When you’re born and bred on the Queensland points, style never leaves you. (Angela Collins)

Inside The Mind Of Peter Harris


*First published in Surfing World issue #348, April 2014

In 1980, Peter Harris tookout the famed Stubbies contest in flawless overhead pipes, surfing his way through the trials and the main event to the final, defeating Hawaiian Dane Kealoha in front of 10,000 screaming Queenslanders, and making him the first rookie to ever win a major surfing event. It was a vindication of sorts for Peter who had been campaigning for local guys to get a start at the event since 77.

Placing 9th in the world and ‘Rookie of the Year’ got him an invite to The Duke contest at Waimea Bay in 1980, and another couple of years on the pro circuit which he soon lost interest in. He returned to shaping (a passion and skill he’d acquired as a grommet under the tutorage of Michael Peterson and Dick Van Straalen) and enjoying flawless days out his beloved point. Peter has worked as a firefighter since 89, has two grown sons and spends his spare time designing surfboards, surfing, writing and living an idyllic existense on Burleigh Headland with Angela, his partner of 25 years. These days, Peter is still won over by the eternal magic of wave riding and he has plenty to share on a range of different topics from a life spent soaked to the bone.


The morning of the Stubbies final was pumping and in a pre-heat warm up sesh, the signs were looking good for Peter Harris. (Aitionn)

Surfing… From a very young age, surfing chose me, once I experienced that monumental, moment of momentum I knew that I would be riding waves till I die. Like anything that you feel passionate about, surfing is pure, in the moment, stoke. I am forever grateful to the Hawaiians for sharing their culture of wave riding.

Surfboards… A combination of art, science and function. The ancient Hawaiian craftsmen and the modern masters that design and make surfboards have always been the foundation of our culture. It can be fun shaping your own but there is nothing like a custom surfboard made by an experienced and talented artisan (so don’t screw them over, pay them all you can afford plus more). Sometimes when everything comes together at the right moment, you get a ‘magic’ surfboard, and that’s priceless.

Waves… Everything comes and goes in waves, flow with them, not against them. All types of waves are fun but long hollow waves are by far the best.

One fin… I reduced the drag from fins back to no fins at all and although finless is a lot of fun I found it limiting. Same with two, three or more fins, also fun, but also limiting in the opposite direction to no fins. It’s great sliding and doing tricks but I like to rock and roll. For me, one fin on a surfboard equals minimal drag, maximum control, and continuous flow. I have been working with John Mantle, who is designing and making modern, up-to-date, single-finned surfboards that work as well, if not better, than other modern surfboards (including thrusters). I am also fine tuning the fin’s thickness and foil to reduce drag even further, and to improve drive. Riding a modern single fin enhances your surfing experience, compliments your style, and is good for your back. The future of single fins is alive and well.


Back in the day Burleigh bowl. (Aitionn)

Conformity… I can’t stand the thought of being part of the norm and to stop imagining other possibilities.

Moments… It doesn’t matter how it comes about or what vehicle we use to get it, because it becomes everything. It is that feeling when all is at its highest level of awareness and satisfaction, every sense and intuitive thought working overtime with ease and pleasure, that spark of life, that moment of timelessness, that place of pure existence, our reason for being, here, now, in this moment.

Fun… Enjoy every moment you get. You can’t hoard fun, it has no shelf life.

Professional Surfing… I never enjoyed competing, winning meant nothing to me. I got talked into going in contests and I hated having to perform for an audience, which can be counterproductive to being a pro surfer. To get given surfboards, wetsuits, clothing, money and air tickets is great but it always comes at a cost. I love watching any creative surfer free surf, I also enjoy watching professionals push the boundaries of competitive surfing in good quality waves (especially when it’s big and dangerous), but I couldn’t give a shit about who ends up being the World Champion. I was number one on the ratings myself for a month, so what? MP and a few others were never officially the World Champs, even though in their time, they were the best surfers on the planet. Dave Rastovich is one of the most talented watermen around and he chooses not to be rated. Pro surfing has its place within the surf culture but it is only a small part of a much bigger picture.

Fame… It is so overrated. Fame is like all other egotistic pursuits, an empty, worthless, endeavour, only realised when attained. Overrating our own existence diminishes its importance.

Success… Success is being content and happy with who, what, and where you are in life. Find yourself, don’t try to be something or someone you’re not, be yourself, everything you need is inside you, you may be surprised by the depth of your being.

Chillin’ with Rabbit Bartholomew. (Aitionn)

Crowds/Localism… For a popular surf break to remain functional it needs some form of policing, and its locals need to be active in that area. Otherwise, it can become dangerously chaotic and crowds can grow beyond saturation point. There are enough breaks for everybody and they should all be graded like ski runs (competence=access).

Burleigh Heads… I surf there every day I can, good or bad. Still my home break, still offers some of the best tubes in the world but don’t come looking. The rocks, the rip, the paddle out, the lack of car parks, and the local crew keep the crowds in check so when it’s on, there is not much left for anyone else.

Age-old wisdom… The real benefits of getting old are realising there aren’t any.

Fear… Confront your fear and conquer it (or at least distract it). 

Education… I think in a society where all knowledge, through experience, is passed on and applied by the subsequent generations, makes for a richer, more advanced future of that civilisation. No one is smarter than all of us. Attaining a uni degree doesn’t make you intelligent, how you apply experiential knowledge does. Tertiary education mostly serves to continue the parroting, programming of the primary and secondary curriculum, it stifles imagination and fails to teach us what we really need to know.

Sex… Sex will always be better than surfing, but I would hate to be without either.

Brothers Dwayne and Pete. (Aitionn)

Drugs… Including legal substances such as alcohol and coffee, as long as you don’t need them, they can be substitute enhancers. Each to their own when it comes to consumption. Everybody has or will consume drugs in some form or another. Know what it is, what it does, and how much to take. When it no longer enhances, or you feel you can’t stop, that’s when it’s time to give it up.

Rock n Roll… The right music at the right time is transcendental; it fuels energy, and feeds imagination. Rhythmic resonance is atomic and universal.

Writing… I don’t consider myself a writer but I love the rhythm of words. I love how the right words in the right place resonate deep within and how they can tell a story or reveal a truth. The pen can certainly be mightier than the sword, or the fist for that matter.

Shaping… Hand shaping a functional surfboard from a raw blank is an arduous task even for the experienced, there are no shortcuts. I enjoy shaping as a hobby, and to experiment with things that other shapers don’t want to do. I shape only when I feel inspired to (or when the voices tell me), and mostly for myself.

Peter Harris today. (Angela Collins)

Alex Knost… At first I wasn’t so sure about his surfing (shorter board single fin), but after further observation I started to relate to something in his lines, something inspiring, his positioning and approach, aesthetically pleasing, intellectually stimulating, a nice mix of new and old, applied with a touch of grace and a hint of flair. It’s refreshingly great to see surfers like Knost take a different path on a wave and find something worthwhile.

Peter Crawford… Inspirational surfer, insightful photographer and freakish human being, with a knack for ‘being there’. People everywhere are still trying to be him. “We’re going mad!” “Zoom Zoom”.

Michael Peterson… Don’t try to compare anyone or anything to MP, nobody comes near him. He rode waves like no other could or will. His insightful knowledge and logical application of surfing and surfboard design was unique. Most people missed his point. “Can someone like me ever be a has-been?”

Vaughan Thompson… One of the best surfing styles I have ever seen was Vaughan’s, no exaggeration, he had a beautiful, flowing, powerful style that was a pleasure to watch. He would surf anything at any size and make it an effortless flow of artistic prowess. VT had it all.

Surfing World