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Infinite Games

Light / Dark

“There’s never been a kneelo who wasn’t eccentric. Peter Crawford was a cross between Dennis the Menace and Mick Jagger, who he resembled. In fact, he wanted to be a rock star. He loved the life.”

John Harris, Gold Coast Shaper

“He was a cosmic prankster, beyond this planet in many respects. At the end he was like Elvis… No matter how completely hammered he’d get, he could still go out there and be a complete professional, shooting stuff no one else could dream of.”

Dave Wylie, Long-Term Indonesian Resident

“He was like an educated, intelligent three-year-old. He’d approach people and talk without any barriers. The people who were most spun out by him were those with the most barriers, those with the most to lose with the removal of the mask.”

Steve Palmer, Quiksilver Bali Boss

“We went to Sumba in 1977. The king cursed him because he took pictures. He went crazy for a month––not know himself. We took him to a balian, a witch doctor. That fixed him.”

Ketut Pitur, Head Lifeguard at Uluwatu

One man, so many truths, so many half-truths and untruths, including my own….

1995. The first Quiksilver G-Land contest. Pro surfers filled the cabins at Bobby’s, while the media bunkered down two by two in the “Jungle” camp There was much sniping interest in the appearance of Peter Crawford, then shooting for one of his own, ill-fated surf publications. Bent over with a back injury, he mostly hung with his gorgeous, Zen-calm lady: One morning I emerged from the bush toilet and there he was. Crawford approached me with a mischievous look in his eye. “DC.” He smiled, and rolled his eyes back to introduce himself… “PC…” The eyes rolled up and on, with the intonations of his voice, framed with a smirk “DC, PC… DC. PC…” As if the combination of our initials was the most amusing thing in Java.

Next, he opened his clenched hand to reveal a palm full of colorful pills, which he ostentatiously gobbled down without water, cackled, waved a farewell, and was gone. That was our first ever conversation. I’d said nothing, though I wondered much. Were the pills a wondrous conduit to realms few even knew existed? Were they just fancy vitamins? Were they a prop. to be spat out? Or was he in that much pain? At first, his actions and words seemed affected, even deranged, though I have since thought of more than a dozen interpretations of that coded conversation.

Later, at the meal tables. Crawford told me about his 36-second tube ride at Desert Point, a wave that so altered his perceptions he did not surf for six months afterwards, as if it took this long to digest the magnitude of the spiritual insights the wave had force-fed him. Then, he shot me a quizzical look, and I wasn’t sure if he was testing, playing, fibbing, bemused, deluded, earnestly revealing the path to enlightenment, or simply out somewhere beyond the asteroid belt.

And now he’s gone.

I have often been described as a gonzo journalist (gonzo being the act of actively participating in a story rather than passively reporting, frequently with the aid of mind-altering substances, especially as popularized by Hunter S. Thompson) Yet when Crawford’s final lady friend allowed me to read through the journals of his last two years. I realized how little I understood, how I am J. Alfred Prufrock wading in the gonzo shallows compared to PC hurtling into the deep end, naked and screaming. For his journal pages bulge with brilliance and diversity with quotes from songs, Woody Allen and Omar Khayam photos and poems of his father and children, cartoons like his hand-drawn sketch of a marlin thinking, “Bloody humans!” weather maps, newspaper clippings, dried four leaf clovers, mini film reviews, ever-growing lists of thing to do and people to contact that represented a Who’s Who of pro surfing and the world surf media—all interspersed with family birthdays and events, details (with sketches) of dreams such as this gem: “dreamt the most incredible tube ride ever—the cannonball tube ride. Patent on water parks,” cosmic equations, such as “Positive over (a word I can’t quite figure out possibly enchantment) = Buddha x Tibet x the square foot of infinity over the square root of the square root of God over Teacher = the flame (with illustration), the time (infinity) and the number 7“; plus an assortment of brilliant one-liners: 

Cats in Bali are cockroaches with fur. 

Sometimes in Indonesia I feel like toilet paper-roll me out and rip me off! 

Pamela—all we can give is each other’s soul. 

