8: Peter Cole: Dropping In At Sunset

The Get Out and SURF podcast travels to the North Shore of Hawaii to hang out surfing legend Peter Cole. Peter is a true big wave pioneer and one of the North Shore’s original watermen. He won the Makaha International surfing contest in 1958, considered the “world title” at that time. More impressive than his competitive record is the fact that he remained an active and respected surfer well into his golden years. I hope you enjoy this episode as much as I enjoyed making it, pura vida!

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I hope to see you surfing!
Joe Walsh

Audio transcription:

Joe Walsh:
This is Joe Walsh coming to you from the North Shore of Hawaii, and you’re listening to the Get Out and Surf Podcast. This week we sit down with one of Hawaii’s most famous big wave surfers, surfing legend Peter Cole. Peter’s a true waterman and an inspiration for anyone looking to charge big waves or simply live a full surfing life. So sit back, relax, and let’s get this thing started.
Hey, hey, hey. This is Joe Walsh coming to you from Sunset Beach, North Shore of Hawaii. And I’m sitting here with surfing legend Peter Cole. Peter, welcome to the show.
Peter Cole:
Well, welcome to you Joe. Good to see you again. And Nick.
Niki Hurren:
Absolutely a pleasure to be here, really. Just amazed to be here on the North Shore. Unbelievable dream.
Joe Walsh:
Niki Hurren. As always. And not as always, Peter Cole. It’s pretty special, Peter, sitting here. Well, quick background about Peter Cole for those listening to the show that maybe aren’t aware. Peter is one of North Shore’s greatest living surfing legends. True original waterman, lifeguard, paddler, swimmer, and surfer. A true big wave pioneer. Started surfing Hawaii in the 1950s. He won the Makaha International Surfing Contest in 1958, regarded as the world title of surfing at that time. And we’re lucking enough to be sitting here in your home. Thank you very much.
And I just have so many questions, Peter, I don’t even really know where to begin.
Peter Cole:
Well, one thing I’d like to mention is that winning the surf contest at Makaha, before they had the contest they had a luau, and I brought in two cases of beer, and the judges loved that. And that’s why I won, I think.
Joe Walsh:
Oh, so similar game plan that we have with the brewery. So you brought the judges some beer and I think that probably swayed the them
Peter Cole:
Oh, yeah. Yeah. I wouldn’t have won otherwise.
Joe Walsh:
Well, what I’d really like to do, Peter, is I’d like to hear your story. I’d like to start at the beginning, and have you share with us how you got into surfing.
Peter Cole:
Well, actually two of my closest friends, Buzzy Trent and Kit Horn, started my twin brother. I have an identical twin brother named Corny. He and I were … It was 1944 at [Sereno 00:02:16] Beach in Santa Monica, right down there’s this California Incline Road, off of California Street. And you go down, and there’s this Sereno, a fairly well-known beach. It had the Marion Davies house was in the back, and it had the [Neenee Howser’s 00:02:33] Inn. And we started there, straight off on paddleboards. We’d go into the Neenee Howser restaurant, bar, and whatever it was. And we’d get the paddleboards and we’d take them out and surf them straight off in Santa Monica.
And Kit and Buzzy, and Matt Kivlin was a real good surfer. I think Matt Kivlin was sort of the John John of that era. He was really one of the best surfers around. And Buzzy Trent was a big wave rider that was real good. And Kit Horn was a wonderful waterman. And those guys started, they were a year older than us. And they started Corny and I. We were about 14 at the time. And then we graduated to go to Malibu. In 1945 we had an old 12-cylinder Packard, and we’d stack the boards in this convertible Packard that we had, and we’d drive up to Malibu with surfboards hanging out the back and everything. And we started going to Malibu on weekends. And that’s when we really started.
Joe Walsh:
I know Malibu is pretty hectic these days. What was it like in the mid 40s surfing [crosstalk 00:03:47]-
Peter Cole:
It was really pretty good. We had kind of these gentlemen rules and people didn’t snake each other as much as they did later on. And I think what was really good, we didn’t have the leash. So if a surfer fell off his board would go in and he’d have to swim. And I think the leash actually contributed to crowds. Before the leash you didn’t have as big a crowd as you’d have. We’d maybe get 20 people out at the lineup at Malibu. But everybody was pretty courteous at the time. The guy on the inside had the right of way and you could get waves by yourself.
Joe Walsh:
The way it’s supposed to be.
Peter Cole:
Yeah. And it was really kind of nice. And when it got big, I think it was in 1946, there was a real big swell. And it gets a soft swell, summer swell. And we were riding to the pier. And we got rides all the way from the [Point 00:04:44] through to the pier. And that was probably the best Malibu I’ve ever seen. But Malibu is pretty consistent. It was like always a right … Every way was sort of the same. And I always liked a peak, a shifting peak and a kind of a dynamic ocean. And so my favorite spot in the Santa Monica area or in that California area, Southern California area around Santa Monica up to Ventura and everything was a place called Overhead.
Joe Walsh:
Ventura Overhead.
Peter Cole:
Ventura Overhead. And that was my favorite spot. My brother loved Rincon. He was always a wall surfer, and we’d argue all the time about where we were going to surf that day. But Overhead we got a lot of good Overhead.
Joe Walsh:
Okay. So you started in Santa Monica, but quickly graduated to the [inaudible 00:05:38] Point break, [inaudible 00:05:39] Point at Malibu-
Peter Cole:
At Malibu. And we surfed a lot there. Yeah. That was in 1945 through … till I went to college I was surfing Malibu every summer, and I would surf in the Ventura Overhead or Rincon during the winter.
Joe Walsh:
And where did you end up going to college?
Peter Cole:
I went to Stanford. And I ended up having a real good deal there because I swan competitively and my tuition was all taken care of with a grant and aid, and I had a hashing job for my meals and I lived at the Lake Lagunita Boathouse and lifeguarded for my room. So I didn’t have any expenses. And I would go up to Stanford and come back richer than I was when I went up there. So it was a real good setup. And I enjoyed Stanford. It was a good place. And I competed in swimming.
