MP The Life of Michael Petersen

I’ve been finding it tricky to locate decent books lately but this was an absolute gem.

As a kid who took up surfing at 10 years old the name Michael Petersen was one that I knew well. The King of Kirra as he was known, was an amazingly gifted and yet strangely enigmatic surf hero of the late 70s who disappeared from the frontline somewhat inexplicably in the early 80s.

I had seen this book around, but at $30.00 I wasn’t convinced it was a good buy. However on a chilly morning at the Torquay markets I happened upon it in a second hand stall for just $12.00. A fair bit for a second hand book, but I knew this one wasn’t easy to find so I snapped it up.

While it’s the tragic story of a superathelete and his battle with mental illness it’s also the beautiful story of a mum who never gave up on her boy, even now at the age of 55. It could easily be called ‘The Life & Times of Saint Joan of the Gold Coast’.

If you want an insight into the tormented world of paranoid schizophrenia then this is the book to read. It’s hard to know whether the drug abuse led to the schiz or the schiz pushed MP into drugs as a means of escape. Either way it is genuinely painful to read in places and yet I couldn’t put it down. I guess I’ve known a few MP types over the years too…

Sean Doherty is a gifted writer and can mix great yarns, lucid insights and wonderful humour.  Comparing Petersen to David Helfgott, Doherty suggests that this was a genius who was able to cut out all distractions and focus his energy so powerfully that no one could match his brilliance. But despite a surfing ability second to none he was unable to cope with the social demands of professional sport.

His illness meant he was absurdly self centred, compulsively competitive and unable to relate normally to anyone. The MP of the story is not a likable character in many ways, yet knowing he was a man battling an undiagnosed illness for much of his life, you are able to read and cut him some slack.

As well as telling MPs story Doherty gives great insight into 70s surf culture and the Gold Coast surf scene of that time.

MP still lives in the Gold Coast and Rip Curl have a contest in his honour as a way of remembering him but also raising awareness of mental illness. 

Here’s some blurb on the book from another review:

‘For three years MP was the best surfer in the world, hands down. The gangly, long-haired rebel from Coolangatta breathed saltwater, and ruled the waves with savage, groundbreaking surfing. He was worshipped like a god – other surfers simply got out of the water to watch him, and girls threw themselves at him. But once you discover his dark beginnings, you?ll understand why MP was destined never to be your average guy. Michael Peterson was a tortured genius… and one complex cat.

An undiagnosed schizophrenic, MP despised the fame his surfing powers attracted, and he retreated into a world of hard drugs, fast cars and shadows. He hit rock bottom after a car chase that took 35 police cars to stop him. After years of jail and psychiatric institutions he emerged, alive, but bearing the scars of battle. For 20 years Michael Peterson?s exploits in and out of the water existed only as a series of mythological tales, passed down by the surfing tribe — until Sean Doherty, editor of Tracks, sorted fact from fiction.’

A brilliant read!

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