The brain is the current day appendix, it can blowup on any day.

Now I am supposed to write the truth (whatever the hell that is) about the last days of a man who was not only a groundbreaking photographer in the thick of surfing from the formative years of professionalism, but was also himself one of the best surfers in the world, besides being a publisher, writer, poet-philosopher, designer of fins and the archetypal kneeboard shape, a bonsai gardener, insomniac, husband, lover (“wonderful” I was assured), father of three sons, the tightest of mates, tortured unique, unknowable, a man who cried at sad movies, could sleep under tables at parties, read auras like morning newspapers, and learned his limits by regularly voyaging beyond them. Print worthy Crawford tales could bloat a volume of magazines, so I apologize to the many whose names and stories I have omitted or brutally culled, for chapters becoming sentences, for being the poor surfer’s Sherlock (the blundering Watson, more like).

The Mystery

Peter Crawford died one week before the year 2000 dawned, stunning the surfing world. Yet, in the many published eulogies, curiously few even mentioned the people who were with him at the time of his death, and then only cursorily.

The official story is simple: death by snakebite on Bali. Yet the pre-loaded symbolism is daunting. The descendant of dinosaurs is the Chinese sign of beauty and intelligence; the Devil’s representative in Eden’s Garden; the star of nightmares and phobias; a treacherous act or person on land and in the lineup; an act of deception; the creature who devours its own tail; the beast that sheds its skin to grow, who can hibernate, spit poison, hypnotize, strangle…It is said the poison from a lerlipi gadang, or green mambo, never leaves the system. If bitten on a finger, the hand must be chopped off within five minutes, for there is no anti-venom… And still, the prime murder suspect has never been found.

Others say he died by spider bite. While for some, any sort of death by wildlife just seems too…mundane, especially for Crawford. So rumor suspects have multiplied like buzzards since his death became the surfing world equivalent of Jim Morrison’s mystery-shrouded demise, with conspiracy theories to rival JFK. Was it karma, for his running down an old Indonesian three years earlier? Was the snake a coverup for a drug overdose? (For as rival photographers were only too eager to point out, Crawford certainly knew the sights along the road of self-abuse) Was his bizarre passing a defiant rock star piss in the face of old age? A radical divorce from his convoluted marriage with convoluted Indonesia, so he didn’t have to witness the Sari Club rubble of the new millennium? He was a kneeboarder, too, and by the time of his death, kneelos were like dinosaurs after the big meteor smote earth, existing in ever dwindling pockets, seemingly destined for extinction. Was his death somehow symbolic of the corporatization of surfing, the demise of surfing’s truly weird and innovative, the extinction of pure gonzo? Or was his ending merely that which we all fear the most, a random stupid act of horror? Or had the brightly blazing comet simply burned out? None of which explains all the crazy psycho-spiritual (and just plain crazy) stories that circle in Chinese whispers, or my feeling that even now Crawford’s eyes are sparkling like that morning at G-Land, delighted at all this confusion about his enigma in an afterlife riddle status.

The Last Days 1: 1999

Nov. 14: “Sunrise on the New Moon. Jesus Christ’s calendar. Thirty-nine revolutions early. I want to travel to space, put sperm donation in.”

Written exactly 39 days before he died. 

Nov. 26. Crawford exultantly lists the birth details of Chris “Critta” Byrne’s new-born daughter, Milla, concluding with a quote from the Brian Cadd song: “A little ray of sunshine has come into my life in the shape of a girl…” 

Dec. 2: “Chromosome 22 cracked. The most densely packed of genes.”

Dec. 6: “Australia wins Davis Cup. Wake up for last shot––Scud. Drive south for Critta and Milla.” 

Though it is four years later when I visit the ex-Aggronaut, ex-pro surfer in his home north of Wollongong, Critta clearly remembers that Crawford visit. For that was the last day Critta saw his best mate alive… 

Critta: “We’ve been sound soul buddies since 1974. We both knew if something was wrong with the other. That time he seemed a bit…distant, a bit sad and agitated, like he had a one-way ticket or something. He mentioned he had something wrong with the valves in his ticker and kept telling me to take really good care of that beautiful kid…” Like virtually everyone I spoke to about Crawford, Critta struggled for a moment with emotion. “Before he left, he went all serious. He said, ‘When I’m gone. look after my legacy. Make sure they don’t make a mockery of me… .”