And swimming was my major thing then. Swimming was much more important to me than surfing was at that time.
Joe Walsh:
From what I understand you were pretty much the fastest swimmer on the West Coast.
Peter Cole:
Well, in my distances, the middle distance of 440 and the 1,500 and the 220 I was probably as fast as anybody. Yeah. I enjoyed competing. That was a lot of fun.
Joe Walsh:
Okay. So Stanford. That probably leads you to surfing around the Santa Cruz area.
Peter Cole:
Yeah. In fact, I had friends that had cars. I didn’t. But people that grew up with me in Santa Monica, one was a year younger and the other one was two years younger, they had cars, and we’d go down to Steamer Lane in Santa Cruz all the time every weekend if it was good in the winter. And we got some pretty good surf. And it was really a lot of fun. And it was nobody out. At that time we didn’t have wetsuits like we do now. And so we’d go to the Goodwill and get a 25-cent woolen sweater and cut the sleeves, and that would be our protection against the cold.
Joe Walsh:
A wool sweater?
Peter Cole:
Yeah.
Joe Walsh:
I mean, I’ve surfed Santa Cruz and I feel like even in the summer it can get a little cold.
Peter Cole:
Oh yeah. The water would get down to around 48, and that would be cold. I had an old Simmons Concave. It was 24 inches wide, and it was 10’6″, and it was a balsa fiberglass board. It was one of the first early fiberglass balsa boards. Bob Simmons was way ahead of his time. He was-
Joe Walsh:
Didn’t Bob Simmons develop the first balsa boards?
Peter Cole:
He developed the first balsa board with … They had all balsa. It was always balsa. The general veneer was balsa with redwood strips. But the balsa wasn’t what was new. What was new was what Simmons did with Fiberglass. And he built boards with elliptical rails. He was Caltech student before he graduated or whatever it was, and so he had this engineering background. He was very bright. And he was a real eccentric guy. He was a classic guy to … And we used to, Buzzy Trent and myself and Corny and all of us used to … He was our mentor, you know. He had a car. We didn’t have a car. He’d drive us off to surf different areas.
So when we’d go in the winter, like when I was at Stanford and we’d go down to Santa Cruz, I would kneel paddle. And once you fell off and swam you were pretty much out of it for the rest of the day. So you tried not to swim too much. But you got used to it. And we got some good waves at [Steamer 00:09:42].
Niki Hurren:
Did the Bob Simmons boards, did you, because I’ve seen a lot of the boards that he had done, and they were twin fins, or where they actually a single fin? The ones that you were riding.
Peter Cole:
The one I had was a balsa, it was one of the earliest balsa fiberglass boards. It was a single fin concave, elliptical rails, scoop nose. And it was a good board. I rode it, it was probably the longest period of riding one board in my lifetime. I started riding it in 1947 when I got it, when Simmons made it for me. And then my brother, we had a Malibu Pier surf day and my brother was riding, and he borrowed it. And I was in a swim meet competing at the L.A. Swim Stadium. But he took it surfing, and he got caught under the pier and broke it in half. And Simmons put it back together with … He said he could fix it. But he added a little weight, and he put … But I rode that board from 1947 until 1958 when it broke in half in the cliffs at Steamer Lane.
Joe Walsh:
That’s a pretty good run. So for those that are listening to the show and aren’t aware, Peter, you’re really known for surfing some pretty big waves. I’m looking at this picture behind you on the wall, and I don’t even know how big that wave is. Did you get experience surfing some big waves in Steamer Lane?
Peter Cole:
Well, I think because I was kind of tall and awkward I always did better the bigger the surf was. So I always liked bigger waves. And I think being a good swimmer, the wipe outs never bothered me. I figured, you’re under water for no more than 45 seconds is a two-wave hose down. And you get a two-wave hose down, you’re only under water for less than a minute. And if you relax you can hold your breath for a minute. So it’s never been a big deal, the wipe outs.
Joe Walsh:
I don’t know. I don’t know about you Niki, but I don’t think I could even relax underneath a wave of that size right there.
Niki Hurren:
We were talking about this all the way, like in Costa Rica, and then on the plane on the way down.
Joe Walsh:
Pretty much for the-
Niki Hurren:
Yeah. We’ve been trying because like we know that your swimming record and how confident you were on the [inaudible 00:11:58], and we like the fact that you didn’t use a leash. Because you were so confident swimming.
Peter Cole:
I’ve always been a real … I’ve always liked to stay with what I started with, you know? And I don’t like, I could never do the stand-up paddling. I could never get excited about anything that wasn’t … Like when I body surfed I never used kick fins. And when I board surf I always never had a leash. I never wore a leash in my whole time. And if you don’t wear a leash your wipe outs aren’t going to be as bad. Because when you have a leash that leash drags you and holds you down longer than you would without a leash.
Joe Walsh:
Since you’re talking about surfing without a leash, I mean this day and age it seems like pretty much everyone surfs with a leash except maybe on a smaller day on a long board. At least in Costa Rica where we live. How has that changed the sport in your perspective?
Peter Cole:
Well, the problem with a leash is the good surfers are really good at not snaking people. Like John John Florence and Kelly Slater and those guys. They don’t snake people. They’re so good. But the problem with the leash is that a lot of people can get too many waves. And they’re taking off in positions that are not really ideal for a good wave, a good ride. And they’re there and they’re in the way. And to me the leash has contributed to crowding at the lineup more than any other human-made thing. The leash has probably contributed to a lot of problems in the crowds.
Joe Walsh:
Do you think that’s because people perhaps have false confidence? They know that even if they fall off a wave their board’s only a few feet away?
