Peter Crawford enters the hall of fame

Swellnet Dispatch

Beyond the contest arena there aren't many honours to be had in surfing. Locally, Surfing Australia's Hall of Fame is about as big as it gets. The decision to make Peter Crawford this year's inductee then, is to make a claim about about his importance in our history. For many, 17 years after his death, he will be either unknown or little more than a name on a photograph, yet he was profoundly important in shaping Australian surfing in the 1970s.

In these days of specialisation, it would be hard to find a current figure who is as influential across so many areas. Peter was best known for his photography, but he was also a great surfer, and a great designer. Perhaps the best way to understand his achievement is to see him as a creative force who used his powers of imagination to make real what most could not even dream.

Peter Crawford documented Shane Herring's meteoric rise in the early-nineties. Herring is shown here at Dee Why Point, hallowed ground for both artist and subject.

All those who knew him were aware of that drive and how it interacted with his all consuming passion for surfing. In those days, before reliable surf reports, he would be up hours before dawn if he thought a good swell was coming, and no-one would beat him into the water if it arrived. His performances at Dee Why Point are the stuff of legend. The idea that a kneeboard rider might be performing at a higher level than other surfers might seem strange now, but there was a period, around the mid-seventies, when the evidence was before our eyes, and not just at Dee Why.

Reviewing the available footage now confirms our memories. He was taking off later, travelling faster and getting as deep as anyone. Perhaps most significantly he was hitting short arc top turns out of the lip a decade before they became a standard part of the repertoire.  All made possible by his boards. The design was called The Slab, a name far too crude for its sophistication.

No-one in that era took more care with their boards than Peter. Paul Connors at Crozier shaped them to Peter's precise specifications, but a new board was only the beginning of the design process. He would spend hours foiling and shaving his fins and would adjust the rail edges repeatedly. The fin was in a long box so it could be adjusted, an essential feature since he surfed the same board in all conditions.

As important as all this, in terms of his influence, was his constant contact with the elite of that era. By competing in state and national titles his surfing was seen and appreciated by the generation who went on to be the first professionals. Wayne Bartholomew, Michael Peterson, Terry Fitzgerald, Simon Anderson and many others, spent long hours surfing with Peter before their professional peaks.

It is also worth remembering that the culture of the seventies was extremely competitive. The fiercest contests of the era were fought without judges or singlets. The idea of sharing the waves with any degree of equity came along later as the surfing population aged. Certainly, in the creative hot beds of the era, the Gold Coast and Sydney's Northern Beaches, the competition amongst good surfers was unrelenting, and in the midst of that foment, few were as competitive as Peter.

And then there was his photography. Although he used single lens reflex cameras in housings later in his career, many of his most famous shots were taken with a Nikonos. This was a very simple camera without through the lens viewing or even an exposure meter. The standard lens was 35mm, which meant getting as close to the action as possible and that was Peter's forte. His surfing talent translated into an uncanny ability to put himself at precisely the right place at precisely the right moment. For most users the Nikonos was a punt - you pointed and hoped. For Peter, it was a precision instrument.

PC hooking up with MP, Burleigh Heads, 1977

This expertise in the water was backed up with a true photographic eye that informed the rest of his work. He could see the final image before he even lifted the camera. He could pick the peak of the action through a telephoto to a millisecond. Perhaps more importantly his work defines the era of Australian surfing that came just after John Witzig's work. Witzig celebrated free surfing, country soul and that glorious, but naive, innocence of the sixties. Peter documented a very different culture; the brash, outspoken and aggressive culture that allowed Australians to dominate competitive surfing for so long.

It was a culture in which drugs played a much uglier role than they had in Witzig's world. Peter's vision was never naive, he never had that luxury. He was a working photographer, that was how he made his living and supported his family. He looked that culture straight in the eye. He lived in that culture. He embraced that culture, his work captured it and it needs to be more widely seen.