And Critta looked at me.

The Clues in Life 

1951. Peter Crawford was born on Mick Jagger’s birthday, July 29. At age one, his family moved to the hard Sydney beach suburb of Dee Why. The PC-sized holes in the walls of his home were testament to the violence of his youth. Remembers John Harris, a few years younger: “Dee Why then was another world. It was tough. The separation (from the rest of Sydney) wasn’t just in kilometers. We had the best, the heaviest wave, and no one else was having it. You couldn’t hide from the point.” Indeed. This was the brutal barrel that shaped first Crawford’s brilliant kneeboarding and later his fearless, ultra-close brand of water photography.

Both activities, of course, paralleled expat American George Greenough, who was pulling full-bore roundhouse cutbacks before such a move existed and peering out from behind the curtain with insane regularity before Lopez had even grown pubes; a fact most people managed to ignore in the 1960s (and since) simply because GG was a kneeboarder. PC inherited this mantle in the 70s, becoming the antipodal eccentric. Critta: “He loved Greenough, the barefooted, outrageous innovator with a rope around his waist, still doing amazing stuff. Crawford was the same, with his own dress code––socks with plastic colored sandals and a groovy shirt.” Yet for both, surfing spoke louder than fashion. It took two decades for the stand-ups to catch up with the kneeboarders’ roundhouses, deep tube riding, carve 360s, barrel rolls (like the one Crawford pulled at the ’76 Aussie titles) and sheer ability to take on the heaviest of breaks.

Critta: “He did my gardens and knew all the scientific names of the plants. He built his own housings. He was a talented writer who could lay out and produce a whole magazine on his own. Basically, he was good at everything.” PC and Critta first met at the NSW and Oz titles when PC was in the middle of his extraordinary domination of Australian kneeboarding, winning a hatful of consecutive titles (even beating MP in one final). The two regularly absconded to surf secret South Coast reefs together. PC helped Critta mend his broken back and later when Critta almost lost an eye in Indonesia. “He’d had so many illnesses himself, being a tall, skinny c–t always carrying heavy tripods, cameras and housings. So he was a book of information about living. He could sleep for days, then wake like a baby, full of energy.”

Critta agreed there was an air of mystery around PC’s death, that it was possible other substances could have been involved. “His life was…moving toward an end. He was brilliant carly in his career. Then came his divorce: his magazines went down, and every year there were another 30 new photographers with auto-focus. The industry should take better care of their legends. Instead, they let them wash up on the shore. Fuck, I miss him. Every day.”

The Dreamland 

Of Crawford’s last two years, roughly one was spent in Indonesia on and off, and much of that time with a core group of people who I’ll get to including Critta (though not on the final trip). For the archipelago, Bali especially, was Crawford’s work and pleasure retreat where he truly lived, and the dreaming land of magic, karma, ritual, and demons where he would die. Critta: “When Lopez and company stumbled onto Ulu’s in the early 70s, PC wasn’t far behind. He didn’t like how Kuta evolved into such a rat race, but he always liked hanging out with the local surfing crew. His favorite cateries included the fish market for noodles, soups, and fish, Aroma’s for vegetarian food, Tubes for surf movies, the Sari Club, like all Aussies and expats and (Club) 66 for a bit of a laugh.” Added Pamela Peel Crawford’s ultimate lady, “He also loved Strawberries, Warung Kopi for Indian feasts, Glory Restaurant for big steaks, and Sandy Parla for watching the sunset over Kuta Reef.”

The influence was two-way. Indonesian surf photographer Piping, 45: “Peter was my teacher, my father, my friend. He gave me many tips––how to play with current, protect your energy when you swim, shoot manually and play with camera. I try to become more relaxed and patient, more underground like Peter. He one Westerner who support me, who say the feedback will be more strong if I give to the people than if I just surf for myself. Now I have good life, teach two young photographers. I want to help like PC….”