Peter Cole:
Oh yeah. That’s definitely it. And they wipe out and they just grab their board and they’re out there again getting another wave and getting your ride, and getting in your way. To me the leash-
Joe Walsh:
Maybe taking off a little deeper than they should be, because even if they fall-
Peter Cole:
I don’t think … You know, it’s funny but I don’t think that changed anybody. People that would shoulder hop in my day, you know they were always on the shoulder. They’re the same people that shoulder hop later. I don’t think the leash has changed anything in terms of where you take off. I think where you take off is just who you are and what you like and where you want to be. And to me you always should be on the inside. Then you’re not in the way of somebody. So the guy on the inside has the right of way but that rule is not as … It used to be the rule of the lineup was if you were on the inside it was your wave and people wouldn’t take off and snake you. Nowadays people don’t pay any attention to that rule. It’s just a log jam out there. It’s not as good as it was crowd-wise as it was in the early days.
And I’m happy. When I see the lineups with the crowds and everything I’m always thinking that I’m happy that I surfed with I did and we didn’t have those problems that we have nowadays.
Joe Walsh:
Yes. Sounds like 20 people at Malibu with everyone being very gentlemanly.
Peter Cole:
Yeah.
Joe Walsh:
Seems like a pretty nice time.
Peter Cole:
We had a good group out there. We did. And the old-timers were really good. When we started surfing, Buzzy, Kit, and Kivlin and all of us started surfing Malibu, the vets, it was right after the World War II, and all these guys would be coming back, the veterans, from the World War II. And they were all older, and they were all experienced surfers. And they were really good gentlemen and they were fun to be around. And it was a good group of surfers. We all knew each other and we all had a camaraderie that I think is something that I really enjoy in surfing is the camaraderie you have with your friends in the lineup and everything.
And even in my competitive swimming the camaraderie you develop with the people you compete with and everything is what makes sports as much fun as they are. It’s camaraderie, the lineup, the people you get to know. And it’s just wonderful. It’s recreational and pleasure and everything else, mixed into one thing.
Joe Walsh:
I need to ask another question because it’s on my mind regarding not using a leash when you surf. You mentioned something a few minutes ago about wipe outs not being as bad without a leash.
Peter Cole:
Oh yeah.
Joe Walsh:
Can you expound on that a little bit.
Peter Cole:
Yeah. If you have a leash and a wave comes in, because you’re on a board the board is getting towed in with the white water. With a leash you’re under the white water-
Joe Walsh:
Being pulled by the board.
Peter Cole:
… much longer than you would be without a leash. Because without a leash you’re just going to go down, you’re going to dive down. You’re going to let your board go, and you’re going to be coming right back up where you dove down initially. So your wipe outs aren’t as bad without a leash.
Joe Walsh:
Would you found that on a wave, like the one in this picture here-
Peter Cole:
Oh yeah.
Joe Walsh:
If you’d wipe out you’d just dive deep?
Peter Cole:
Oh yeah. It’s really funny because people talk about these wipe outs and everything, you know, and they describe them, and I think the leash is what causes the worst wipe outs. But if you think about out, you see this big wave and you’re caught inside. What do you do? You just let your board go and you’re going to swim in after it. And you dive real deep and you watch the wave go past you. And you come up and you swim in, you know. It’s no big deal.
Joe Walsh:
What about when, well we’re here in Hawaii and the water’s beautiful. But I grew up surfing some river mouths and some areas maybe the water isn’t quite as clear. Have you been in some positions where you’ve been underwater and you couldn’t tell which way was up?
Peter Cole:
No. Nothing I can think of.
Joe Walsh:
Because that definitely would probably help seeing the [inaudible 00:18:18]-
Peter Cole:
Yeah. I don’t … I think if you’re relaxed you’re going to be automatically head up, you know. The biggest most key thing on eliminating problems and why people drown and everything, is because they panic. And they get stiff. And they panic, and that’s what you don’t want to do. You want to be totally relaxed. And if you’re totally relaxed it’s no big deal. And I have to say that, I don’t like to mention this, but guys rode maybe an 18-foot wave, and over the years it becomes 60 feet, you know.
Niki Hurren:
I maybe a little guilty of that myself. Some of the bigger waves have gotten even bigger over the years when you pretell the story.
Peter Cole:
Yeah, when you [crosstalk 00:19:05] talking about. I would call this wave here, it’s a really neat picture. I mean, if you think about it Bud [Browns 00:19:15] made it for me. I was very good friends with Bud Brown. He was the first one to do surf films. And he did a real good job. And he made this for me because I helped him in making his films. I would do the editing with him and the narration. I did a lot of his narration on his film.
And so he made it for me. And the thing about when you take it out of a movie, this is out of a movie, this is-
Joe Walsh:
Okay.
Peter Cole:
And when you take it out of the movie you can get the biggest part of the ride, you know. So probably the overall wave isn’t this big all the time. It’s just that you got the best part of that wave. And so if you’re going to get a good wave you’re just have to get a photographer like Bud that’s filming it, and then look over the view finder and get the biggest part of it. And then it makes it bigger than it really is.
Joe Walsh:
Peter, I know that you’re a little modest when describing the size of these waves and what it’s like to experience some of these big wipe outs. I have to ask, do you think that maybe some of your comfort level is due to the fact that you were such an amazing swimmer growing up in college and basically through your whoLe life, do you think-
Peter Cole:
I think being a good swimmer helps a lot. Yeah. Because without a leash you’re going to do a lot of swimming.
Joe Walsh:
Yeah, for sure.
Peter Cole:
And it helps to be able to get in there fairly quickly and get your board and go back out.
Joe Walsh:
Would you suggest swimming as a great exercise to get your confidence up?
Peter Cole:
Definitely. Definitely. I think one of key things is body surfing, swimming, being a part of the ocean. And just getting the current, getting in a current, getting in a rip, swimming out of a rip, getting in a dynamic ocean. I think all of that is really really helpful on getting ready for any kind of big waves that might come.
Joe Walsh:
Just spending more time in the water.
Peter Cole:
And you want to spend time in the water that’s dynamic. And that’s why I love Sunset so much. To me Sunset Beach, this lineup at Sunset is the best wave in the world because it’s different on the west. It’s always bigger than anywhere else on the North Shore at the time, until it gets too big. Then you have to go to Waimea to surf. But I love Sunset because, especially when it’s north northwest, because it gets this kind of horseshoe wave that comes in on it, and it has a kind of a wedge. And then you take off. You go do a bottom turn and you have this long long wall. And it’s just really a good wave.
