Surfing pioneer Peterson dies at 59

Surfing pioneer Michael Peterson dies at 59

Michael Peterson, the Australian surfer who was widely regarded as the best in the world before proper world titles were introduced, has died at 59, The Australian reported Thursday.

He died of a heart attack, according to Australia's Surfing Life.

"We are very saddened today to announce that Michael passed away this morning. He will be greatly missed," Peterson's family said in a statement Thursday, The (Sydney) Daily Telegraph reported.

Peterson was virtually unbeatable in the early 1970s, winning the 1972 and 1974 Australian titles and the prestigious Bells Beach title in Victoria in 1973, 1974 and 1975.

A famous image of Peterson performing a high-speed cutback in the 1972 movie "Morning of the Earth" remains one of the sport's most iconic moments.

"He was an incredible surfer and an inspiration," former Australian champion surfer Ian Cairns said from his home in California, The Australian reported.

"He had a great style and perfect transition between maneuvers. He had carve and flow, he competed waves, he never missed a section. And he was driven to compete."

Soon after his competitive peak, Peterson began to suffer from drug-induced mental illness and became a recluse, living with his mother.