Earlier this week, just hours after his quarterfinal heat at the Billabong Pipe Masters as the sun was setting on another eventful North Shore season, Kelly Slater paddled back out to into the lineup in front of Ehukai Beach Park to salute an old friend.
When he passed away in 2012, Michael Peterson, the most dominant Australian surfer of early to mid 1970s, left behind an army of admirers. While MP's mental health issues would wall him off from many, as Peterson became reacquainted with the surfing world in the early 2000s, the 11-time World Champ struck up an unlikely friendship with the "Black Wizard". Though there are certainly parallels between Slater's competitive domination in mid-90s (and again in the mid-aughts) and MP's in '70s, Slater's undoubtedly enjoyed a more well-adjusted relationship with fame.
"MP and I had an unlikely friendship. We were very different personalities and people, but I really enjoyed visiting him and hearing old stories," said Slater of the 1972 and 1974 Australian champ. "Over the years I've become good friends with his sister, Dot, and brother, Tommy. [MP's] mom, Joan, has always been super supportive. I intended to visit [MP] in the week before he passed away and unfortunately didn't--one of those things where you just think you'll see someone soon."
On Monday, Slater finally got his chance to formally pay his respects, when shortly after he surfed his Pipe Masters heat, a friend of the Peterson family who had flown over from Australia to watch the contest, approached Slater with a bottle of MP’s ashes. When the contest was over, while the island was erupting in revelrous celebration of its native son, Slater sat quietly sharing stories about MP, before paddling out, ashes in tow, to spread the surfing legend’s remains among the world's most hollowed lineup.
"To have Sue show up with his ashes and ask me to paddle them out was a great surprise,” Slater said. “I wasn't part of the ceremonies in Oz so it was a real pleasure to call Dot and Tommy and let them know I was going to spread some ashes at Pipe/Ehukai. It happened totally by chance and it was Sue's last day on the North Shore before returning home. Nobody else seemed to click and help her out, so it was kind of by default, but I was very honored and stoked to get to say goodbye one last time to an old friend."
[Top photo: Slater saying his final goodbye to Michael Peterson in the water at Pipe. Photo: Glaser]