Joe Walsh:
Okay. So getting back to your story, talking about Sunset, how did you get here? How did you get to Hawaii? How did you get to Sunset? You were at Stanford, you were surfing Steamer Lane in a wool sweater in 48-degree water, which sounds brutal, but shows your true dedication to surfing and how committed you were.
Peter Cole:
I think you get used to it actually.
Joe Walsh:
Really?
Peter Cole:
Oh yeah. I think-
Joe Walsh:
You just can’t [crosstalk 00:22:35] bother you anymore.
Peter Cole:
Yeah. You can’t. But when I got out of Stanford I went in the army for 21 months 12 days and 7 hours. So I got drafted in the army. But after the army, that was probably from ’54 to end of ’55, I was in the army, and then when I got out I started teaching. I went back to school, took education classes, which are the most ridiculous classes, truisms right and left, you know. They just throw out cliches. And I don’t know if any of you have ever taken any education courses, but they are what produced Trump probably.
Joe Walsh:
I was a math guy like you. Until I decided it was really tough. Then I became an art guy.
Peter Cole:
Well, you know, that’s funny because that background of art and math is what I was. I was majoring in math at Stanford. And then the head of the department, a guy named Francis Bacon, he was a really good well-known teacher at Stanford in math, and he was the head of the department. And he called me in and said that I had to take French or German and they wouldn’t accept Spanish to get a math degree. So I switched over to fine arts. And I got my degree in fine art and did watercolors and oil paintings. And some of these paintings here are … A lot of them are my son who’s a really good artist, and my twin brother Corny was a real good artist.
So I was back with math and art.
Joe Walsh:
So that’s definitely a good move, if you’re studying math or maybe some topic that’s a little pretty difficult and you want to finish your college degree but you …
Peter Cole:
Well, I took all the math courses that you could take for a degree. I just didn’t have the language. So I had a good math background. Stanford had a very good math department when I was there. And it had a fairly good art department. My twin brother went to [Chouinards 00:24:50], which was a very good art school.
Joe Walsh:
Yeah. I understand Corny was an amazing artist.
Peter Cole:
Oh yeah. He was a very good artist. He was the artist. He went off into doing art while I went off to do teaching of math and coaching. So when I was teaching and coaching, that was what I was doing. I was coaching swimming and teaching. And I had a real good job in a place called San Lorenzo Valley High School, which is in Felton. It’s in the skyline, right in the Santa Cruz mountains, right above Santa Cruz. And it’s on the, we call it [Malcoside 00:25:27], which would be the inland side of the mountain range is where the school was. And I taught there and I really enjoyed it. And I lived in Santa Cruz. I lived at Pleasure Point in Santa Cruz. And I was surfing a lot at Santa Cruz, Steamer Lane and everything.
And I was very happy. I thought I’d be spending the rest of my life there. And I got offered to have an interview with a guy that was head of … Dr. John Fox, who was the president of [Punahou 00:25:58], had me … Somehow I got scheduled to have an interview with him in the Sir Francis Drake Hotel in San Francisco. So I drove up there and he talked to me and I talked to him. And we had a long interview. And he said, “Well, what do you want to do? Do you want to teach at Punahou?” And I says, “Well, I’ll go back and think about it.” And he says, “No. You have to make a decision now.” And I thought about Buzzy, who was over here surfing big waves. And I thought about all the good waves that he was getting. And every summer I’d lifeguard with Buzzy and he’d tell me all about this North Shore and everything.
So I thought, “Yes.” And that was the …. He lined me up with a job teaching at Punahou.
Joe Walsh:
That’s the high school in Honolulu.
Peter Cole:
Yeah.
Joe Walsh:
Okay.
Peter Cole:
That’s where Barack Obama went.
Joe Walsh:
Yeah. That’s what I thought.
Niki Hurren:
You also had some pretty famous surfing legends go to the school [inaudible 00:26:56].
Peter Cole:
Yeah. I coached Paul [Strauch 00:26:59], who won, Gerry Lopez, Jeff Hakman. They were all students of mine. And they were, you know, it was really fun. It was a good group. And Fred Hemmings was one of my students. He was a surfer. And he fell asleep in my class. And he was a ultra-conservative Republican. And I’m an ultra-liberal Democrat. We’d argue, even in those days we didn’t get along on the politics at all. But he always fell asleep. And I thought, “Oh, this is great.” So I started talking low and quietly and teaching. And I said, “Poor Fred. Fred has been having long nights and things. He needs his sleep so we’ve got to be quiet and let him sleep.” And he went through three classes, sleeping through three classes. And then a third class I said, “Should we wake him up?” And the students just really were wanting to wake him up.
We said, “Hemmings, wake up!” And he goes, “Oh no, no.” And he was running for office. He was running for mayor, or some political office. And he would have these fundraisers, and he invited me once, and I started talking about how he slept through three of my classes. He never invited me again.
Joe Walsh:
So you got yourself to Punahou teaching math.
Peter Cole:
Yeah. Coaching swimming.
Joe Walsh:
And coaching swimming.
Peter Cole:
And I talked my Stanford coach to come over there and coach at Punahou.
Joe Walsh:
Oh, okay.
Peter Cole:
And so Tom Hainey was the swim coach, and I was assisting him.
Joe Walsh:
And this was in what year?
Peter Cole:
Well, I came in ’58.
Joe Walsh:
Okay, 1958.
Peter Cole:
And that was the year that I entered the Makaha. I bought two cases of beer for the luau before with the judges and-
Joe Walsh:
That’s a great strategy by the way. I love that.
Peter Cole:
Yeah. If you’re in a contest, buy the judges a case of beer, you know.
Joe Walsh:
I like it.
Peter Cole:
And you’re going to win.
Niki Hurren:
Two case just to be sure.