1995. President Soeharto’s infamously corrupt son Tommy wanted to develop the land around Dreamland on the Bukit Peninsula. Yet the old man who owned the land wouldn’t sell despite the urgings of his son. According to Pamela: “They needed a Western person to run him over, famous even better. And so the old man was shoved in front of Peter’s speeding car. Peter stopped and was amazed to see that the car following him contained a foreign doctor and nurse, ready to pronounce the old man dead. But everyone was mad because he was only injured.

Added Critta: “They all wanted to kill PC.” 

Steve Palmer helped Crawford and his girlfriend evacuate and arranged cash to placate the old man’s family. Steve doesn’t think the old man was pushed onto the road, and remembers him only breaking his leg, which somewhat disproves the karma suspect. Yet Steve was sure PC would have been “driving at a good pace and chatting at the time, even if to some imaginary passenger.”

Three years later, Crawford returned after his passport had expired, with a new number. Tommy Soeharto owned Dreamland. That was the trip Crawford re-met David Smith and discovered Pamela Peel, both of whom would be with him on his final days. It was also the trip PC shot “Crumplecar” and entered into one of the most prolific periods of his career.

The Witnesses

David Smith first met Peter Crawford on a surf trip to virginal Papua New Guinea in 1986. A dozen years later, the two met up again, inside the Uluwatu cave. David, now 35, was (and still is) a team rider and rep for Indo Dreams in Bali. For the last two years of Crawford’s life, or at least his slabs of time in Indo including the final week, the two had “amazing conversations” and plotted clandestine photographic missions, “thick as thieves.” Best of all was Crumplecar, the supposedly secret wave barreling down a shipwrecked hull that few realized was virtually in Kuta’s backyard, photos of which fast became myth and marked so dramatically the beginning of PC’s renaissance,

David: “We were getting up at 4:00am every day for two weeks, Peter was so excited. He had a zest for life like a mad scientist, with his genius-level IQ and unrelenting energy. We’d hide the bike with the seaweed fishermen and sneak out, sometimes with me towing Peter because he had broken ribs. But he had a heart of gold. The fishermen were dirt poor, so Peter would always give them money and presents. Every so often Quiksilver would deck him out with new gear, but if he didn’t like it, he’d just give it all away. The photos that resulted were amazing, especially considering he had hardly anything, just second-hand cameras, old flippers, and his girlfriend’s ancient bodyboard.”

That was the same trip Crawford met Pamela Peel. David: “She was already a friend with guys like Dick Hoole and Jack McCoy. They were a classic couple––the Hawaiian princess doubling PC around with his 70s hairstyle flying everywhere. Money came and went very quickly for PC, so Pamela was very good for him. She really inspired and pushed him. And funded a lot of his projects, going through rolls of Velvia like ice cream. PC was in the wilderness there for a few years before he met her. Unfortunately, not everyone sees her like that.”

I met Pamela, 51, an exotic English-Irish-Polynesian-Chinese-French blend, at her NSW Central Coast family property, nestled between an abandoned petrol station and a wrecking yard. Shifty, her hulking 11-month-old bull terrier pit bull bounded out and slobbered his welcome. I was even more floored when Pamela announced, “You’re the first journalist to ever visit me about Peter. But I knew you’d come. I knew Pez (Steve Pezman, Journal publisher) would send someone. Pez was a father figure and mentor to Peter, the one editor who recognized Peter’s brilliance through his eccentricities, who was always loyal through the highs and lows.”

Pamela herself is emerging from a long low. She almost died in a car crash six months after Crawford’s death. She lost her mother too, and her health and finances had fallen apart. Yet the return of high times seems inevitable for this lady who has lived a life so varied and determined that Crawford considered her “his amazing female equal.”

The two met at the Sari Club on April 24, 1998 (though the two had actually been neighbors at Sunset Point, way back in 1976, when Pamela was living with Felipe Pomar). She remembers hearing a voice behind her: “I finally found you. I’ve been looking for you all my life….” Pamela whispered to her friend. “Whom is he talking to?” Her friend smiled and replied, “You!” So a somewhat stunned Pamela turned and replied, “Well, come and introduce yourself.”

