Bright, gracious, persevering big-wave surfer from the North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii; winner of the 1958 Makaha International contest, and one of the original California-born surfers who helped shape big-wave riding in the late '50s and early '60s. "He'd wait with the patience of Job for the biggest wave of the day," fellow California transplant Rick Grigg said. "And when it came he usually caught it."
Cole was born (1930) in Los Angeles, the son of a stockbroker, raised in Highland Park and San Marino, and began surfing at age 14 when he moved with his family to Santa Monica. He graduated in 1953 with a B.A. in fine arts from Stanford University, where he played water polo and was a nationally ranked middle-distance freestyle swimmer. While at Stanford he often drove to nearby Santa Cruz to ride Steamer Lane, developing a taste for large waves.
Cole taught high school and served in the army, then moved to Honolulu in 1958 to teach math at Punahou School, and to test his mettle on the North Shore of Oahu, which had recently eclipsed Makaha as the center of big-wave surfing. George Downing, Wally Froiseth, and a few other Hawaiians were riding the North Shore, but much of the groundbreaking work at places like Waimea Bay and Sunset Beach was being done by California-born surfers like Buzzy Trent, Pat Curren, Fred Van Dyke, and Greg Noll. Cole and fellow Stanford grad Rick Grigg joined the group in 1958.
At 6' 4", Cole was the tallest of the big-wave surfers, and perhaps the least nimble. But because of his tremendous swimming ability, along with an inborn calmness and an analytic mind that told him big-wave danger was overstated, he soon gained a reputation as one of the sport's boldest riders. In 1972, however, Cole was struck by his surfboard and blinded in his right eye.
Cole received an M.S. in information sciences from the University of Hawaii in 1971. He had left Punahou School (where he'd taught Gerry Lopez and Jeff Hakman, among other well-known '70s surfers), and was then working as an operations research analyst for the Navy Civil Service. Decades passed, and Cole continued to ride big waves on the North Shore, attributing his longevity in part to the fact that he had a rich life outside of surfing. "Those of my generation who dedicated all their time to surfing aren't in the lineup anymore. 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." Although he won the 1958 Makaha International and rode in the 1965 Duke Kahanamoku Invitational, Cole generally took a dim view of surfing contests, saying that they worked against the main purpose of the sport, which is to have a good time.
Cole rode Waimea for the last time in 1995 at age 65, but was still riding Sunset Beach—without wearing a leash—into the mid 2000s. "When Peter paddles out at Sunset," Rick Grigg said in 1998, "everyone cheers."
Cole appeared in a half-dozen surf movies including Surf Safari (1959), Barefoot Adventure (1960), and Cavalcade of Surf (1962); he was also featured in Surfing for Life, a 1999 PBS-aired documentary about aging surfers. In the mid-60s, Cole wrote articles for Surf Guide magazine, mainly on big-wave riding.
Cole was inducted into the Hawaii Waterman Hall of Fame in 2011.