said Doug ”Claw” Warbrick, co-founder of Rip Curl, the event’s sponsors.

“Everything else had been knocked down but there was Michael looking over Bells Beach,” Warbrick told 500 cheering mourners who congregated at Kirra on the Gold Coast yesterday to farewell Peterson, the King of Kirra.

Rainbow, Snapper, Greenmount, Duranbah; Peterson ruled them all in his day.

But Kirra – and the entire Australian contest scene – belonged to Peterson in the 1970s and yesterday, with the new wave of surfing royalty looking on, MP was brought home.

Warbrick spoke of a “real gentleman” who had an unchallenged memory on the progression of surfing as a sport.

“He was a wonderful gentleman with a kind heart and an extraordinary memory of the evolution of surfing,” he said.

“If you were looking for details, you could just call Michael up.”

To the theme music of the iconic surf movie Morning of the Earth, which helped cement MP’s reputation as one of the great Australian surfers, those who knew Peterson and those who just knew of his reputation took to the ocean to form a circle in his honour.

Under the direction of members of the Kirra Surfriders Club, of which MP was a life member, club champion and former president, his ashes were scattered in the middle of the circle; his mum and sister Dot standing where the surf lapped the shore, waving them on.

Slater said his friend’s legacy was for surfers to “do their own thing”.

“I think he stood out because you didn’t see him following anyone else,” Slater said.

“He was doing it his way and he wasn’t necessarily looking to someone else to teach him how to do it.

”It was a new revolution in short boards, they were learning themselves and he wasn’t watching someone else do it. It was, ‘Well, we’ll have to figure out how to make this work.'”

Fanning hoped the legend of MP would continue to inspire.

“His stories … it’s like a folk legend,” said one of the more recent surfing superstars the Gold Coast has produced. “I think it’s important people remember and keep the stories going.

”He might not be here in person, but his spirit is still with us.”

Peterson’s mother said there was nowhere else she had considered saying goodbye to her son, and the memorial at Kirra brought his life full circle; Michael had taken his first steps on Greenmount beach, just around the corner.

“That day he died, Kirra came up four foot [in wave size],” Ms Watt said. “Nobody could believe it. They all go to Bells and they got four foot down there for the five days.

”All those picture boards blew over but they came back the next day and Michael’s was still standing.

“Michael just had to go surfing.”

MP Paddle Out – Story extracts from smh article by Amy Remeikis 15 April 2012

Photos by Mike Tobin from KSC – Photo of Kelly, Joan & Dot by Harrison Saragossi