No Lollipops

Find Tommy Peterson, and he’ll shape you something legendary.

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The story goes that Tommy Peterson—brother of late Australian champion Michael Peterson—shaped the first Fireball Fish for South African virtuoso Frankie Oberholzer, who took the board on one of the early Rip Curl Search trips in 1994. [Ed note: Like the …Lost Fish, the Fireball bears no real resemblance to the classic fish shape.] 

Tom Curren borrowed the 5’7″ channel-bottom shape and rode it in giant horseshoe-barrels at Bawa in the Hinako Islands. The session appeared in the original Search series and became one of the most celebrated freesurfing moments in history. Curren’s silky lines, crouching-tiger bottom turns, and stand-tall tubes on the tiny board played a big role in ushering in the modern fish movement.

While the reclusive and charismatic Peterson will happily talk about the Curren Fireball and his replicas of his brother’s boards, he isn’t exactly trading on the fame to generate orders.  

“If they find me they’ll be all right,” says Peterson. “I haven’t got a telephone number or anything out there that they can look up. They’ve got to track me down to order a board. But if they tell me they want a color, I tell them to fuck off. I make white boards. A blue board is not going to go any faster than a red board. I don’t want to know about making lollipops.”

With his hide-and-seek marketing strategy, the 66-year-old Peterson shapes about 35 boards a year. “If you get a Peterson board you’re doing well,” he says with a loud chuckle. “They’ll be worth more when I’m dead.” 

Despite the marketing quirks and a hobbyist’s production scale, his long-term customers are very loyal, like the Ho family. “Michael [Peterson] met Michael [Ho] in San Diego at the 1972 World Championships,” Peterson recalls. “Ho was surfing as a junior for the American team and he was about 14 years old.” 

Since then, the families have stayed close. Michael Ho is a regular lunch companion for the Petersons whenever he’s in Australia. And nearly half a century later, Tommy finds himself making boards for another member of the Ho family.

If Michael Peterson was the brooding, enigmatic genius, Mason Ho is the charismatic entertainment machine whose freesurfing sessions sometimes morph into a game of chicken with exposed reef. Born generations apart, Mason and the late MP share an undeniable onscreen magnetism, which seems to shine on Tommy’s creations. Tommy typically shapes Mason a version of the Fireball Fish that Curren rode at Bawa. The recent incarnation is a slightly tweaked take on the last one he made Curren. 

“It’s 5’3″ with a step and channels in the middle under the front foot, and a rolled Vee through the back,” explains Tommy. “The forward step channels are so you can ride it in 12-foot surf and it won’t slide out. It’s got big, blocky rails so it can’t catch on anything. All you do is slide over the water and you go like a rocket.” 

Mason orders ’em white. He rides ’em weird. And if there’s a legend left to be made on one of Peterson’s boards, he’s probably the guy for the job.