And PC smiled, “My name is Peter Crawford. And I’m famous!”

Pamela: “Lovely to meet you. I’m Pamela Peel and I’m infamous… But I’m sorry I’ve never heard of you!”

“He laughed, threw his arms up and cried, ‘Perfect!’ And we were together from that day on until I left him in the morgue, 20 months to the day later.”

In that short time, Crawford contracted Dengue fever, spent a week in Wyong Hospital after tangling in another surfer’s leg rope at Bonzai, Forresters, and was presciently bitten by an assortment of miniature wildlife. At the Noosa Longboard contest, he was savaged by sandflies. A month later he went to the hospital with a sling on his arm. Doctors discovered live sandfly eggs inside the remaining bites. A scorpion in Indonesia also bit him. Again, infection followed, and a trip to the hospital, where half a scorpion was unearthed inside the swelling. Crawford’s weird hyper-metabolism, which was actually tested by fascinated scientists at Sydney University when he was seven, seemed a magnet to the invertebrate world.

Pamela: “I miss him terribly. Most people are so boring but Peter’s mind was always buzzing with endless ideas. We had a great relationship, the same friends and the same interests, from I Ching to supernature, to film. We were sitting in Aroma’s and a mist appeared beside us. ‘Hello, mother,’ Peter smiled, like it was the most natural thing to talk to a dead relative.”

The Last Days 2: Return to Bali 

Dec. 12. Crawford made an offering to Duke Kahanamoku comprising a piece of a palm tree that resembled a surfboard, a giant Queensland orchid, angel hair and a big cloth poster of the Duke.

Dec. 16. Packing day. Peter’s sons, Justin and Scott (now 33 and 26), dropped around in the afternoon to share a few chuckles and wish him a happy Christmas and a safe trip. On his final night in Australia, he was struck down with a fever. Remembers Pamela: “We almost didn’t go, but being holiday time, Garuda wouldn’t change the tickets. Still, I was glad to leave Dee Why, Peter always fell back into old, bad habits there.’

Dec. 17. At Sydney Airport, Peter and Pamela bought liter bottles of duty free tequila and scotch. On the plane, Pamela remembers Peter peering out the window; “He had his glasses on and his binoculars out, looking like a mad professor searching for Crumplecar, his baby. Then he slumped forward and said, ‘I can’t see it….’” Around four in the afternoon, the two were picked up (along with a consignment of new Byrne boards) at Tuban Airport by Made Lana’s girlfriend, who then dropped them at Panorama Cottages II, where they had stayed so often before.

Pamela: “The doors to Number 18 were wide open. It was like, ‘Welcome to your destiny.’ Late that evening, I asked Peter if he was coming to bed, ‘Oh Pamela,’ he replied. ‘Let me enjoy our beautiful garden and get drunk the first night of our holiday. I deserve that at least,’ Standing beneath the giant halyconia tree, wearing only his boardshorts, glass of Cuervo in one hand, he looked up at the moon and said, “We’re finally home.” As he reached up to touch a flower, a lerlipi gadang uncurled, bit him on the left arm above the elbow, and moved on to drink water.” Crawford joined Pamela in bed soon after, unaware of the magnitude of what had just happened.

Dec. 18. In the morning, Pamela remembers being scared when “Peter’s eyes clanged open like a robot, or an alien, in a cold way I’d never seen before. There were strange silver spots in his eye pupils.” When Pamela asked if Peter was OK, he snapped angrily, “Nothing’s wrong! You’re stupid!” He leapt up. “It was then that I noticed the lump on his arm, the size of half a navel orange. Seeing Peter was in such an unusually foul mood, I went to the beach and visited friends.” Later in the day she returned to be greeted by a message from a surgeon: “Peter has had an operation. Please come to Sanglah (Hospital).”

At the hospital, Pamela found her boyfriend “asleep in bed, out to anesthetic, his arm bandaged. Beside him were a kidney dish and a giant metal syringe full of greeny-yellow, mustard-colored pus. So I wrote him a big note, saying I’d be back at 9:00 in the morning and left him some rupiah, snacks, and water.”