Peter Cole:
Two cases.
Niki Hurren:
Yeah. Well, we just bring a keg.
Peter Cole:
Well, you know, that’s pretty hard to do though, when you’re by yourself. But yeah. We came in ’58. And then we surfed Waimea. Makaha. Makaha point surf was really a good wave when it gets big enough for that Makaha point surf.
Joe Walsh:
Tell me about your first trip coming to the North Shore. Like when you moved here you were teaching at Punahou.
Peter Cole:
Well, I came here in August. So there wasn’t any North Shore at the time. So when I first came here we surfed the [inaudible 00:29:47]. And we had some good surfers there. We had a guy named Conrad [Kuna 00:29:53] that was a real good surfer, at [inaudible 00:29:56], and then Gerry Lopez rode it real well. Jock Sutherland. These young kids that rode it real well.
And so I surfed that when I first came here. And then we started getting the winter coming in. And I surfed … A lot of people didn’t go out to the North Shore that much in those days, in ’58. Makaha was kind of the center of the surfing area in that time. Pipeline was just starting to be surfed. And Sunset was the place you went on the North Shore. And I remember going to Sunset the first day and that was it. Once I surfed Sunset that was my favorite spot and always has been.
Joe Walsh:
Fell in love.
Peter Cole:
That was just the ideal wave, you know. It was a real dynamic wave, and it was always more consistent and bigger than anywhere else on the North Shore, until it got too big, and then we went to Waimea. That’s when we’d ride Waimea, was when Sunset was closed out.
Joe Walsh:
How big does Sunset get?
Peter Cole:
You can ride it … It depends. If it’s coming out of the north northwest it will hold the wave about as, you can get a wave probably 15 feet. If it comes out of the west you’re limited to about a 10 or 12-foot peak.
Joe Walsh:
Now, 15 feet might be a little different for me than it is for you. 15 foot Hawaiian. What is that? Like-
Peter Cole:
Well.
Joe Walsh:
Are you-
Peter Cole:
Well, I think 15 feet was probably … I don’t even think people called it bigger than 15, you know? I think that that 15 foot at Sunset would never get much bigger than 15 foot. I think people would agree with me on that. They even ride it now. Waimea, you ride it between … I think you could probably get a wave at Waimea that’s close to 30 feet.
This wave I would say is probably around 25 to 28 feet. And the biggest wave that we ever rode that was really a big wave was one that three of us took off on it. [Byron Coe 00:32:08] was on the shoulder, and Pat Curren was in the middle. I was on the inside. And Pat made it. I didn’t. I got breaking inside. But it was one of the biggest waves ridden at that time. And it was the end wave of, you know when they have these surf films they have the wave at the end and stuff. And that wave was probably 25 to 30 feet.
Joe Walsh:
Wow. What’s it feel like dropping into a wave that size?
Peter Cole:
The drop, it’s funny, when you get a real big wave you want to paddle real hard. You want to get down fairly straight down. Once you get down towards the bottom of the wave you’re in control. And you turn and you make your turn, and you’re riding the wave. It’s pretty much, the worst wipe outs are when you take off and you don’t have the … You didn’t get down as fast as you should and you get to the point where you’re on the top of the wave and you-
Joe Walsh:
Get held up.
Peter Cole:
You get … Yeah, and you get airborne. You get a wipe out. Those are the worst wipe outs, because you go over the falls with the wave. And you can get a pretty bad wipe out that way.
Joe Walsh:
Yeah. I can imagine. I’ve never surfed a wave of this size, but when I’ve surfed some of the biggest waves I’ve surfed, I feel like when I wipe out it’s because I’m not used to the feeling of free falling and the drop. I feel like maybe on the bigger waves I need to be more prepared to … That feeling of weightlessness as you’re making the drop. Would you say that the feeling of dropping into a wave like the one you have here on your wall, it kind of the same thing. You need to-
Peter Cole:
Yeah. You got to really get down. And that’s why you need a fairly large board. Now, another thing that I always liked was a wide nose. If you think about it, if you have a real narrow nose, you know, like a lot of people wanted to have a fairly narrow board for riding big waves. But I didn’t. I always wanted to have a wide board because if you have a board that’s wide in front of you your confidence is going to be more than if you have a board that’s real narrow in front of you. So I always had a board that was maybe 23 to 24 inches wide in the widest part. And then gradually would get narrower towards the nose.
But I think it’s important to have a board that’s a real good paddler. And so you need a fairly large board.
Joe Walsh:
A little bit extra volume to get in a little bit earlier and give yourself a little extra, maybe a extra second or half second to make that drop.
Peter Cole:
And you really have to get down. You can’t stand up early. You got to wait until you’re down going pretty much down until you can stand up.
Joe Walsh:
It makes me feel a little nervous just thinking about it, Peter.
Niki Hurren:
A lot of it is just due to commitment as well.
Peter Cole:
Yeah.
Niki Hurren:
You know, you’re going for it and-
Peter Cole:
Yeah. Once a big wave is coming and you know you’re in the lineup for it you just, your brain just turns to what am I going to do to ride this wave. And you just sort of focus on it, and you paddle, and you get in it. And you stand up. And after it’s all over it was a lot of fun. But you don’t really think that much, you know. It all becomes a part of surfing, you know? And I think the guys that really surf well, they don’t think about things when they’re on the wave. They don’t think about where they are. They just naturally feel it. And it’s probably the greatest sport ever. I really miss it now that I’ve … When I walk up and check Sunset when it’s coming out of the north northwest I really miss it. Because I’m not surfing now.
And that’s when I miss it, if it’s got the right direction and it’s got the good conditions, and I see the waves. Then I really get depressed. But if it’s west and everybody’s in one area I don’t get so depressed.
Joe Walsh:
Well, you definitely were charging Sunset, big Sunset, well into your later 70s. I don’t know if that’s-
Peter Cole:
Well, actually mid 70s.
Joe Walsh:
Okay.