Peter was no saint and this is not hagiography. He had his faults. Some probably have cause to remember him with bitterness, but he has been gone a long time now and it is time to look clearly at his considerable achievements. We should choose to remember those, and to remember the bottomless enthusiasm he had for simply going surfing, and how effectively he communicated that to those around him, and to the rest of the surfing world through his images.



tonybarber's picture
tonybarber's picture
tonybarber commented Tuesday, 21 Feb 2017 at 10:46am

Good article and well deserved for the hall of fame. His photography will show all his professionalism and abilities. Managed to cross paths when we asked him to do water shots for a new toy we invented. A true professional.

spiggy topes's picture
spiggy topes's picture
spiggy topes commented Tuesday, 21 Feb 2017 at 1:05pm

PC deserves this greatly. As a kneeboarder of similar age his surfing and photographic work were a constant and enduring inspiration to me. In print and in person he was generous in sharing aspects of design and his opinions. Bruce Hart introduced us when we were in our late 40s, over all the aggro crap. It was an honour. He was full of energy, bubbling like an alchemist's brew about to bloom into some new elixir - elixir of life.

belly's picture
belly's picture
belly commented Tuesday, 21 Feb 2017 at 1:19pm

Nice article, the photo of MP is sublime

crg's picture
crg's picture
crg commented Tuesday, 21 Feb 2017 at 1:22pm

This article could be twice, ten or 100 times longer and still not scratch the surface...a true character like no other.

simba's picture
simba's picture
simba commented Tuesday, 21 Feb 2017 at 2:43pm

Yes he had a big influence on me when i started surfing through his board design with deep tube rides and cutbacks to his beautiful photography.He certainly is a legend of the sport.Correct me if im wrong BB but didn't he die from a bite by a green viper in Bali?Shame really,too young.


Phil Jarratt's picture
Phil Jarratt's picture
Phil Jarratt commented Tuesday, 21 Feb 2017 at 5:02pm

Well spoken, BB, here and the other night in Newcastle. A unique, talented, troubled and loveable individual. I remember him with fondness often.

Phil Jarratt

Riqdekneelo's picture
Riqdekneelo's picture
Riqdekneelo commented Tuesday, 21 Feb 2017 at 6:30pm

agreed Phil, as someone that surfed against him in many comps in the 70's ( and never came close to his level as a surfer or photographer ) this is a well rounded honest appreciation of PC. A well deserved induction. His contribution to surfing and in particular kneeboarding will always be remembered.

blindboy's picture
blindboy's picture
blindboy commented Tuesday, 21 Feb 2017 at 6:00pm

Thanks Phil. Yeh it's amazing how often he comes into my thoughts. As I was telling you the other night, I remembered a classic PC story after I finished speaking. When I first knew him he was working in the Commonwealth Bank on Pittwater Rd and had a 40 minute lunch break, If the point was good he would wear a wetsuit under his clothes, run down, rip his clothes off, surf for 20 minutes, put the clothes back on over the wetsuit and run back. The job didn't last long!

crg's picture
crg's picture
crg commented Tuesday, 21 Feb 2017 at 7:51pm

Maybe a book in the future BB? It would be a fascinating read.

blindboy's picture
blindboy's picture
blindboy commented Tuesday, 21 Feb 2017 at 8:28pm

More Phil's gig than mine crg.

tworules's picture
tworules's picture
tworules commented Tuesday, 21 Feb 2017 at 8:40pm

His shots on the Sanur side of the island turned me on.

Toppa's picture
Toppa's picture
Toppa commented Friday, 24 Feb 2017 at 7:13pm

Growing up as a kneeboarder in the 70's us poor 'cripples' copped our share of misplaced derision from the stand up crew for our preferred choice of craft. I always felt pride as a fellow kneelo when I saw PC's photos, or photos of PC doing his thing on his Crozier. Magazine pics of PC were a main feature of my bedroom wall as a kid. Kneelos forever!


nickcarroll's picture
nickcarroll's picture
nickcarroll commented Tuesday, 28 Feb 2017 at 11:44am

Here's an indication of the respect in which PC is held by his peers:

The inductee is voted on by all the previous inductees. Nobody else gets a say, just the people who are in the Hall of Fame already.

I talked to most of them in the lead-up to this year's vote, many felt the list of nominees needed a serious re-set and we're gonna work on that between now and next year. But when I asked each of 'em who they thought should be on the list. six or seven said PC's name.

So his was the only new name added to this year's nominee list. And bang, he won the vote.

If 30-odd of Australia's greatest ever surfers think you belong in their ranks, you surely do.

sharkman's picture
sharkman's picture
sharkman commented Wednesday, 1 Mar 2017 at 11:55am

miss the old pirate , he was truly an eccentric soul , blessed with amazing surfing ability , great photographer , and great bloke to boot, wish there was more like him!


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