Dec. 19. Pamela: “Next morning, Peter was ready to be checked out. The doctor asked if he wanted the pus tested. But besides costing U.S. $50, the tests would take 14 days, and we weren’t even sure if we’d still be on Bali then, so Peter said, ‘Forget it. I feel fine.’ That afternoon, he rested at home.”

Dec. 20. 

“I’m guided by a signal
In the Heavens.
First we take Manhattan
Then we take the millennium.
Is it Sydney?

Pamela: “Every morning we went to the Legian Medical Clinic to have the dressing changed. Later that morning David Smith came over, so I went to the hairdresser, while Peter rested and chatted about Crumplecar. In the afternoon, we decided to go to the movies. David’s girlfriend wanted to watch Deep Blue Sea, so we did. Then Peter wanted to watch Inspector Gadget to ‘neutralize the first movie,’”

Dec. 22. (final journal entry): “David Smith and I voyage back to Crumplecar to see the….” (unfinished)

At the former site of Crumplecar. Peter put up a big “Save the Turtles” sticker on a post where he used to hide his motorbike. The two couples continued on in their rented bemo to Benoa Harbor to see where Crumplecar had been towed.

Dec. 23. The full moon was the closest to the earth in 285 years, and the last of the millennium. After dusk, Peter, Pamela, David, and girlfriend went next door to Paul King’s bungee tower. Pamela: “Peter raced up first, like the roadrunner, to shoot the moon,” as Tim Baker eulogized, “chasing thrills beyond the endurance of his legendary constitution until the end.”

Pamela: “Later, PC was sitting up in bed, selecting photos for Alby Falzon’s forthcoming book. He started to shake and fit. A pale bluish color crept across the skin of his neck like a shadow, which I later realized was his lymph gland releasing dormant poison, which had multiplied into his body. Then it was gone and he went back to normal. Seeing how worried I was, Peter said. ‘I’m OK. You know my crazy metabolism.’ So I got him the takeaway spring rolls he wanted for dinner and he went to sleep, his cure for everything. Around midnight, he woke and said he was hungry again. I asked if he wanted to drive to get some food, but he said no, he wanted some exercise. He returned at 4:00 am.

The Last Day

Dec. 24. Pamela: “Next morning, Peter seemed alright. We went to Warung 96 for breakfast with David’s girlfriend and her architect friend. It was Christmas Eve, so I went to book us a table for four at the Aussie Smorgasbord lunch at the Gardenview in Legian. My motorbike had a puncture, so I was gone two hours. It was very hot, so when I returned. I was sweating like crazy. Peter didn’t look well. We’d moved the mattress downstairs onto the cool tiles, and he just wanted to give me a hug and sleep there with the fan on. I went and told David and returned to the room to read magazines while Peter slept. Late in the afternoon I gave Peter a kiss on the forehead and went out to the supermarket just across the road, to buy juice, water, and supplies. I picked up a bag of sugar, and it exploded outward, not down with gravity. The Balinese girls packing shelves looked at me and went, ‘Ohhh!’ In retrospect, that must have been the exact moment….

“During the short time I was out, a huge storm rolled in. Thunder crashed and rain bucketed down, so I ran across the road with the shopping bags. ‘I’m back!’ I cried, and went over to PC to give him some juice. He was limp, his forehead cool. ‘What?’ I cried, and started shaking him. I couldn’t believe it. I’d only been gone 15 minutes. ‘Peter! Peter!’ I felt for a pulse. There was none. Lightning flashed. I started giving him CPR and screaming out to the Balinese workers out the back. I knew I couldn’t stop. The workers came in and called for help. I refused to stop giving Peter CPR. I was in total shock and couldn’t do anything else. Brown liquid dribbled out of his mouth and nostrils. Finally a Javanese doctor and nurse arrived. Doctor A.H. Herman Anggawisata, who’d been on a call at Kuta. He gave Peter three adrenaline shots while I kept crying, ‘Look up! Wake up! This isn’t funny anymore!’ I was going mad. My soul was screaming. The garden flooded. Finally, the doctor said, ‘He’s gone.’ I went with Peter to the hospital, where they said the same thing then to the morgue, where I had to fill out all the paperwork. I kept expecting him to sit up and laugh. The doctor said the bungee run had released the poison, but it would have been released in the next two weeks and killed him either way. The whole thing lasted from 8:00 to 11:30pm. Back at Panorama, the police came and I had to go with one of the boys to the station in the rain. It was surreal, like a movie. All the police wanted, when they finally drove me home at 4:00am, was a Playboy magazine.”