Peter Cole:
Probably between 75 and 76. I ended up having shoulder problems. And I had a surgery in my neck to pull out a lymph node, a cancerous lymph node. And in the process they took out a whole bunch of lymph nodes that weren’t cancerous. But in the process they nicked my accessory nerve to my trapezius. So it was nerve 11 or something. And when they did that I couldn’t get my arm, I couldn’t get this arm out of the water. I had to do a lot of physical therapy to get it to get out of the water. And then when I finally did all this physical therapy and went back out I just didn’t have it, you know? I wasn’t really into it.
And that was probably when I was 78 or 80. I went back out and I just was sort of a kook out there, so I decided, “Oh, this is ridiculous,” and I quit. But I miss it.
Joe Walsh:
That’s a hell of a run.
Peter Cole:
Yeah. But I didn’t really get … I would say my surfing stopped when I was about 75, 76. But I only surfed Sunset. I wouldn’t surf other places that much.
Joe Walsh:
Can you shed some light into perhaps what sort of lifestyle choices someone needs to take if they want to continue with their surfing well into their golden years?
Peter Cole:
Well, I taught school which was good. Because when you’re teaching you can get out at 2:30 and you can go surf. If you’re not coaching or something. If you can talk the guy that you’re coaching with to take over the coaching. So teaching was a good thing for surfing because you do get a lot of afternoons off that you wouldn’t get with normal jobs. But I ended up working for the Navy after that. And I would go in the office at five … I’d get in the office at around 5:30 to 6:00, and then I could leave at 1:30. I was on [flexi-time 00:38:52]. So I always had a job that allowed me to get in the water when it was good. And so I think that’s important.
But I think you should look at surfing as, it’s not your whole life, it’s just a recreation. And if you do that I think you can surf longer than if you get too obsessed with it, and you wear, I’m trying to think of the terms, but you burn out.
Joe Walsh:
Burn out. So basically if you do nothing but live, surf, breath, eat, sleep, surfing, you might get burn out.
Peter Cole:
Oh yeah. You’re not going to last as long as a person that does it as a recreation.
Joe Walsh:
And has to balance a career and family.
Peter Cole:
And has a regular job, and has a family, bringing up kids, has a beautiful wife, which I’m lucky to have. And you know, and bringing up the kids is really important. That’s number one. And then having a good job, but making sure that that job is such that you can surf, you know?
Joe Walsh:
Flexible.
Peter Cole:
Yeah. Flexible. And that’s what I’ve always had.
Niki Hurren:
Well, I’ve got all three of those. So I’m doing well. So I’m going to-
Joe Walsh:
You’re ready to [inaudible 00:40:03] out to Sunset now?
Niki Hurren:
I wasn’t claiming that. But no, definitely what you’re saying, because for me surfing was just basically about goofing off with my mates. Being able to take some time out of what life is and get out there and forget and just have fun. Just have fun with friends.
Peter Cole:
And the camaraderie you have in the lineup, there were guys that didn’t wear leashes with me. There were guys that were like me, that didn’t wear a leash. Bill Sickler never wore a leash.
Niki Hurren:
Well, I keep coming back to the no leash. When you don’t have a leash or if you’ve gone out you have to surf a lot smarter. You actually have to go out and pick and choose your waves. And how you finish the wave and where you’re going. If have a leash you can just kick out and then just do whatever.
Peter Cole:
Yeah. I think without a leash you end up, the lineup is extremely important. And you end up sitting and waiting for the right wave, and you’re not going to try to ride as many waves as you would with a leash. And I just didn’t like the leash. It seemed to hold me back a little bit. And I didn’t mind swimming.
Niki Hurren:
So in a session would you say that quality over quantity is something that you would push for more?
Peter Cole:
Well, we would get a lot of quantity and quality both.
Niki Hurren:
Yeah. Back in the day, yeah.
Peter Cole:
I really, it’s funny, I think you end up without a leash waiting for the sets more than you do with a leash. And you end up picking your lineups more than you do with a leash. And I think the big part of surfing is knowing your lineups, and figuring out where you want to sit. And waiting for that wave that’s got the right direction, right shape. And then taking off. And so you’re going to get fewer waves, but those waves are going to maybe be better waves. Now, the only problem without the leash is when you lose your board … I had a 11’6″ board or 11’12″, almost a 12-foot board with fiberglass and stringers and everything, it was pretty big. And if I lost my board it would go through the lineup. And these guys would yell, “When are you going to get a leash!” You know?
Joe Walsh:
I heard a story of, and I’m sure this probably happened a lot, of your board washing in at Sunset and some tourist maybe grabbing it to pick it off, drag it up on the beach, and the lifeguards coming over the PA to say, “Don’t touch that board.” Is that, you’re-
Peter Cole:
I don’t know. I don’t know.
Joe Walsh:
Is it always a yellow board? I mean-
Peter Cole:
I’ve always had … I don’t know. I always wore red trunks, white T-shirt type, what do you call those-
Joe Walsh:
[inaudible 00:42:48].
Peter Cole:
Yeah. And a yellow board. And I just always had a yellow board, or a clear board. Fiberglass, balsa.
Joe Walsh:
Do you think a yellow board has anything to do with being a deterrent for sharks?
Peter Cole:
No. I think I like the yellow board because I’m nearsighted, and at that time I surfed without my lenses in. And so I was very nearsighted and if I had the yellow board I could see it. I have about 2,400 eyesight without my lenses. So I’m probably nearly blind without them. And so that’s what I … And I’d surf without them. If it was big I would surf without a lens. If it’s relatively small, 8 to 10, 12 feet I might wear a contact lens.
Joe Walsh:
Peter, I read this quote, well I read this post that someone put on a surfer mag forum on the internet. I’m going to read it the you. You probably won’t remember saying this, but I found it pretty funny. “The best advice I ever got was from Peter Cole. I was in the channel at Sunset on a day that now I would consider good sized. But at 14 I was crapping my shorts. He paddled by and said, ‘Don’t worry. You’ll always come up.’ And I said, ‘Thanks.’ He then added, as he was paddling away, ‘It might be face down. But at least you’ll be up.’ I then went in.”
