Matt Warshaw - Encyclopedia of Surfing

When and where did you start surfing?

Learned to bodysurf at Venice Beach, California, in 1967. Started surfing at Santa Monica Pier in the summer 1969. "Sweet Caroline" and "Proud Mary" on the radio. Air smelled like cheap weed and corn dogs. Jay Adams was my running partner. I had a fire-engine red 7' 4" cut-down pintail with absolutely no rocker, and it's a miracle that I ever stood up on the thing.

What is it exactly that you love about surfing?

Being amphibious. Almost.

Do you have a session that stands out as your most memorable?

I had a small nervous breakdown in 1999, which I thought was at least partly surf-related. A few days later I walked down the beach with a borrowed board, tiny surf, warm clear water. Took off on a wave and realized as I trimmed along that my problems had nothing to do with surfing, and the relief was overwhelming.

What kind of education have you had?

BA in History from University of California, Berkeley. I dropped out of college in 1980 to work in a surf shop. Ten years later I quit my job as editor at SURFER Mag and dropped back INTO college. I was a 30-year-old undergrad. Loved it. Got tons of waves at Ocean Beach, San Francisco, and aced my classed at Cal. Two of the best years of my life, than I graduated, and was kicked back out into the real world.

How did you find your way into surf journalism?

I was a third-rate pro surfer in the late '70s and early '80s. Just a natural step to become a third-rate surf writer. Talked my way into the door at SURFER, worked hard, and eventually became a second-rate writer.

What valuable lessons did you take away from your time as Editor at Surfer?

Avoid green on the cover. Hatred of exclamation points. Never trust Matt George to make a deadline.

You have written a number of surfing related books, what gave you the idea to go all out and create the Encyclopedia of Surfing?

I was on the phone with my Dad one morning and said something like "I probably know more about surfing than almost anybody else in the world." Just an idle boast. My Dad, just as idly, said "Then write an encyclopedia." So I did.

How long did it take to collect the information and create the content?

One year databasing the shit out of all my surf books and magazines, and two years to write it. With solid help from Nathan Myers and Marcus Sanders.

Had you always planned on developing the book into a website?

The book came out in 2003, and the following year I registered, so it was in the back of my mind. After History of Surfing came out, in 2010, I decided I was finished writing books. The Encyclopedia, meanwhile, was not only begging for an update, but obviously needed to jump over from print to digital. Seemed like a no-brainer. I owned the text, had permission to use a ton of A-grade photos and movies, EOS was already a known property. How hard could it be. Long story short, the project kicked my ass fifteen different ways, every day for about four years—I loved it, loved it, loved it—and last October I pushed it live.

What has the response been like to the EOS?

Scarlett Johansson sent me a three-dozen roses, Time named me Man of the Year, and rumor is that EOS is a shoo-in for a 2014 Nobel Prize in Digital Awesomeness.

What is it that you love about the work you do?

I love that it's got so many aspects, compared to writing. Photo and film editing, blogging, social media, on and on. I love that I've got a handle on all these things, but I'm nowhere near as good as I want to be. Being on a learning curve at age 54 is great. I also love how the site grows a little every day. Tapping keys, pushing buttons, pulling levers to make the site grow -- that's what I love.

Do you have any advice for any aspiring surf writers/journalists out there?

Marry for money.

Where can we find you online?


Follow up:

We caught up with Matt 2 years on, as he's about to launch a new website, The History of Surfing.  Check out the updated interview.

Posted by: Matthew Ryan, on August 21, 2014
Categories: Interviews