The Afterlife

Dec 25. Pamela: “I lay there shattered, maybe slept for one hour. When it started to get light I talked to Peter in my mind, remembered my Tibetan teachings and planned an offering. Then I went to David’s. Thank God he was there. I would have died of grief and shock. I was so shattered, I just couldn’t think at all, or function. He was a great help We made an offering of flowers and personal items and blessed Peter. Late in the afternoon David returned from the big lunch I’d booked but couldn’t go to. David’s girlfriend beamed, ‘Pamela, you won’t believe it! PC’s already doing stuff’ This poor couple, living on a tight budget, had won a first-class return trip to Lombok as soon as they entered the luncheon. They’d brought back little mince pies and a piece of Christmas cake, which we added to the middle of the offering. Not one ant touched the food.”

David: “Mate, I’ve never won anything in my life. Pink Floyd’s ‘Wish You Were Here’ was playing. I really felt him there. It was so weird and strange going in there to console Pamela. The crazy man wasn’t there anymore. That day was horrifying. So many heavy decisions….”

Pamela: “I had Peter’s last roll of film developed. One of the shots from the Dee Why Sun Festival had a lit-up Ferris wheel appearing like a perfectly placed frangipani behind Peter’s car. I called Critta, Mick Mock, the boys, as many people as I could, but telling the story over and over was just too hard. At that point, I wasn’t sure exactly what had happened, if it had been a spider bite, or what. I couldn’t sleep there, so I moved to another room and we returned every day to visit, take photos, and be a part of the energy. I talked to the manager and made sure no one touched Peter’s room for three days, so he could get used to being in a spirit body.”

Dec. 27. “On the third morning, I noticed a piece missing from the corner of the Christmas cake, like a rat nibble. David opened the cupboard, as the door had slammed inward, and there was a big dead rat in there. We were all blown away. You tell me how that happened?”

Dec. 31. “PC’s embalmed body flew back to Australia at 1:00am so he could see in the new millennium at home. I flew back two days later.”

The New Millennium

Jan. 7. PC was cremated at the Northern Suburbs Memorial Gardens and Crematorium in his favorite clothes: brown Quiksilver shorts, Sarong, and the Outer Island shirt with a hibiscus motif and Egyptian eyes. At the request of Scott and Justin Crawford, no autopsy was performed.

Jan. 8. At his beloved Dee Why Point, hundreds paddled out to say farewell, including perhaps the last great gathering of the kneeboard clan. A double circle was formed, representing PC’s favorite number, infinity, and his ashes were thrown into the air from film canisters. On the return to shore, a seemingly endless set of three-feet waves rose up from a flat ocean….

Afterlife stories abound. Andrew MacKinnon was sure PC sent him a remarkable tube when he entered the final of the Australian kneeboard titles for a lark. A gardener friend of Crawford’s remembered a conversation two weeks before the end in which he was told, “I think I’m going to be bitten by a snake and go to my mother’s arms this Christmas.” Another friend reportedly heard PC bashing on his door just 24 hours after he’d passed away. Pamela regularly does “I Ching” readings and talks in symbolic language to her dead lover. “I asked him to do something from the other side. ‘If you can do something, do it.’ I walked to my post box. On the way, I looked for four leaf clovers, which is something we always did together. I found a little patch with 40. Two days later, I found 80. The four and the eight on its side equals ‘for eternity,’ the zeroes for emphasis, a very Peter equation. I’ve never found another four-leaf clover in that spot. In fact, clover doesn’t even grow there anymore.”