Peter Cole:
I don’t remember that at all.
Joe Walsh:
I thought that was hilarious.
Peter Cole:
I think somebody made that up. I don’t think that really came out of me, but …
Joe Walsh:
Do you have any advice to anyone who’s aspiring to be a big wave surfer? I mean, we’ve talked a little bit about being confident with your swimming abilities and spending time body surfing and swimming, spending a lot of water time, and definitely you speak about relaxing when you’re underwater so you don’t burn your oxygen. But is it really that simple? Or did you do any sort of like training to prepare for the bigger days, or?
Peter Cole:
Well, being that I’m six foot two, and I’m tall, and I’m awkward, I’m not real coordinated. I always did better when the waves were big. And the board had a lot of momentum. I could surf better. And so I always liked bigger waves because it made up for my awkwardness. And I could ride a big wave much better than I could ride a small wave. And so I always liked bigger waves. And I like a dynamic ocean. I like an ocean that … I just like the idea that there’s rips, there’s currents, there’s lineups, there’s shifting peaks. I just love the idea of being in the dynamic ocean. And one of my favorite places in southern California, and one of the biggest days that I ever had in the San Diego area was at the Tijuana Sloughs, and that would get big. And that was a impressive wave.
Joe Walsh:
I grew up in San Diego. And I grew up hearing about the Tijuana Sloughs. But I’ve never surfed there.
Peter Cole:
Yeah. It’s real good. It reminds me a lot of the outside reefs here on the North Shore. It reminds me a lot. But it can close out a little bit more than some places. But it’s way way out there. You’re out there, I’d say two thirds of a mile out.
Joe Walsh:
And you would paddle out from the shore?
Peter Cole:
Yeah. You’d go out from the shore, and it can get a pretty good wave. And it can get pretty big. And the guys that rode a lot when I was surfing it was Bob Simmons would surf it a lot, and Dempsey Holder, and all these guys rode it a lot. And they kind of told me what the lineup was, and once I surfed it I really enjoyed it.
Joe Walsh:
The surf guides, at least the old Surf in California book from the 70s talks about it being sharky. Is that true?
Peter Cole:
Well, you know, I didn’t know about sharks. I think if the waves are big I don’t think you’re going to see too many sharks in the lineup. But being nearsighted and kind of not seeing very well, I think probably-
Joe Walsh:
A blessing.
Peter Cole:
… is good, you know.
Joe Walsh:
So you talk about having a bit of volume in your board. So if someone’s looking to maybe get into surfing some bigger waves, maybe sizing up a little bit with your board size.
Peter Cole:
Yeah. I think it would be silly to try to ride .. The board that does your best at pipeline for instance, you want to ride on a relatively smaller board. Just because of the way the wave breaks. But at Sunset you want to be on a bigger board, a longer board. Simply because you’re going to be paddling into waves that are much more dynamic and everything. I think a lot of it is just having something you’re comfortable with and you’re confident about it. But it has to be a fairly good paddler if you’re going to ride big waves with a board. And I think all the surfers, I think even the younger surfers nowadays, when it gets big at Waimea or wherever they’re surfing they’re going to be on a longer board than when they’re riding an eight-foot pipeliner.
Joe Walsh:
Yeah. And what about the fear, the fear factor. I mean, when you first started surfing bigger waves did you have a lot more fear dropping into some of those big bombs versus later on in your surfing career?
Peter Cole:
I don’t remember having a lot of fear. I’m trying to think of when the scariest situations … I did go out at Steamer Lane one time. We had to go out. It was really really big. It was January 10th in 1953. And that was a famous date for getting big waves. I think Rincon was maybe 12 to 15 feet. And Santa Cruz was really really big and it was breaking way out fast than a normal lineup. And we had to paddle out from the cove at-
Joe Walsh:
Cowell’s
Peter Cole:
Not from Cowell’s. We paddled out north, the cove that’s to the north of Steamer Lane. North of Seal Rock there. We paddled out and we got out, and then we went, paddled way way out. And that was really big. That was the biggest. I got a wave there, a reef arm, and I rode it halfway to the pier almost.
Joe Walsh:
Oh wow.
Peter Cole:
It was probably the longest wave I’ve ever ridden in California.
Niki Hurren:
What are the spots in the world that you’ve surfed that you really enjoyed, like Sunset, having like dynamic [crosstalk 00:49:51]-
Peter Cole:
Well, the funny thing is, the best place in France I always thought was [Gidere 00:49:55]. And Gidere reminds me a lot of Overhead. Ventura, Overhead. In fact, it’s exactly like the Overhead. And so much like you’re going out, when you go out to surf Gidere, it’s almost like surfing the Overhead. So that was my favorite place in the Biarritz area when I’d go to France to surf.
I don’t remember getting too much surf in England. We did go to Newquay and [Checkett 00:50:23] and Sally says I didn’t ride it. I thought Henry got me a board and I rode somewhere, but maybe not. But then the East Coast, I surfed the East Coast a little bit. But the best surf in California I always thought was the Steamer Lane, Overhead, and Windansea. I liked Windansea in the summertime. That was my favorite summer surf.
Joe Walsh:
It’s a big wave.
Peter Cole:
So it’s a lot of fun.
Joe Walsh:
But nothing compares to sitting here in the North Shore and-
Peter Cole:
Well, yeah. I think the North Shore is … The thing I like about the North Shore is that it’s so consistent. We’ve had a bad stretch here. The last three weeks has been onshore winds out of the northeast. Total onslaught of onshore winds coming out of the northeast. But lately, in the last three days, it’s been beautiful. And this is what I’m used to seeing, is this beautiful conditions.
Joe Walsh:
And for those listening to the show, we’re sitting in your lovely home, and thanks again for having us, Peter. But you look out the window, and I can see Rocky Point. I can see Monster Mush. What’s this wave?
Peter Cole:
[Cammies 00:51:50].
Joe Walsh:
Okay. Cammies.
