I think back on how Peter was often on the biggest board, the farthest out…whether at Sunset or Waimea…catching some of the biggest sets. He was Always, smiling, warm hearted…A genuine, hard-core lover of surfing, the ocean…LIFE. I always looked up to him. Dr. Cole will always be a fixture for my memories ‘back in the day’ on the NS.
Aloha and Mahalo Peter. GQ
Legendary Oahu big wave surfer Peter Cole, the tall, gracious, soft-spoken winner of the 1958 Makaha International contest and a stalwart rider into his 60s at big Waimea Bay, died peacefully in his sleep early Saturday morning on Feb 5th 2022 in his North Shore home, in the presence of his wife, Sally, and their family, his son, Peter Jr.
Born Oct. 12, 1930, Cole was 91 years old
The cause of death was a heart condition that had been worsening over the past few months, his son said, adding his father had been happy and animated, surrounded by family in his final days.
“We all felt so fortunate to share this last stage of his life with him,” the younger Cole said, “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 as he nodded his head to some of his favorite music.”
One of the pioneering group of California-born surfers who helped revive and modernize the Hawaiian tradition of big-wave riding in the late ’50s and early ’60s, Cole, with his identical twin brother Cornelius, was born in Los Angeles and began surfing at age 14 when the family moved to Santa Monica, according to Matt Warshaw’s “Encyclopedia of Surfing.”
He graduated in 1953 with a bachelor of fine arts from Stanford University, where he played water polo and was a nationally ranked middle-distance freestyle swimmer.
While attending Stanford, Cole would drive over the coastal range to Santa Cruz to ride the famous big waves of Steamer Lane.
He moved to Honolulu in 1958 to teach math at Punahou School, where his students included future surf champions Gerry Lopez and Jeff Hakman. He also wanted “to test his mettle on the North Shore of Oahu, which had recently eclipsed Makaha as the center of big-wave surfing,” Warshaw writes, along with George Downing, Wally Froiseth and Californians Buzzy Trent, Pat Curren, Fred Van Dyke, Greg Noll and Ricky Grigg.
“Bright, gracious and persevering,” Warshaw writes, Cole would wait for the biggest wave of the day and usually got it, according to Grigg. He received a master’s of science degree in information sciences from the University of Hawaii in 1971, and worked as an operations research analyst for the Navy Civil Service.
In 1972 Cole was struck by his surfboard and blinded in his right eye, but continued to be recognized as one of the sport’s boldest riders.
“Peter was a first-class individual, one of a kind,” Keone Downing, son of George Downing, said today.
“He was a fixture in the lineup; when you saw him, you knew it was good,” Downing said, adding he could vividly remember Cole dominating out at Sunset Beach, where he surfed into the mid-2000s, “always in his white T-shirt on his yellow board, and he never wore a leash, because he was such a strong swimmer.”
Cole was inducted into the Hawaii Waterman Hall of Fame in 2011.
A dedicated ocean conservationist and development watchdog, he served as a chairman of the Sunset Beach Community Association and founding chairman of Surfrider Foundation’s Oahu chapter.
“The Encyclopedia of Surfing” quotes Cole as saying, “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.”
Cole appeared in a half-dozen surf movies, including “Surf Safari” (1959), “Barefoot Adventure” (1960), and “Cavalcade of Surf “(1962), and in “Surfing for Life,” a 1999 PBS-aired documentary about aging surfers.
“Cole was a Surfing Everyman — maybe the greatest of them all,” Warshaw wrote in an online post today. “He was who we wanted to be, not just as a surfer but as a person.”
“I was so fortunate,” said his son Peter Cole, an artist. “It’s impossible to imagine a more supportive and loving father.”
In addition to his wife and son Peter Jr. (wife Paula), Cole is survived by sons Ka‘aina and Douglass (wife Maureen), stepdaughter Kaulana Fraser, brother Schuyler, six grandchildren, and nephews and nieces.