In the early 1980s, I spent quite a few summer days and nights in La Jolla, up the street from Windansea. I had been recovering from a painful breakup, and Chris and Jill O’Rourke took me in. Surf checks began early each morning and there in the water or at the shoreline were the seasoned rippers: Tom Ortner, Bird Huffman, Debbie Melville, Joe Roper and young guns like Richard Kenvin. The gremmies I remember best were Miko Fleming, Drew Littlemore and Peter King. Miko and Drew were becoming competent surfers.
Peter was just beginning.
Unlike most surfers who grew up in La Jolla, Peter lacked the advantages of affluence. He reminded me of a sunburned Huckleberry Finn in those days — scruffy and with no direction home. At the time, the drive that would someday bring him to prominence in the surfing world was not apparent.
He rode whatever boards he could borrow and so on his 14th birthday, I bought him a used twinfin. Not long afterward, O’Rourke lost his battle with Hodgkin’s disease. Because his was such an emotionally difficult passing, I quit going to Windansea for several years after that. I did, however, hear about Peter and his vastly improved surfing, which was launching him to the top of amateur surfing contests and would soon bring him into the pro ranks, where he managed to do well among the best surfers in the world.
One of surfing’s highest honors before the media explosion of the ‘90s was not a trophy, however, but having your photo on the cover of Surfer Magazine. The shot of Peter slamming the lip on a black and red board with the logo of his board sponsor, Bessell, displayed prominently along with a cross still jolts me.
While he was never the best surfer in the world, he was undoubtedly among the most popular. Everybody loved PK for his quick wit and ability to negotiate whatever curveballs life threw at him, and each one of us. He was also an excellent musician and a founder of Dakota Motor Company and, later, the best surfers ever to be in one musical group, The Surfers which was comprised of PK, Rob Machado, and Kelly Slater. To top it off, Peter also hosted his own MTV show, “Sandlot.”
PK’s latest gig is following the pro surfing tour around the world and taking what he calls a “video selfie,” of the competitors. The comfort in which surfers like longtime friend Slater and young phenoms like John John Florence speak with King makes his interviews some of the top in a crowded field.
I last saw PK a few years ago when he was out riding his home break, Windansea. I couldn’t tell if he was making an iconoclastic point, or simply enjoying a sunny day, but he rode a $100 department store soft board with all of his agile grace. Even from shore, it became apparent he was having a blast, stepping off his board to bodysurf to the beach, or inviting another surfer to step off his board and ride along with him. Sitting there, enjoying the show, I couldn’t help recall that first board, and thinking that it was the best $35 I ever spent.
To learn more about Peter King and his popular show “Tour Notes,” visit: https://www.worldsurfleague.com/posts/290333/the-evolution-of-tournotes