Peter Cole:
And then you have the rip that shoots out between Cammies and Sunset. And then you have Sunset Beach. And when you go south you have Pupukea, and then you go past that, [Aoki 00:52:09] Beach Park, and then you have Pipeline. And Pipeline is a very good wave. But it doesn’t have … The thing about Pipeline is you got to have a smaller board, because it’s … I always rode it with a real long board and a fairly large board, and I always had trouble with Pipeline. And the guys that really rode it well were Gerry Lopez, [Rod Jocksell 00:52:35] and those guys. They were on smaller boards, and they were really riding it well. And it’s almost between a body surf and a board surf, you know? Pipeline was kind of reminded me of, it’s a real good body surf. The most fun I had at Pipeline was actually body surfing.
Joe Walsh:
Really?
Peter Cole:
But yeah. It’s a good wave. It’s really an impressive wave. But it’s more factory made than Sunset.
Joe Walsh:
Yeah, seems like obviously a world-class wave, but kind of the same thing over and over again, a little bit, as opposed to maybe Sunset where every wave is-
Peter Cole:
Yeah, Sunset is … Every direction that you get at Sunset is different. West is different than the northwest. North northwest is the best.
Joe Walsh:
And then maybe even every wave, even in the same session might have different characteristics.
Peter Cole:
No, actually when it’s west it’s west, and when it’s north northwest it’s north northwest. And yeah, all the waves come in a certain … But if you’re surfing it a lot you’re going to get all those directions and they’re going to be a different wave in different conditions. I never cared much for the west because it always lined up everybody in one area. And it never had the wall that you get when it’s out of the north northwest.
And to me the Sunset, between 10 and 12 feet out of the north northwest is the best wave in the world. That’s just my opinion.
Niki Hurren:
You definitely positioned yourself on the North Shore to be very close to that wave, so-
Joe Walsh:
Yeah. All the waves really.
Niki Hurren:
Oh yeah.
Peter Cole:
I liked it because I could carry my board up on the bikeway, and then leave my shoes, my go aheads at the lifeguard tower, and paddle out from there. So I surfed until I quit surfing basically. And that was my favorite spot and always has been.
Joe Walsh:
Well, Peter, I really appreciate you being on the podcast. And for those that don’t know, I went to college and was really good friends with your younger son Doug, and roommates with him, and his older brother, the other son Peter. And I really looked forward to the trips when you would come out to San Diego to visit, because you’d always take us out to a really nice dinner, and I’d always get to hear these stories of surfing big waves. And those stuck with me. And they inspired me. And the same way that, I mean I’m getting goosebumps right now … The way that your story’s inspiring me still. And I really hope, I mean I know that your story is going to now be shared with everyone listening to the show, and it’s really inspiring stuff. And I wanted to say thank you for all those dinners.
Peter Cole:
That was fun. That was fun. I’d be coming back from the Pentagon. I was working for the military, and I’d stop off always when those guys were in college. And I really enjoyed, UCSD was a great school to go to.
Joe Walsh:
Especially as a surfer, you got Black’s Beach right there.
Peter Cole:
You couldn’t beat the place for surfing and everything. The water polo coach was a guy named Denny Harper. Was he the water polo coach?
Joe Walsh:
Well, I didn’t do water polo. I was like the one guy on Poole Street that didn’t do water polo. I just surfed.
Peter Cole:
Who was at Poole Street with you?
Joe Walsh:
Well, I was with Doug and then Peter. So two of them. And then we had Jack [Aldrich 00:56:14], Mark [Egan 00:56:16], Jack [Mach 00:56:18]. There was like seven of us in this tiny little four-bedroom house. Remember that?
Niki Hurren:
That was good.
Joe Walsh:
But right across the street from Black’s.
Peter Cole:
[inaudible 00:56:25] Poole street [crosstalk 00:56:26].
Niki Hurren:
I can only imagine. I can only imagine what you boys would have got up to.
Peter Cole:
They were all pretty, it was a good group.
Joe Walsh:
Well, Doug was always inviting me to come out and stay with him here. And I never did it. It took me over 20 years. Finally here now. And-
Peter Cole:
Is this your first time in Hawaii?
Joe Walsh:
Well, my first time here at your house. I’ve been to Hawaii before but never been surfing on the North Shore. So it’s definitely a first for me. And it’s a great indoctrination. Hanging out here in your porch and watching these waves and looking at this picture.
Peter Cole:
I was supposed to come up over the weekend.
Joe Walsh:
Yeah. We’re hanging out. We’re going to wait and get some waves.
Peter Cole:
Were you here three days ago?
Joe Walsh:
No, we just got in last night.
Peter Cole:
Because three days ago was really good.
Joe Walsh:
Yeah, we were-
Peter Cole:
Good conditions. Good offshore winds. We’ve had nothing but onshore winds, rain, and lots of rain and onshore winds. It’s been a mess out here.
Joe Walsh:
Yeah. It looks like it’s going to clean up kind of nice.
Peter Cole:
You guys came at a good time because it’s starting to clean up.
Joe Walsh:
Yeah. Well, we’ll be hanging out. Thanks again, Peter. Thank you very much for being on the show.
Peter Cole:
Well, it was fun. And good luck.

Joe Walsh:
Thank you for listening to the Get Out and Surf Podcast brought to you by Witch’s Rock Surf Camp in Tamarindo, Costa Rica, a full-service surf resort located right on the beach with warm fun waves right out in front. For more information go to witchsrocksurfcamp.com. Very big thank you to Peter Cole, an amazing waterman, storyteller and ambassador of surfing. I hope you liked the show. If you did, please take a moment and give us a review on iTunes. This will help other people find the podcast. Also make sure to subscribe as we release new episodes every Friday. You can also follow us on Instagram, @getoutandsurf, and if you have any questions, comments, or want to reach out, you can email the show at getoutandsurfcr@gmail.com. Thanks again for tuning in. We’ll see you next week. I’m Joe Walsh, coming to you from the North Shore of Hawaii, and I will see you surfing.

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