The Ends

In Bali, I sniffed around Crawford’s favorite hangouts. The manager of Panorama Cottages II, Wayan Tirta, showed me through the rooms of Number 18. I found no easy answers or clues, physical or psychic. Wayan: “Of course I not forget Peter. He lovely man, always funny, but sometimes very nervous, and rushing. He always chew the side of his sunglasses until he destroy. He give to me the chewed glasses, but I lose. We went into the garden, where Wayan named all the plants in the garden. I checked them all, but from a respectful distance in case whatever fanged creature within had developed a taste for surf media. Wayan’s name for the big tree with many colorful flowers and upright purple leaves was a kamboja. “In Java, they have these in cemeteries.”

Wayan mostly remembers Pamela crying on the fateful evening. “I must report to polisi, because Peter is my guest.” He seemed dubious about the cause of death. “I never hear of people die from snake in Bali. If green snake bite, it burn. People go, ‘OHH!’ Peter little sick, but later he go up bungee tower. From that, I not believe in snake or spider” So what then? “I think he sick already inside.” Wayan taps his chest. “He cough like he have flu. He have often. I wonder why he not have health report.”

Piping was even more blunt: “I think snake bullshit, because snake live in bush. Whatever happen, he just go. Hopefully PC have a good place, because I know he have good karma.”

For others, the snake makes perfect sense. Kim “Fly” Bradley, long time Bali denizen, spent many nights partying with Crawford at the Sari Club. “I knew a guy who died one month after being bitten by a snake. And PC was very allergic. When we were in Sumbawa, he was bitten by something and his arse blew up like a football. He was so sick he couldn’t eat the one good meal we were served. So I don’t believe the other stories. His mental state in his final months was really positive. He’d met Pamela, he was loving life and really focused on his work.’ Drugs? Fly shook his head. “Just beers by the pool, maybe a few big nights a week. He wasn’t doing anything else, at least not in front of me.”

According to Pamela and Davids Smith and Wylie, not to mention his own journal, Crawford’s future was solidly booked: the Philippines for January, a Paul King Indo project for April, more Indo, more books, plus Crawford’s gonzo goal to film himself kneeboarding Chicama for several kilometers, and much more besides… None of which supports the rumor of a man planning to end his own life.

Yet still the rumors swirl, though no one would put their name to any for this story. Yet for any of the rumors to be true, there would have to be a cover-up, a conspiracy, plus a compelling reason to do so. Given the love for Crawford of those around him, the only reason I can conceive would be born of the best intentions to protect his name

More interesting is the place the conjecture emerges from. Certainly, rumors make the story more intriguing like the Sydney Soon Herold’s headline. “Star’s Mystery Death.” Rumors create an air of ambiguity, rendering Crawford’s death not unlike his life. But they also tarnish. As David Smith said: “He always called a spade a spade and didn’t care about the repercussions.” Yet there were always repercussions, and thin-skinned editors. Critta: “Some of his bad situations resulted from the envy of his peers. Sometimes he was too brilliant for his own good. As for his death, no one will ever really know.”

Beyond all the bullshit, Peter Crawford’s death was but a minuscule fraction of a remarkable life. His legacy, his work. will endure beyond the lifespan of mere memory portraits of unequalled intimacy with the world’s best surfers, both on land and deep inside the barrel, from Dee Why Point to Pipe, from cliff top to helicopter, his art a portal into life on the edge, into the unique, insightful, dangerous, transgressional, and majestic Crawford World.

In Bali, a friend lent me a book by James P Carse, Finite and Infinite Games, about the two game types people play. The object of the more common finite game is to establish a winner and loser according to set rules and thus end the play whereas infinite games, played by more advanced souls, continually open up and expand, even beyond death, for the object is to continue play. At every turn, the book reminded me of PC, perhaps surfing’s ultimate infinite game player, laughing even now at my feeble attempts to unravel the unravelable.

Peter Crawford. Photograph by Art Brewer.

[Feature Image: No dilettante, Crawford covered the slabbed-out ledges of his native Dee Why with speed and aplomb. Photograph by Art Brewer.]