Peter Cole, a legendary Oahu Big Wave surfer who helped pioneer the sport in the 1950s and early ’60s, passed away this past weekend at the age of 91. According to reports, Cole died peacefully from a heart condition that had been getting worse over the past few months.
The winner of the 1958 Makaha International Competition and a veteran rider well into his 60s at Big Waimea Bay, Peter Cole is remembered as being graceful and soft-spoken — yet ultra competitive on the surfboard.
Along with his identical twin brother, Cornelius, the Cole’s helped revive and modernize the Hawaiian tradition of big-wave riding.
Peter moved to Honolulu from Los Angeles in 1958 to teach math at the Punahou School, where his students included future surf champions Gerry Lopez and Jeff Huckman. But it was on the waves where Peter Cole eventually made a name for himself, often testing his mettle on Oahu’s North Shore.
In an unfortunate accident, Peter Cole went blind in his right eye in 1972 after colliding with a surfboard. Still, he continued to be recognized as one of the most courageous surfers in the sport, and refused to let the disability hold him back.
Due to his legendary work in the surfing community, Cole was inducted into the Hawaii Waterman Hall of Fame in 2011.
In addition to his surfing accomplishments, Peter Cole also appeared in a half a dozen surf films, including the following titles.
- Surf Safari (1959)
- Barefoot Adventure (1960)
- Cavalcade of Surf (1962)
- Surfing for Life (1999 PBS-aired), a documentary about aging surfers
According to Matt Warshaw’s book “The Encyclopedia of Surfing”, Cole was a “surfing everyone — probably the greatest of them all. He was who we wanted to be, not only as a surfer but as a person.”